Planning a Mitzvah can be a labor-intensive and sometimes confusing process. There are so many big and little decisions to make about the service and the party that it can easily feel overwhelming. But don’t worry, you can relax. We’re here to break everything down so you can enjoy this special moment in your family’s life. We hope you find this information helpful!
Planning & Preparing
What exactly is a Mitzvah?
A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a rite of passage for young boys and girls of the Jewish faith. At the time of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the boy or girl becomes accountable for his or her actions within the Jewish community.
What should you wear?
The standard dress for a Mitzvah is temple or church attire. That basically means that men typically wear suits or slacks, ties, and jackets. Women traditionally wear dresses. Most synagogues require women's shoulders to be covered.
How long is the service?
This can vary from congregation to congregation, but you can generally expect the service to be about an hour and a half to three hours long depending on denomination.
What’s a prayer shawl (aka tallit) and should you wear one?
Though an usher may offer a tallit to the men as they walk in, they are generally reserved for Jewish men.
Should you wear a kippah?
Yes. Men wear kippahs during services as a sign of respect. You’ll likely find a basket of kippahs as you walk into the sanctuary. Hosts will often create custom kippahs in colors that match their theme
What to expect during the Ceremony.
Traditional prayers and Torah reading by the Mitzvah child, clergy, relatives, and members of the congregation. The major component of the Mitzvah service consists of a Torah reading and the reading of the Haftorah. The Mitzvah child has studied and reflected on their interpretation of this reading and what it personally means to them.
The sermon is given by the Rabbi, and they relate it to the Mitzvah.
Reflective speech. The Mitzvah child will deliver a reflective speech on their Torah portion and on the Mitzvah itself. This will include thank yous to the Rabbi, the child’s tutors, and their parents.
Mitzvah project. The Mitzvah child will share about their Mitzvah project, which is usually community service related, with the congregation.
Parental speeches & blessings. The parents of the Mitzvah child will deliver a speech/blessings to the child.
Aliyahs. During the ceremony, special people such as grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc are given honors which are called aliyahs in Hebrew. Some examples include the opening and closing of the ark, dressing and undressing the Torah, returning the Torah to the ark and holding the Torah.
The conclusion of the service includes blessing over food and wine. Generally, a light kiddush luncheon will follow the service which includes the invited guests and/or the congregation as a whole.
Now it’s time to Party!
What happens at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah party?
Mitzvah parties can vary from subdued and intimate to grand lavish events depending on the family’s budget and the wishes of the Mitzvah child. You should expect good food, drinks, dancing, and one heck of a good time! A lot of families choose to reveal a special theme at the party which is always fun.
Mitzvah Party Events & Timeline
Introductions. To kick things off, the family is introduced. This is often done by the DJ or MC. This can be quite exciting and include a bit of fanfare. The parents are introduced first, then the siblings, then finally the Bar or Bat Mitzvah boy or girl.
Montage. This is a video that the family puts together that’s a chronological documentation of the Mitzvah child’s life. It’s typically about 7-9 minutes long and features music, photos, and video clips.
Slicing of the bread. Before it’s time to dig in, there’s a special blessing, the Ha-motzi, that’s said over challah bread. This prayer is usually said by a grandfather or elder family member, and it’s handed out for all to share. This tradition is meant to give thanks to God for the blessings of the foods that you are going to eat.
Candle lighting. Traditionally, there are 14 candles to light: one for each year of the child’s life plus one for good luck. The boy or girl will call up family members and close friends to come to light a candle. Some families may choose to use one candle (or a few) to honor loved ones they’ve lost. As each person lights their candle, the boy or girl will recite a limerick or poem they’ve written about that person. These are meant to be meaningful and entertaining introductions, so be prepared to laugh! Most families choose to follow the traditional order of grandparents first, then aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, siblings, parents, then the Mitzvah child.
Guest-of-honor/parent dance. After the meal, the child will share a special dance with their parent. The Bar Mitzvah boy will dance with his mother, and the Bat Mitzvah girl will dance with her father to a special song they’ve picked that’s meaningful to them.
The Horah. The Horah is a special Israeli circle dance which is done to the tune of Hava Nagila. The DJ will start to play the Horah and announce the start of the dance. At that time, the immediate family should head to the dance floor and form a small circle. The guests will then encircle the immediate family and at the DJ’s instruction will start to circle one direction and then the other.
It’s customary for the immediate family on the inner circle to start linking arms and doing their own dances in the center of the circle. Important family members from the outer circle may join them in the inner circle for this part as well for a grand celebration of the immediate family.
Then, it’s time for the chairlifts. The parents, Mitzvah child, and siblings are all lifted up. Many times, hosts will pre-arrange with family members who will actually be lifting the chairs, so you may want to dole out this duty to the muscles in the family ahead of time.
Parent speech. The parents will make a toast thanking everyone for coming out to celebrate and saying a reflective message about the Mitzvah child.
What is an appropriate gift? There is no right or wrong answer. Guests should give what they are comfortable giving. It is a Jewish custom to give monetary gifts in increments of 18, which is a symbolic message of blessing the recipient of the gift with a good long life.
Mitzvahs are always such an important, special, and fun occasion in the Jewish faith. We hope you find this article helpful during your planning process.
Stephanie Feldman; Owner | Cutie Patootie Creations; Your One Stop Mitzvah Shop!
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