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13 Tips for Throwing a Bar or Bat Mitzvah


Having had a bar mitzvah of my own some time ago and with the bar mitzvah of my deli, Kenny & Ziggy’s New York Delicatessen Restaurant in Houston, coming up next month, I wanted to share 13 mitzvah tips with you. Here it goes!

1. What is your budget? It’s the first question that you should ask yourself and your spouse and you should stick with it. Commit to a price and stick with it. Hard as it may be, don’t go beyond it. Don’t break the bank because, heaven forbid, college is right around the corner.

2. Get the caterer on speed dial! This is tied for first with the above, but before you go calling the caterer, you better set your budget or else… so we move this to number two. And sure, you could do the cooking yourself, but do you really want to cook for 150 or more people? No, you don’t. You want to enjoy yourself. So pick your favorite catering company or restaurant and let them handle the food. Now, if you live in a community setting and people want to do potluck, that’s on you. Just remember, when the dust settles and everyone is home, it is the food they will remember and talk about the most. That goes for both good food and bad food. People are still commenting 30 years later about the baby lamb chops served at my cousin’s bar mitzvah — they loved ‘em. If the food is great, they will talk about it for years. If the food is bad, they will talk about it forever.

3. Pick a theme. Do you want traditional or a theme? In all my years in the business, I have seen have a full gamut, from luaus complete with candy-makers flown in from Hawaii, hula dancers, and fire-torch twirlers to traditional celebrations with a Klezmer band. Personally, I like a traditional mitzvah, because I think it is really a theme of its own. But hey, if you want a theme, go for it! If you do go with a theme, pick something that is meaningful to you and your child.

4. Pick the venue. It goes without saying: location, location, location. Pick a venue convenient for locals and out-of-towners, and one with good parking and/or valet, nice facilities, and enough space for a good dance floor. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but a Shriners hall might not be special enough. If you pick a venue that is also doing the food, make sure that their food is excellent; otherwise you will be hearing about it — for a long time.

5. Let them eat cake! Hands down, every mitzvah has to have a great cake. Gone are the days of the cake made to look like a Torah, with blue and white icing — cakes have gone to a whole new level these days. And sure, you want it to look good and fit your theme, but really it has to taste great.

6. Details, details, and more details. We all know planning a mitzvah is much like planning a wedding, and every detail counts. Pick everything to go with your theme, but don’t tip over into cheesy. Invitations, decorations, flowers, music, balloons and such — there are a lot of things to select. Maybe this is another reason I prefer a traditional mitzvah! Really do a knockout invitation to get people in the mood. It is traditional to have a memento or gift for guests to take home. I like personalized yamaka — in fact, I just ordered them for my wedding from Jessy Judaica. They have a great selection — everything from traditional to whacky — and they do a great job.

7. Photography and videography. So you can "oooo" and "aaaah" for many years to come over what a great mitzvah you planned, you want to hire a great photographer and videographer for the event. You want someone that can capture not only the ceremony but also the party, so they need to be versatile. No one wants just stiff portraits from the event. The addition of a photo booth is also a fun idea. Make sure and have plenty of props so your friends’ and family’s personalities to really come out!

8. What am I going to wear? You have the caterer, the cake, and the venue, the invitations are in the mail, and the DJ is booked. Now you have to start thinking about what to wear. So, start shopping! Mom needs a new dress, new shoes, and hair and nail appointments. Dad will go pull a shirt out of the closet and make sure it fits, and send his dress pants to be let out a smidge.

9. Shabbat dinner. And now back to food. It’s not bad enough that you have to feed a village the mitzvah itself, but it is customary to have a Shabbat dinner for your out-of-town guests on the night before the mitzvah. Now, you can go about it a couple of ways. One, you can let your favorite restaurant or caterer do the food. Maybe Italian or your favorite sushi, or what about a place like Kenny & Ziggy’s that serves traditional Jewish food? Think brisket, matzo ball soup, potato pancakes, and all the trimmings. Two, depending on the number of fressers (big eaters) you have in your group, you may want to do it at home and either cater in, do a potluck, or do the cooking yourself. My matzo ball soup is always a hit, so I’m sharing it with you. And, one thing the Shabbat dinner must have is a ceremonial challah.

10. L'chaim! Jewish people are usually big drinkers, but when there is an open bar at a mitzvah, that all goes out the window. Make sure and have some small bites for people to enjoy right as they arrive. There’s no reason to have Aunt Bessie get a DWI.

11. Speech! Speech! It is customary for the parents of the child being mitzvahed to say a few words of love and congratulations at this very special occasion. You want to be positive and make your child feel like they are on top of the world. Don’t push the jokes or sense of humor too much — you’re probably not as funny as you think you are, and this is not the time to make your kid the butt of a joke. I’ve heard some speeches that have gone south really fast and it wasn’t pretty. This is not the Friars Club, you’re not Don Rickles, and this is not a roast, so just be brief, loving, and sincere.

