Rumor has it that Keith Michel wanted to wear a rust-colored corduroy suit to his bar mitzvah. When you consider that it was 1981, it’s not really so hard to imagine.
Now 45, Michel has two children, ages 14 and 20, and is engaged to be remarried. A Gilman School graduate who attended Skidmore College, Michel lives in Towson and works as a marketing manager for Walden University. He says he has fond memories of his bar mitzvah, which was held at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and of that time in his life.
JT: Is it true that you wanted to wear an orange suit to your bar mitzvah?
Michel: Yes, my mother took me shopping for a suit. I think it was at Finkelstein’s Department Store, which doesn’t exist anymore. Being 13, I saw this suit — I think it was rust and maybe corduroy? I thought, “This is the statement I want to make. This will set me apart.” My mother insisted I get another suit, but I always pined for that one.
What else do you remember?
My grandfather had passed away a few months earlier, and John Lennon had also just passed away. It was February 1981. I wrote about that in my speech. They were both men I admired a lot. I remember spending months preparing and being nervous but confident. I looked out and saw my family and friends and knew they all thought of this as a transitional time for me. [I was] becoming an adult. I was presenting something of importance, and people were all listening and sharing with me. It gave me an opportunity to speak for a group. Being in marketing, I’ve often had to give presentations, and I’ve always kind of enjoyed it. This was probably the first time I had done that.
Was there a party to celebrate your bar mitzvah?
Yes, it was at my house [in Owings Mills.] We got a big 6-foot sub and a DJ. About 20 or 30 kids were there. We were all dancing. It was a great time in life.
Prior to Gilman, I went to Fort Garrison and Pikesville Middle School, so most of my friends were Jewish. It was like we were in the [b’nai mitzvah party] circuit. It was an exciting time and a little surreal. Every weekend we would be going to another big party. [In between parties] we worked on our dance moves to be ready for the next one. It was a mix of fun, socializing and more spiritual and scholarly pursuits.