(photo credit: Koko)
Before he got off the train in Tel Aviv on Sunday, Amir, a high school teacher from Acre, said good-bye to a group of students who had come on the same train to go shopping for their graduation prom.
"Remember what I said, girls," he called after them as they stepped out onto the platform at the Azrieli Mall. "You don't have to spend NIS 700 on a dress. Promise me you won't spend more than 50!"
As the school year officially ended on Tuesday, high school graduates across the country were busy shopping for party dresses, renting tuxedos, and making last-minute preparations for the wave of proms that will sweep across Israel over the next month.
Ten years ago, American-style graduation proms were virtually unheard of in Israel. Five or six years ago, they began to appear in wealthy Tel Aviv neighborhoods and in surrounding suburbs.
Today, high school graduates from Acre to Beersheba take it for granted that their official high school graduation ceremony will be followed by an extravagant celebration, referred to in Hebrew as a graduation "ball."
At the Mor Metro West high school in Ra'anana, student representatives and members of the school's Parents Association met recently to choose the venue for the school's ball.
After considering a banquet hall, a hotel ballroom, a yacht, a poolside barbecue and a private villa, they decided on a banquet hall, complete with bar, buffet, MC, DJ and stand-up comedian. Divided equally among the members of the graduating class, the cost per student was calculated at NIS 200.
A typical fee for a graduation prom of this kind, it is only the tip of the iceberg, which includes prom dresses, makeup and styling fees for the girls, renting a tuxedo for the guys, and other expenses such as sharing in the rental of a limousine. Total costs per individual student can range from several hundred to several thousand shekels.
Batya Rozenthal, a designer who owns the Fashion for the Movies studio in Tel Aviv, said she picked up on the prom trend early on, "approximately six years ago."
"Girls want to wear romantic, sexy dress," she said. "Whereas a couple of years ago they really imitated the look of American prom dresses, nowadays they are interested in less conventional outfits."
Sam Taieb, a graduating senior at Mor Metro West who is a member of the ball's planning committee, said most of his class members wanted "something at a banquet hall, like a wedding or something from the movies."
"Most of the girls want an American-style prom, because they've been dreaming about dressing up for it since they were little, and I'd say about half of the guys do, too," he said, adding that unlike many of his friends, he was not planning to rent a tuxedo, but rather to wear "something elegant."
"It's true that it's a bit strange, given that in a couple of months we'll all be wearing army fatigues," he said. "Things are different in America, where people graduate from high school and go on to college or to work."
At the same time, he said, the looming military service was not unrelated to the desire for a glamorous, over-the-top event.
Haim Dajczman, the principal of the Talma Yelin School of the Arts in Tel Aviv, said that while school officials had nothing to do with their school's prom, he believed it would be a relatively modest affair in the backyard of a students' home, at a cost of about NIS 50 per participant.
However in general, he said, he did not like the idea of a so-called "ball."
"It's a concept borrowed from other cultures, which has connotations of expensive clothing and glamour," he said. "We're a country where even weddings are informal events, where nobody shows up in evening clothes, and I don't see why high school students need to transform a simple graduation party into a ball."
Daniel Marcus of the Ale Te'ena (Fig Leaf) production company in Binyamina specializes in organizing graduation balls that are off the beaten track. Choice locations, he said, include the Ramat Gan Safari and amusement parks.
"Just today," he said, "I was contacted by a high school that wants to organize a trance party out in nature." The total cost of such an event, he said, could amount to between NIS 200,000 and NIS 300,000.
Over the past two to three years, Marcus said, the graduation ball phenomenon has become a full-blown craze.
"After every story in the media, kids want to outdo the parties they've read about," he said.
Marcus is also critical of parents and educators who, he said, "would rather not know what goes on at these parties." Although alcohol is illegal at such events, he said, the graduates arrive with personal supplies of both alcohol and drugs.
"We keep an eye out and confiscate whatever we find," he said, "but there's a lot of that stuff going around."