12. The morning after. And it comes back to food again. You’ll want to have a small brunch for your out-of-town guests… and those that enjoyed the open bar the night before. You can get as elaborate as you want really, but after a weekend together, a nice casual brunch buffet at your home to reflect on the events and swap stories is a nice touch. I suggest traditional smoked fish platters, bagels and cream cheese, blintz soufflés, and various kugels, like my Day After Kugel.

13. The end. The big day is over, the brunch is over, and cousin Morty has finally vacated the guest room. It’s back to reality but boy, are you tired. You realize that all of this was on mom’s shoulders and she is stressed to the max. Treat her to a spa day with a facial, mani/pedi, and a well-earned massage, and charge it to dad. All he did was help out at the open bar.


Of course you’ll want to consult with the guest of honor, but themes are always fun when throwing a Bar or Bat Mitzvah! Think about some of their favorite things to build your theme. Easy “boy” theme ideas might include sports, cars, favorite movies, or even just favorite colors. For girls, try a Hollywood premiere, candy, circus, or favorite colors. Party stores have aisles of themed decorations, tableware, and other accessories to make the decorating a snap. If all else fails, balloons, tissue paper pom-poms or paper lanterns, and streamers in bright colors are simple and cute decorations.

You can always theme your food as well, but some things will work no matter what. Some people have a big formal meal, while others lay out an appetizer table. It all depends on budget and your own party plan. Either way, try a Caterer to make things a little easier on yourself! Also, Candy and Dessert Buffet Companies can set up something sweet that matches your theme. A root beer float bar or a mocktail bar are other fun additions to the party!


1. Host an Outdoor Movie Screening

This movie-magic Bar Mitzvah deserves an Academy Award for creative-use of outdoor space. Hosted at Sony Pictures Studios , a historic movie lot, this blockbuster Bar Mitzvah featured an outdoor movie screening in Calley Park. Design and production team, Rrivre Works , suspended a glittering chandelier from the branches of a towering tree, while patio heaters kept the celebration at the perfect temperature long into the night. We especially love how Plan It! Events utilized the expansive outdoor space for a red carpet entrance, old fashioned popcorn cart, dance floor and various activity stations.


5 Tips for Throwing the Perfect Bar or Bat Mitzvah

The moment you’ve been waiting for is here – your baby is turning 13 and is no longer a child. They are entering adulthood and it’s time to throw a mitzvah to celebrate this monumental time. We all know that throwing a bar or bat mitzvah can be like throwing a wedding and that it’s just as stressful. Take our 5 tips to make sure this celebration goes off without a hitch.

1. Get Organized

It takes work to put together any party, especially a mitzvah so much planning goes into the celebration that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Getting organized will help you focus on the more important aspects of this celebration.

Figure out what your budget is for the party. Talk to your son or daughter and find out what they want at their mitzvah. Have them rank the things they are looking for in order of importance, just in case your budget does not allow for every little thing for which your kid is looking.

It’s important that once you set a budget, you stick to it. While this celebration is important, remember that college is right around the corner! Don’t break your bank account to fulfill your kid’s every whim this one night.

2. Pick a Theme

Does your son or daughter want a traditional theme for the night? Or are they looking for something more exotic? Does your daughter want to dance the night away in a Winter Wonderland? Does your son want to spend the evening in a jungle, complete with snakes for the guests to hold? No matter what theme your son or daughter chooses, it can be accomplished. If you aren’t creative, ask a friend or party planner to help you figure out how to decorate and who to contact for any special requirements.

3. Find the Right Venue

Once you’ve determined the guest list, it’s time to find a venue that can accommodate all of your guests. You want to find a spot that’s convenient both for people familiar with the area as well as out-of-towners, not somewhere only locals would ever be able to find. Make sure the venue has enough parking for your guests. The venue doesn’t have to be fancy since you can decorate most spaces to look like a different world, but you do want to make sure the facilities, bathrooms and any other areas are clean and orderly.

4. Find a Videographer or Photographer

You and your family will want to relive this day for years to come. While we all have decent cameras attached to our phones these days, you will likely want to hire a professional photographer or videographer. While you and your guests will surely snap some photos and videos, they really can’t be compared to the ones a professional, who’s dedicated to capturing all the best moments, will take. It will also leave your hands and mind free to simply enjoy the fruits of your labor and bask in the man or woman your child has become.

