You’ve likely heard the terms Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah; however, you may not have a full understanding of what these traditions mean. These are important celebrations for the Jewish faith that signify when boys and girls are deemed as adults. Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah translate to “son of commandment” and “daughter of commandment” respectively. A Bar Mitzvah occurs when a boy turns 13 while a Bat Mitzvah occurs when a girl turns 12. They are celebrations where children assume greater responsibilities within the religious community and have grown in importance over the years. Here’s an overview of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs with a Bar Mitzvah timeline.
How Do You Celebrate a Mitzvah?
Mitzvahs are celebrated in different ways that vary between communities; however, the occasion is typically recognized with a party as well as some tasks that signify undertaking some of the responsibilities of Jewish adults.
The synagogue portion of the ceremony typically includes an Aliyah, which is a blessing over the Torah. Girls sometimes celebrate Bat Mitzvahs at Shabbat service without an Aliyah. Another common aspect is for the child to read from the Torah, recite their own prayer, or even lead a part of the service.
Afterwards, it is typically customary to host a party for close friends and family. These parties include lots of food and dancing. The focus of the party is recognizing the child’s transition to adulthood within the faith.
One of the important aspects of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the Mitzvah Project. This is an opportunity for the child to give back to others while learning the importance of the Mitzvah. This is a newer aspect of the celebration and was originally designed to help B’nai Mitzvah learn about the 613 Jewish commandments.
A Mitzvah project typically involves working to perform some sort of charity or service work within the community. A good way to practice this is to choose a project that relates to one of the child’s hobbies. Mitzvah projects can include things like food drives or volunteering for a local service organization. They can also be projects between the child and God such as daily prayer or learning kosher cooking.
One of the most important moments of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah occurs when the child performs a speech for the guests. This is a moving and personal moment where they typically reflect upon the significance of the day and what transitioning into a more formal role in the faith represents to them.
The speech typically begins with a warm welcome to guests and sometimes a funny story. The central part involves reflection upon a story or idea from the Torah. This is typically elaborated on with a description of how becoming a Jewish adult will impact the child’s life. The Mitzvah project is often discussed here. A popular trend for Bat Mitzvahs is for the girl to research a Jewish woman from history and relate some lessons learned. The speech typically ends with thanking those who helped make this occasion possible.
As you could expect, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs require extensive work and preparations. In the months leading up to the celebration, children often spend time learning about the purpose of Mitzvahs and work to strengthen their own spiritual relationship with Judaism. Many children will take pre-Mitzvah classes at a local synagogue or religious center.
Another important aspect of preparation involves selecting and practicing the portion of the Torah that will be read. This requires a lot of practice unless the child already speaks Hebrew fairly fluently. Discussing the portion with a rabbi is also useful as it will help the child learn more about the significance and meaning.
Other typical aspects related to preparation include planning the party that will occur after the synagogue service as well as selecting and performing the Mitzvah project.
Bar Mitzvah Timeline
Planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is an extensive process that can take several years. It is relatively easy to get overwhelmed. Your to do list will vary depending on the scale and setting of the events. Below is a rough Bar Mitzvah timeline with major things to consider.
Two-three years in advance
- Schedule a Mitzvah date with your synagogue
- Create a budget for the event
- Begin looking at venues
Eighteen months prior
- Draft a guest list
- Consider a theme if you want to have one
- Hire party planner if desired
- Work with your child to brainstorm ideas for a Mitzvah Project (help child reflect on purpose/meaning of project)
One year before
- Have a venue reserved (can do so sooner, particularly if your ideal venue books farther in advance)
- Start booking various professionals/performers (i.e. DJ, florist, caterer, photographer, entertainment)
- Begin collecting photographs for a montage
- Child begins Mitzvah Project
Nine-ten months prior
- Finalize guest list
- Consider reserving hotel block if you have lots of out-of-town guests
- Send Save the Dates
- Consider creating a website
- Order invitations
- All contracts should be signed by this date
Six-eight months before
- Schedule Torah and prayer tutorials with rabbi and cantor. Help child practice at home
- If having a larger celebration, plan other events such as weekend dinners, brunches, or Kiddush blessing
- Order personalized kippot if desired and allowed by synagogue
- Brainstorm décor ideas such as centerpieces and potential backdrops for photos
- Shop for clothes
Three-five months prior
- Plan menu with caterer and cake with bakery
- Determine and order party favors
- Depending on schedule and scale, consider arranging transportation
- Plan candle lighting ceremony and any special events such as choreographed dances or entrances
One-two months prior
- Mail invitations (ideally eight weeks prior)
- Draft and edit speeches; consider running them by a close friend for feedback
- Create an event schedule (in conjunction with party planner if you have one)
- Dress/suit fittings and schedule any needed alterations
- Work with photographer to create list of “must have” shots
- Follow-up with guests who have not RSVP’ed (four weeks prior)
- Depending on setting, create seating chart and design place cards
- Provide final count to caterer (four weeks prior unless required sooner)
One week prior
- Try on outfits and have last minute alterations done if necessary
- Host dress rehearsal, typically in coordination with synagogue
- Formal photo shoot at synagogue
- Touch base with vendors to confirm arrival times
- Get ready to recognize and celebrate this meaningful moment for your child!
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