Magazine article The New Yorker

Bar-Mitzvah Boy

Magazine article The New Yorker

Bar-Mitzvah Boy

Article excerpt


--Mark Singer

Please. No one is criticizing. No one. It just needs to be made clear that the noisy celebration (mostly from the music--oy) one recent weeknight in the vaulted-ceilinged brass-chandeliered refectory of the General Theological Seminary, in Chelsea--an event attended by hundreds of stylish strivers wearing red Kabbalah bracelets and red felt yarmulkes imprinted with the host company's logo--was a prototype. This was not--not yet, anyway--the gold standard for a fusion bar mitzvah.

The principal celebrant was Jonah Disend, forty-one years old, trim, dark-bearded, the founder and chief executive of Redscout, a branding and product-development company that opened for business in his apartment in 2000 and now occupies two floors of a building in the Flatiron district plus an office in San Francisco, with clients all over the map. Among Redscout's killer concepts: AirCraft, "a differentiated experience in the air care category that went beyond scent masking/neutralizing or scent delivery to a new scent behavior called Scentmaking"; Ingenuity(TM), Parker Pen's "first ever hybrid ballpoint/fountain pen with the romance and luxury appeal of a fountain pen and the practicality of a ballpoint"; and the Gatorade G-Series, which transformed that "brand and business from introducing new flavors for people watching sports on the couch to innovating for real athletes and their needs."

Emboldened by a belief that he now knows a thing or two, plus the fact that Redscout was turning thirteen, Disend a few months ago got the inspiration to rebrand the bar mitzvah--traditionally a life-cycle ritual regarded with gravitas by devout observers of Judaism, a recognized religion--as an office-party motif.

A couple of days before the event, he sat in his office and reflected upon this milestone.

"I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and spent seventh and eighth grades going to a lot of bar mitzvahs without having my own," he said. "Thirteen is the most interesting time. A time of deep confusion and yet enough intellectual ability to do really interesting things. We're most creative in that period. You still have an imagination and you're figuring it all out. I remember thirteen very well.

"This is our annual party, but calling it a bar mitzvah--well, there's the symbolism of it all. And then there's the fun, to be silly and celebrate. My clients think it's creative and funny. It feels very on-brand for us. A little bit kooky.

"I have a knack for understanding consumer culture, and I think I'm an incredibly good listener. …

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