5. Find a Caterer

Don’t even try to attempt cooking for the party – you’ll have enough to deal with in the days leading up to the party. Your best bet is to find a caterer so that there is sure to be enough food for everyone, and enough choices to satisfy each of your guests. Ask you son or daughter what kind of food they want on their special night, and together, try out a couple restaurants or caterers to make sure their food is great.

Why not make the evening even more extraordinary by having Cold Stone Creamery cater a special dessert? We will bring in kosher ice cream and mix-ins, as well as our famous, frozen granite stone to make a unique treat for each of your guests. Contact us today for details.


What to Write in a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah Card

So you’ve got a bar mitzvah card or bat mitzvah card you need to sign? Mazel tov! Not only are these occasions inspiring to see and fun to take part in—they’re also a very big deal in the life of a person of the Jewish faith. When you write a personal message in your card to the bar or bat mitzvah, you’re adding to the joy and significance of their big day.

If you’re stumped on what to write in a bar/bat mitzvah card, this article has writing tips and ideas to get you going.

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But first, here’s a super-quick primer on the celebrations that might help, too:

Bar/bat mitzvah literally translates as “son/daughter of the commandments.” This rite marks their entry as adults into their faith community. These students of the faith put in a lot of hard work preparing for a special Shabbat service at their synagogue, in which they read aloud from the Torah and sometimes lead prayers or chants, too. Traditionally, bar mitzvahs are 13 years old and bat mitzvahs are either 12 or 13. It’s becoming more common for adults to become bar/bat mitzvahs, too, but no matter what the age of your recipient, they will appreciate your recognition and the time and thought you put into giving them a card.

From words of pride to blessings to congratulations, there are all kinds of messages that work well in bar/bat mitzvah cards. And it’s fine to write a little or a lot, depending on how well you know the bar/bat mitzvah themselves. The message ideas below are divided by theme, but you can mix and match to come up with the words that feel just right for you to send.

Mazel Tov Congratulations

Literally translated, the Yiddish phrase “mazel tov” means something closer to “good luck,” but it’s more commonly used to congratulate someone. A short mazel tov message by itself works well for a recipient you don’t know as well, but you could also use it to round out a longer message.

  • “Mazel tov, Bar Mitzvah!”
  • “Best wishes and mazel tov to you as you celebrate your bat mitzvah!”
  • “Congratulations and mazel tov, Bar Mitzvah! (I’m so proud of you, I had to say both.)”
  • “This day is so meaningful, and you’ve worked so hard for it. Mazel tov.”
  • “Congratulations on what you’ve achieved and on stepping into your faith community as an adult today.”
  • “Congratulations! Your bat mitzvah marks a huge accomplishment—but it’s only the beginning of all a young woman like you is going to achieve.”
  • “Mazel tov! What a happy and unforgettable day this is for you and for all of us who’ve had the joy of watching you grow to be a man.”

Helpful tip: Even for those of us who don’t come from a Jewish faith tradition, “mazel tov” is one in-culture phrase that’s easy to say or write without feeling awkward or like we’re trying too hard. But go with your gut—if “congratulations” feels more you, then go with that.

Wishes

A heartfelt wish is another great thing to write in a bar/bat mitzah card. You could make it a wish for the big day itself or go bigger and make a hopeful wish for the bar/bat mitzvah’s future.

  • “Wishing you so much happiness as you celebrate your bat mitzvah!”
  • “May the wisdom you’ve learned studying for your bar mitzvah guide you all your days.”
  • “We wish you an unforgettable bar mitzvah celebration and all the best in the exciting years ahead of you.”
  • “Love, blessings and best wishes to you, Bat Mitzvah!”
  • “Hoping your bar mitzvah day is a proud and happy one for you!”
  • “Mazel tov, Bat Mitzvah. May you continue to grow in wisdom and faith from this day on.”
  • “Wishing you a great time celebrating your bar mitzvah…I hope it’s a day you’ll always look back on with pride and happiness.”

Helpful tip: First timer? If so, you could make an added connection by mentioning that in what you write: “Your bar mitzvah is the first one I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to. It’s such an honor to be a part of it. Thanks for including me in your big day!”

Pride and Compliments

One does not become a bar/bat mitzvah simply by showing up on the big day. There is diligent study and preparation involved, and that’s worthy of a callout. You might choose to highlight all the hard work and schvitzing (sweating) with a message of pride or with a compliment for the bar/bat mitzvah.

