While the eighteenth century philosopher Voltaire has been branded an anti-semite, the man’s writing clearly points to a political and religious tolerance that is beyond reproach, and a set of values that surely all Jews should share. Nonetheless I feel obliged to take issue with him, or at least with his admirer and advocate, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who epitomised Voltaire with the quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. I take issue because it’s clear that neither of them ever attended a batmitvah party. If they had surely an unequivocal qualification would have been included in this defence of free speech, for there isn’t a person on the planet who can seriously justify the best friends’ speech given at a girl’s batmitzvah.
The Lynne Truss’s amongst you may at this point be bristling at my use of the apostrophe in “friends’ ”. This is no grammatical error. As anyone who has witnessed one of these abominations of public speaking will attest, there are always at least three, and usually in excess of five best friends to torture the guests. If you ask the batmitzvah girl about this peculiar plurality she will explain that her best friends are ranked from “best best friend” down to “worst best friend”, a position that rests the width of a cigarette paper from all her other friends. What she doesn’t understand is the futility of this whole exercise because within three months her best friends will be her worst enemies and her new best friends will be whichever girls have invited her to make a speeches at their batvitzvahs.
The format and content of the best friends’ speech is so standardised that one only need attend three batmitzvah parties to acquire sufficient competence to deliver it oneself. I therefore fully expect readers to know all this, but for those who have just arrived from the age of enlightenment here’s what happens.
The best friends stand in a row each holding a copy of the text, passing a microphone up and down the line as the words are revealed, one by one, girl by girl. At some point there’s bound to be an error in this choreography but it doesn’t matter because the whole thing is such an incomprehensible shambles anyway.
This one word relay is unsustainable and it stretches to sentences as the speech evolves into a cutesy version of Monty Python’s four Yorkshire-men sketch – “we’ve been best friends since our first day at senior school two weeks ago”, “we’ve been best friends since we met at tap dancing when we were five years old”, “we’ve been best friends since NCT classes” and then finally one girl trumps all with, “our mums were childhood best friends so we’ve been best friends longer than we’ve been alive!”
No best friends’ speech is complete without the obligatory “you were amaaaazing this morning in shul and you look really amaaaaazing tonight”. It doesn’t matter that the words were composed several days previously or that the speaker in question was not in shul that morning owing to a fitting appointment for the dress she’ll be wearing at her own Batmitzvah.
Another essential component is a poem, again collectively written. Truthfully it is less a poem than a series of clichés, some of which vaguely rhyme with each other. Remembering that most of these girls attend expensive private schools it’s staggering how poor their imagination and command of English proves to be. If I were a parent I’d be straight to the head-teacher demanding a full refund of the fees.
Finally, the ten-minutes of respite from the evening’s enjoyment is rounded off with the presentation of some useless piece of artwork that will have been painstakingly cobbled together using in-jokes and photographs. The girls will be supremely proud of their joint effort, representing as it does the amaaaazing time they spent together constructing it and proof of their unimpeachable admiration for the batmitzvah girl. The recipient will be not the slightest bit interested in it because it didn’t come from Hollister. It will therefore arrive home from the party crumpled and torn where it will languish in the corner of the girl’s bedroom before eventually finding its sad and neglected way into the bin once those best friends have morphed into the worst enemies they were always destined to become.
It would be nice to imagine a future without best friends’ speeches but like Voltaire’s Candide, I’m not optimistic.