Traditionally in the Jewish religion, children are encouraged (but not required) to follow the commandments. For boys, this changes at the age of 13, while girls celebrate a year earlier on their 12th birthday. At that time, children are looked upon as adults in the Jewish faith, and it is known as "bar/bat mitzvah". Many families choose to mark this important time in a child's life by having a religious ceremony at their synagogue followed by a celebration with family and friends. Read on to find out more about this Jewish rite of passage and learn how to plan a stress-free bar/bat mitzvah celebration.
What is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah?
A bar or bat mitzvah is a Jewish coming-of-age rite that takes place on the 13th birthday (for boys) and the 12th birthday (for girls). The Aramaic phrase "bar (or bat) mitzvah" translates to "son (or daughter) of commandment," and signifies that a young person is old enough to observe the commandments of the Torah. The phrase has two meanings: as a status for children entering adulthood (the child actually becomes bar or bat mitzvah), and as the religious ceremony and accompanying celebration that usually marks the occasion.
Jewish tradition states that a person has several levels of soul, which grow and develop as we get older. During Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a new level of soul enters the body. A young boy or girl is now morally and ethically responsible for their actions.
The ceremony that accompanies this milestone, although not required by religion, is something that most Jewish families choose to observe. The boy or girl will work closely with a Rabbi for a length of time (usually months, but sometimes years) studying the Haftara, which is a portion from the Book of Prophets of the Hebrew Bible. During Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) morning service, he or she will be called up to read parts from the Torah. He or she will also recite all or part of the Haftara, including the traditional chant. Depending on the synagogue, the young person might lead the congregation in certain prayers and recite parts of important passages.
Following the ceremony is the reception, which is similar to that of a wedding. It varies widely depending on budget and desire-some families might hold a simple intimate gathering, while others throw lavish, themed parties. The child is required to make a speech, which is then followed by a speech from the father or mother.
Planning Your Celebration
Just like with any event, it is important to allow plenty of time to plan the bar/bat mitzvah reception. By following a few simple steps, you can put together a memorable party with very little stress. They are:
In the early planning stage, you will need to sketch out a general idea of the kind of celebration you have in mind. A guest list will also need to be created, which will determine the venue and amount of food that should be put together. It is very important to secure the date at this point-although many smaller synagogues allow families to choose their dates, those with larger congregations often throw so many bar/bat mitzvahs that they need to be scheduled far in advance.
The next important step at this point is to set a reasonable budget. Obviously this will determine the size of the party you can throw, so plan accordingly. Deciding a budget early on in the planning stage allows time to make any changes as you go along. Next, a venue will need to be chosen. If you are throwing a large celebration with a mix of children, teens, and adults, you might want to consider a space with a separate room for adults to converse. Don't choose a huge venue if the guest list is small-you will likely end up overpaying, and the gathering will probably not feel as intimate as you would like it to be. Make sure to visit each place in person, and examine all aspects of the facility-parking, lighting, restrooms, and floor space.
After the guest list is finalized and the deposit has been put down on the venue, catering decisions will need to be made. The guest list will determine menu specifics, such as whether or not the food should be kept entirely kosher. It is a good idea to have at least part of the food kosher, for those who are adhere strictly to a traditional diet.
Written By Sophie Pierce.