  • “So proud of the dedicated way you’ve prepared for this day. Great job—and mazel tov!”
  • “We were always proud of the girl you were, and we’re even prouder of the woman you become today.”
  • “No one could have worked harder or done more to deserve this day. Way to show what you’re made of!”
  • “I hope you feel proud of yourself as you wear the tallit and read from the Torah. And I hope you feel how proud you’ve made everyone around you, too.”
  • “A bar mitzvah is more than a party. It’s an important step in your faith and a big accomplishment, too. So mazel tov and hats off to you!”
  • “It’s so much fun to congratulate a bat mitzvah as smart and talented as you! Celebrating you today and looking forward to watching your life unfold in amazing ways.”
  • “If ever a bar mitzvah deserved a great party, it’s you! Enjoy it! You’ve earned it!”
  • “It’s no easy thing to stand up and be the center of attention on your bat mitzvah day, but we know how hard you’ve worked, and we know you’re going to do yourself and your family proud.”

Helpful tip: If it’s helpful, you could think of a bar/bat mitzvah as a little like a graduation. Of course, a bar/bat mitzvah has a spiritual significance that graduations don’t have. However, the sense of a worthy goal achieved, of pride in hard work and of a young person moving on to a new stage in their life—all these things hold true for both occasions.

Faith and Tradition

Celebrating the faith and deep-rooted traditional aspects of a bar/bat mitzvah is another great way to go with your message. And luckily, you don’t have to have a rabbi’s understanding of the occasion to write something that’s both honoring and meaningful.

  • “Here’s to you, Bat Mitzvah—shining bright today and carrying the light of faith into tomorrow.”
  • “What a joy it is to welcome a young man like you to our community of faith. Mazel tov.”
  • “Warmest congratulations on your bar mitzvah. It’s inspiring to think of you taking your place in your faith community and carrying on such an enduring tradition.”
  • “Mazel tov, Bat Mitzvah. God bless you and guide you today and always.”
  • “Today you follow in the footsteps of so many generations who came before you…and step into a future made brighter by your love for your faith, your family and your community.”
  • “Blessings on you as you celebrate your bat mitzvah.”
  • “Hoping you learned lessons that will always stay with you as you studied and prepared for your bar mitzvah. May the Torah’s teachings continue to guide you and bring you happiness throughout your life.”
  • “Congratulations on your bat mitzvah! What a wonderful way to honor your rich heritage and celebrate your faith.”

Helpful tip: As part of the occasion, a bar/bat mitzvah will sometimes declare a cause that they plan to advocate for. It’s one way of embracing their new adult status and doing some real good with it. It’s a very cool thing—and it may inspire some new thoughts for you as you think about what you want to write.

Funny Messages

Even though a bar/bat mitzvah is a serious occasion, there’s still room for a little good-natured humor—especially if you know the bar/bat mitzvah well and have a good sense of what they’d find funny. Money is a customary gift for a bar/bat mitzvah, so it’s an especially easy way to infuse a little humor into your written message.

  • “Today you begin your journey into womanhood…but somehow you still have a 10 p.m. curfew. Oh well. One step at a time, right?”
  • “Happy bar mitzvah! Have the most fun a guy can have with all your family right there watching your every move.”
  • With money/gift card enclosed: “First of all, so proud of you! Second—and more importantly—here’s a little something to show you just how proud.”
  • With money/gift card enclosed: “Hope the happy bat mitzvah glow just lasts and lasts. (This little gift is meant to help with that!)”
  • With money/gift card enclosed: “For all that extra wisdom you’ve stored away in your heart…here’s a little extra cash for your pocket. Mazel tov!”
  • “There’s never, ever been a bar mitzvah quite like you! (That’s supposed to be a compliment, in case you couldn’t tell.)”
  • “Okay, so great new dress, cute shoes, awesome party…I’m a little jealous that I didn’t get all this when I was 13. Okay, a LOT jealous. But I’m still so happy for you! Mazel tov!”

Helpful tip: Joking about gifts and celebrating is one thing. Summoning up offensive stereotypes or poking fun at Jewish culture is another—and should absolutely be avoided. When in doubt, skip the funny and keep your message straightforward.

Warm Closings

A warm closing before your signature provides a nice finishing touch for your bar/bat mitzvah message. Choose one of ours or come up with one of your own.


Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah: a traditions and etiquette guide for non-Jewish guests

So, your friend’s son is turning 13, and you’ve just been invited to your first Bar Mitzvah! Yay…but also oy vey! What should you wear? Are you expected to bring a gift? Will it be awkward? What the heck is a Bar Mitzvah anyway? No need to panic. You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the happy occasion and blend right in.

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Here's the deal

The words Bar and Bat Mitzvah literally mean “son or daughter of the commandment.” A Bar Mitzvah happens for boys at age 13. A Bat Mitzvah happens for girls at age 12. To clear up any confusion, you should know that the child isn’t becoming an actual adult who also happens to go to middle school. He or she is simply being welcomed as a fully responsible member of the Jewish community.

From the kid’s point of view, it’s about getting dressed up, reading publicly from the Torah, and leading a congregation in prayer. Nerve-racking business for a new teen!

Your role is simple

Bar Mitzvah guests are loved and valued by the family. You were invited because you matter, so rest easy. Dress as if going to an afternoon wedding or formal event. Men wear suits or jackets women wear dresses or dressy suits. It’s respectful to follow along with Jewish customs, even if they aren’t your own. For a man, this probably means wearing a yarmulke, or small skullcap, while in the synagogue. You don’t have to go out and buy one, though. The family will provide brand-new yarmulkes. In highly orthodox gatherings, men and women may be asked to sit in separate sections and then reunited after the service. Just go with it.

During the service itself, you’ll get to witness all the sweet, funny, earnest moments only a 12- or 13-year-old can provide. There will be reading from the Torah, blessings from the rabbi and lovely words from the family. You won’t have to take part in the ceremony, except to stand and be seated when asked. At the conclusion of the service, some congregations toss candy to mark the sweetness of the moment. (Throwing candy? Of course! Applause? Not so much. Jewish logic, Bubbeleh.)

Hello, party time

The celebration that follows is a big deal for the family, but it’s also a seriously awesome birthday party for a 12- or 13-year old. So get those party shoes on! Every party is unique. The reception may be held in the temple, but often, guests will switch to another venue. Food, DJs, music and entertainment are all common. Usually, kids run around together while adults talk (often over loud music).

That said, today’s families plan affairs of all kinds. Some have smaller gatherings at home or in a restaurant. Some skip parties altogether and take private trips—in which case, guests may simply be invited to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah service, followed by a reception with light refreshments (called a Kiddush.) Just as weddings vary widely, so do Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations. Take your cues from the printed invitation itself, which should explain what events are planned.

The gift of giving

A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is designed to honor a coming-of-age. Gifts are commonly given (usually after the ceremony and during the reception). A present does not have to have religious meaning, but of course it’s always tough to buy for a teen.

Gelt (money) is a safe, appropriate and completely traditional gift. Many families donate a portion of monetary gifts to a charity to honor the occasion (and the rest is often added to a college fund). But, how much should you give? Luckily, the number 18 is significant: In Hebrew, it is the numerical value for “chai” (pronounced like a guttural “hi”), meaning “life.” Giving money in multiples of $18 ($18, $36, $54 and so on) is symbolic of giving life, so giving denominations of chai puts you “in the know.” The amount you give is based on your comfort level and closeness to the family.

Pile on the Mazel Tovs!

Oh, sure, you could simply say “congratulations” to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah kid and his or her family—but why not put a Jewish spin on it? Mazel Tov (pronounced MAH-zel-toff) is the warm, traditional way to say congrats. With those words, you’ll be a perfect mensch!

Penny Krugman Howard is a freelance writer. She’s been to enough bar and bat mitzvahs to choke a gefilte fish. Still, a beautiful milestone at a tender age is magical every time.


When you give a Jewish girl a card for her bat mitzvah, it’s important to include a personal note. You may choose to give her a meaningful gift. However, it isn’t always necessary, depending on your relationship with her.

Although every birthday is important, this one is extra special because it’s when she transitions from being a girl to taking on the responsibilities of a woman. Put extra thought into your message to show your support and confidence that she is up to the task.

Here are some thoughtful things you may want to write in the bat mitzvah card:

  • Mazel tov on your bat mitzvah! We love celebrating with you on this special day!
  • Happy Bat Mitzvah! May this new chapter of life deliver many blessings!
  • Wishing you many blessings as you celebrate this special time.
  • I’m so happy you invited me to celebrate your bat mitzvah! Congratulations and many blessings in the years to come.
  • Congratulations! Praying for joy and success in the years ahead.
  • I’m happy and proud to celebrate this special time with you. Mazel tov!
  • We’re proud of you for reaching this special milestone in life.
  • Mazel tov to a young woman who makes this family proud.

It's fine to write a funny message. However, don't write anything you wouldn't want her family to read. In other words, employ your speech filters to prevent public embarrassment or an uncomfortable situation.

Here are some humorous messages you may add if you want:

  • You’re finally a grownup. It's about time. Mazel tov!
  • Yesterday you were a child playing with toys. Now that you’re an adult, may I have your dolls?
  • Now that you’ve celebrated your bat mitzvah, I have a question. Is being an adult all that it’s cracked up to be?
  • You might be an adult in the faith now, but you still have to obey your curfew.
  • Welcome to the world of adulthood, bills, jobs, and family responsibilities.

Bar and Bat Mitzvah

Bar and bat mitzvah mean, literally, "son and daughter of the commandment." Bat mitzvah is Hebrew, while bar mitzvah, historically a much earlier ceremony, is Aramaic. The word bar is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew ben (son of). While bar and bat mitzvah are often used to refer to the ceremony, the terms also refer to the child. Thus, a boy if referred to as a "bar mitzvah" and a girl as a "bat mitzvah."

Historically, first bar mitzvah and later bat mitzvah represented a ceremonial recognition that a young person had reached the age when he or she was no longer a minor according to Jewish law and thereby took on new religious privileges and responsibilities of an adult. For boys, this age was 13, for girls, 12.

What is the origin of bat mitzvah?

The bar mitzvah ceremony was developed as a public recognition of a legal and religious status, attained with or without the ritual. In other words, a Jewish boy of 13 years and one day automatically became a bar mitzvah even if no public ceremony took place. While the beginnings of the modern bar mitzvah ceremony appeared as early as the sixth century C.E., it was not until the Middle Ages that a fully developed ritual emerged. By the 13th or 14th century, the custom of calling a boy up to the Torah was established as the way of recognizing entry into manhood. The bar mitzvah boy would chant the blessings, all or part of the Torah portion of the week, and/or the haftarah section from the prophetic books. The boy's father would then recite a special blessing: Baruch sheptarani mei-onsho shelazeh. "Blessed is He who has freed me from responsibility for this boy." The bar mitzvah boy would often give a scholarly address on the Torah portionor some section of the Talmud. Then followed a gala feast, called s'udat mitzvah ("meal of celebrating the performance of a mitzvah"), to which family, friends, and sometimes the entire Jewish community would be invited. In short, then, almost all the elements we associate with the modern bar mitzvah ceremony were present by the Middle Ages. Learn more about the origins of b'nai mitzvah.

When did bat mitzvah begin?

Starting in the second or third century C.E., Jewish girls at age 12 took on legal responsibility for the performance of the mitzvot. As with age 13 for boys, 12 probably corresponded with their onset of puberty. However, girls were subject to far fewer commandments than boys. Today, liberal Jews affirm the total equality of women in terms of religious privileges and responsibilities. In the 1800s, Reform Judaism abolished bar mitzvah in favor of confirmation for both boys and girls (bat mitzvah was not considered an option at that time). Within the 19th-century traditional community, some families held as'udat mitzvah for a daughter on her 12th birthday, with the girl sometimes delivering a talk and her father reciting the Baruch Sheptarani.

The first-known bat mitzvah in North America was that of Judith Kaplan, the daughter of Mordecai Kaplan, in 1921. Reform Judaism (which had by this time reintroduced bar mitzvah) and then Conservative congregations quickly adopted bat mitzvah, though in slightly different forms.

Celebrating Bar/Bat Mitzvah Today

When does a bar or bat mitzvah take place?

In Reform synagogues, girls and boys mark symbolic entry into Jewish adulthood at age thirteen. The bar or bar mitzvah is usually celebrated on the Shabbat closest to the child's thirteenth birthday. Congregations usually schedule these dates a couple of years in advance, giving the family plenty of time to plan for the day.

What does the bar/bat mitzvah do in the service?

Depending on the congregation, boys and girls may conduct all or part of the service, read or chant the b'rachot over the Torah (an aliyah), read a section from the Torah portionfor that week, read or chant the b'rachot for the haftarah, read a section from the haftarah, and deliver a sermon.

What does aliyah mean?

The Hebrew word aliyah (literally, "going up") is used as a description of being "called up" to read from the Torah. Aliyah is also the word used to describe the act of immigration to Israel. In Jewish tradition, as far back as biblical times, going to Israel was always referred to as "going up."

Are there times besides bar/bat mitzvah when Jews are called up to the Torah for an aliyah?

In Reform Judaism, any adult Jewish member of the congregation may be called up to the Torah for an aliyah at any Torah service. It is common practice in all branches of Judaism to mark with an aliyah occasions such as the birth of a child, an impending marriage, or recovery from an illness.

Are bar and bat mitzvah always celebrated in the synagogue?

Most families consider the synagogue the most meaningful, appropriate, and moving setting for a bar/bat mitzvah. Bar/bat mitzvah has significance both personally and communally. A bar or bat mitzvah holds great significance for a synagogue community. It celebrates the congregation's efforts to educate a child. Once a child becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, they may now be counted in a minyan, the quorum required for the recitation of certain prayers during a worship service. They may now be called for an aliyah, or invited to read from the Torah on future occasions. A child, having become a bar or bat mitzvah, may now go on to advanced Jewish learning in their congregation.

In recent years, growing numbers of families have chosen to travel to Israel to celebrate their simcha at the Western Wall in Jerusalem or at the top of Masada. While this may limit the number of family members and friends who can attend, these can be powerful Jewish experiences.

How far in advance should a boy or girl begin to prepare for bar or bat mitzvah?

For bar/bat mitzvah to be both a meaningful and substantive Jewish moment, it is essential that it be based on more than a crash course of study. Several years in the religious/Hebrew school of a synagogue prior to bar/bat mitzvah is recommended as a minimum of requisite Jewish education. In addition to Jewish history, observance, and the study of Torah, children learn how to participate in and lead worship. As part of the preparation to become a bar or bat mitzvah, most synagogues ask boys and girls to participate in a mitzvah project. In doing so, they apply their Jewish learning to help make the world a better place.

What should we do about a party?

The bar/bat mitzvah party derives from the custom of serving a s'udat mitzvah ("meal celebrating the performance of a mitzvah"), which arose in the Middle Ages.As early as the thirteenth century, local Jewish communities were concerned thatsuch feasts might become ostentatious and wasteful displays of wealth, therebydetracting from the ceremony's religious significance. Accordingly, communityleaders often enacted formal legislation, strict guidelines, or special taxes to limitthe size and nature of these feasts.

While the custom of each congregational community most often dictates the form of bar/bat mitzvah parties, more Jewish families today invest the celebration with deeper Jewish feeling. Israeli dancing and singing, for example, as well as the giving of tzedakah, are evident more than ever. Jews love simchahs and celebrations with family and friends, and now that joy is being shared in ways that are ever more Jewish.

What if you never had a bar/bat mitzvah?

It's never too late to have a bar or bat mitzvah. Whether you are sixteen or sixty, if you want a bar/bat mitzvah, you should have one. Many congregations have created adult bar/bat mitzvah programs for individual or group instruction. As a result, rabbis throughout North America have reported officiating at bar/bat mitzvah services for members well into their eighties. If you did not celebrate becoming a bar/bat mitzvah, speak to your rabbi. It can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your adult life.


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3. Design your own mocktails

While alcohol doesn’t belong at kids’ birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs are a little different in that the reception is set up more like a wedding. Adults are typically served alcoholic drinks after the ceremony, at either an open bar or a cash bar. But you can make creative drinks for the kids, too, by creating your own non-alcoholic mocktails, such as these bar mitzvah mocktail ideas that include cotton candy, pop rocks, and other kid-friendly creations.

4. Set up a DIY photo booth

Hiring a professional photographer or setting up a photo booth is a must for capturing photos and videos of this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. You can create your own zero-gravity photo booth, which is among the most unforgettable bar and bat mitzvah ideas, to inspire lots of fun photos!

5. Have a dance contest

Bar and bat mitzvahs are known for their dancing, and it’s common to hire a motivational dancer to get all of your guests on the dance floor. From leading line dances to hosting dance contests, the right DJ or MC can keep the party hopping. But you don’t need a big-budget MC to get your aunts and uncles dancing. Set up Rock Band or Dance Dance Revolution on a home projector to hold a dance contest that guests of all ages can participate in.

6. Make your own marquee

Host your event at a live music venue or movie theater where the celebrant can see their name up in lights. Putting their name on the marquee is a special bar or bat mitzvah idea that’s perfect for a rock-n-roll or Hollywood-themed event.

7. Play carnival games

Rent a giant jenga set and other carnival games to give your bar or bat mitzvah a larger-than-life atmosphere. Even a dunk tank isn’t out of the question if you can find a willing volunteer. The possibilities for your bar and bat mitzvah ideas are endless!

8. Book a block of hotel rooms

In some families, relatives travel from far and wide to attend a bar or bat mitzvah. Don’t expect them to make all of their own travel plans and then leave them hanging after the ceremony. For the smoothest experience, book a block of hotel rooms near the event space, and make plans for a family dinner or brunch on the days surrounding the event.


Bar and Bat Mitzvah on a Budget

A bar or bat mitzvah is a beautiful and powerful time in a family’s life. A child has reached adulthood, and it’s one of the few occasions when family and friends come from across the country (or world) to celebrate together.

This time can also bump up against the stress of party planning.

If you have always envisioned a beautiful bar or bat mitzvah for your son or daughter, but have been dealt a blow by the current economy, there are still ways to achieve your vision.

There are many components that make up a bar/bat mitzvah party, but only a few that are really crucial: décor, music, venue, and food. I’ll go through each to discuss some great money-saving techniques. The main thing to remember is that if you are planning a bar/bat mitzvah on a budget, be prepared to be significantly involved.

You first need to find a specific piece to work around, something thematic. If your child has a particular passion (music, sports, etc.), that may inform your theme. I personally subscribe to the mantra that “bigger is better.” A few larger pieces that have great height, color, and dimension fill space better than lots of little things. So I usually tell people who are on a limited budget to do a couple of “wow items” and not get caught up in minutiae that will not pack a punch.

Many clients tell me that their child is a typical 13-year-old with many interests, but no particular passion. In that case, color is a great tool. You can get a lot of play by taking a room and using color strategically. Lighting works well to change the ambiance of a room in an inexpensive way. A white wall instantly become hot pink, a stark room becomes a winter wonderland in ice blue.

There are also some clever ways to decorate a room by “doing it yourself,” thereby saving money on a decorator. If I’m looking for a little pop, I’ll cover a table with shiny black linen and throw silver Hershey kisses down the center of it. Simple, and it looks great.

A lot of people are interested in giving back, and you might organize your centerpieces around the theme of tzedakah. For example, throw a burlap fabric, or otherwise very textural linen on the tables. Go apple picking with your family, and fill your bushels to the brim with different kinds of shiny apples. This makes a beautiful centerpiece, and you can attach a note to the effect of, “In honor of my bat mitzvah I will be donating these apples to the local food pantry.”

I also once had a mother and daughter bake cakes together. Each table was then topped by a cake as the centerpiece. It was adorable, and a great way for the family to infuse the event with its personal touch.

The bottom line: People tend to make the mistake of spending a lot of money on smaller items, then see their bill and are forced to backpedal. First identify a theme, and then think of the one or two items that will be your “wow factor.” You can then use the smaller items to illustrate that and drive the theme home.

A really talented DJ is of paramount importance. A DJ who keeps the kids engaged and dancing all night long is going to give them a really fun evening. You don’t need much else if the DJ is talented and experienced. He will do games and contests, or teach the kids a dance. So if you don’t have the extra money to add kids’ activities, make sure you choose a wonderful DJ.

Local talent is always less expensive than bringing in people from other locations, so look for DJs or bands in your area. If you are really on a bare bones budget, have a friend put together a great playlist on a solid iPod system, or do it yourself, but you’ll have to arrange for a player and speakers.

Each venue comes with its own quirks and deals. When looking for a venue make sure to find out if it has a food and beverage minimum, and what that buys you. Sometimes it’s not a great package, and it would be wiser to bring in a caterer.

Many temples have function spaces and charge very little. On the other hand, don’t rule out hotels. If it’s off-season and a hotel has an empty ballroom, you may be able to negotiate a low-cost package.

When it comes to food, you should be realistic about the format for a party. Think luncheons, food stations, or buffet—not a four-course meal. There are many interesting ways to present food. You can get a lot of mileage out of fun street food—pizzas, a noodle bar, burgers. The kids will love it, and it will cost you less.

Finding a venue that is closer to home—school gym, town hall, or college—as well as a local vendor, will always save you some money

After 35 years in the party-planning business, there are a few tricks you learn:

Get a planner: Although it may seem counter-intuitive, a planner can actually help you save money. A good and experienced planner will help you stay on budget, or let you know that what you want is not realistic for your budget. A planner can help you establish priorities, within your number, and comes with a working knowledge of what that number will buy you. A planner will also have a Rolodex of different vendors at different prices and know whom to call.

Remember the hidden costs: A lot of people forget about extra costs. There is a 7 percent tax on food in Massachusetts, 18-20 percent gratuity, and everyone—from the DJs to the chef—might expect a tip. Factor this in when planning.

Use the Internet: The web is a great resource, especially for favors. Edible favors are the least expensive, and you can create custom labels or wrappers to make it fun and personal. There are also a multitude of promotional items, like t-shirts or drawstring bags that you can find online now. Depending on the time of year, there are frequent promotional sales, and things will likely be cheaper when bought in bulk.

The importance of “branding”

If you are really looking to have a lower-budget party, make it less formal, and make it all about the kids.

You can do a simple and lovely lunch, and a kids’ party at night. They don’t really need much to have a great time. Still invite your friends and family, but the message should be: this is for the kids. With that comes a very different expectation.

At the end of the day, your family and friends are there to celebrate and share in your joy. You have to be true to who you are, and to your child. You have to know your child well.

An expensive party is also not necessary to wow the guests. I recently saw a candle lighting that blew me away. There was no cake, but each guest received a light-up wand. Guests were called up in groups, and instead of being asked to light a candle, lit their wands. At the end, there were 210 twinkling lights there wasn’t a person in the room who didn’t have a lighted wand. It was beautiful and inclusive.

Bar and bat mitzvahs can often be so generic that the “wow factor” becomes what you do to make the event meaningful. Identify the little thing that people take away that is unique to your event. That, you can do on any budget.

Janie Haas, the founder and president of Janie Haas Events, has been in the event planning business for over 35 years. She specializes in events that do not follow a cookie cutter formula, and has worked with a variety of clients, including the high profile.

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Watch the video: Merage JCC getting ready to celebrate its bar mitzvah year: 13 years! (November 2021).