The day a son or daughter becomes a bar mitzvah (for a boy) or bat mitzvah (for a girl) is an important milestone for Jewish parents. And in recent years, it has become reason for a big celebration with family and friends.
If you will soon be one of those proud parents, here are the steps and details you'll want to consider in planning a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah party for your child. As with any party, always keep in mind the personality of your child and the degree to which he or she is comfortable with attention.
Step 1: Choose Your Date
The first thing you'll need to know before you plan your party is the date your child will celebrate his or her bar or bat mitzvah in the synagogue. The date may be assigned up to three years in advance, depending on the size of the congregation. Usually it's close to your child's actual 13th birthday.
For more information on the religious aspects of a bar or bat mitzvah, visit this Guide to Judaism by Ariela Pelaia.
Step 2: Book Your Party Venue
Before you choose the location for your party, you'll need to decide whether you want your party to be held in the afternoon or evening. If evening, keep in mind those dates will book up first. Some of the other details you should consider before you speak to the caterer include:
- Will your party be held at the synagogue or another location?
- Will you hold a party only for the kids, or will it be mixed ages?
- Will the food be kosher or non-kosher?
- Is it worth paying more for a nice setting and possibly save on decorating expenses?
- Do you want to have a cocktail hour first? If so, would you like it in a facility that can offer separate rooms for the cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and the main meal?
Step 3: Plan Your Food and Beverages
If you plan to host a cocktail party before the main meal, here are some typical options you can discuss with your caterer:
- A fruit and cheese board.
- A carving station with corned beef, roast beef, and roast turkey.
- Passed hors d'oeuvres.
- A cold fish buffet including smoked salmon, whitefish, etc.
- Hors d'oeuvres specifically targeted to the kids such as pizza slices or chicken fingers.
Will you have a separate menu for the kids at your party? One way to save on your party expense is to choose one or two less expensive, kid friendly options for all the kids at your party.
For both the cocktail party and main reception you'll need to decide whether to offer a full or partial open bar (wine and beer) versus an all cash bar for alcoholic beverages. Some parents offer a full open bar during the cocktail party, which then turns into a cash bar during the reception.
Sometimes a special menu is offered at the bar for the kids, with drinks like Shirley Temples or smoothies.
Step 4: Choose Your Theme
It isn't necessary to have a theme at one of these parties, but it makes all the rest of the planning much easier. The theme is often selected to reflect the child's special interests. Here are theme possibilities to get you started:
- All About Me (meaning the bar or bat mitzvah child)
- Favorite Books
- A favorite charity of the child or family
The theme can then be tied into the decorations, invitations, centerpieces, cake and party favors.
Step 5: Hire Your Entertainment
There are many entertainment options you could consider, depending on your budget. Whatever you do, remember to choose a good balance of entertainment for the different ages of your guests, e.g. at a mixed age party, you don't want all of the entertainment geared toward the kids no more than you want to entertain the adults, only, and leave the kids sitting bored at their tables. Some of the options you will consider include:
- Hiring a band versus a disc jockey.
- If you hire a disc jockey, you can hire them to entertain the kids with games during the adult cocktail hour.
- Casino games for the kids during the adults cocktail hour.
- Dance party games for the kids to play during the cocktail hour.
- Arts and crafts tables to amuse younger children throughout the party.
- Will the disc jockey be there exclusively for the amusement of the kids or should they gear some of their entertainment to the adults as well?
- The disc jockey can be part of a large entertainment group that includes an emcee and dancers to amuse the kids. They may give out prizes for games and dancing throughout the party.
- You can hire a caricaturist to do caricatures for the kids and/or adults at your party.
- A photo station to send guests home with framed photos or key chains.
- A music video booth with karaoke to send kids home with their own DVDs.
- Gaming systems with projection screens around the room for multiplayer fun.
- TV screens for a live video feed of the party.
Step 6: Send Your Invitations
As with any invitation, you'll need to tell your guests all the details of the places and times they'll need to be there. Invitations are usually the first place you'll show off the theme and mood of the party.
- The invitations can be formal or informal.
- They can be addressed with hand written or printed calligraphy.
- Video invitations have become popular.
- Invitations can be sent in a box with a balloon.
- Some parents purchase personalized stamps for the invitations from Stamps.com.
Managing Out-of-Town Guests
If your guests will be traveling from out of town, it's considerate to reserve a block of rooms with a local hotel to get favorable rates.
Welcome your out-of-town guests with a small package left for them at the hotel. The package might include the itinerary with directions for all the weekend's events along with a small box of chocolates or other thoughtful gift.
Often, extra group events are arranged for out-of-town-guests such as a dinner on Friday evening, brunch on Saturday or Sunday morning, and a casual get together at the parents' home after the official celebration is over.
Special Transportation Arrangements
If the party is to be held at a different site than the synagogue, it is customary to arrange bus or private car transportation for both the elderly and the teenagers, to take them to party site and then back to the synagogue for pick-up after the party.
Party favors are usually only given to the kids, and reflect the theme of the event. A typical party favor is personalized with the name or initials of the bar or bat mitzvah child. It might be a tee shirt, shorts, beach towel, or sports cap. If your theme is a charity, let guests know that you are making a donation in place of party favors.
Candle Lighting Ceremony
A candle lighting ceremony has become popular. The bar or bat mitzvah lights a candle for the important people in his/her life, or for special family members who have recently passed away. Very often, as the candles are lighted, the bar/bat mitzvah recites the names in a clever, rhyming or poetic speech, which oftentimes ties into the theme.
There may also be photos of those honored placed around the candles.
Will you hire both a still and video photographer? Make sure you check your synagogue's policy with regard to taking pictures during the service. Many synagogues only permit photography during the rehearsal.
Photographers can interview guests throughout the party to create a video montage of the event.
Centerpieces and Decorations
You'll need to plan centerpieces for the tables where your guests will be seated. You may also add centerpiece decorations to the food tables if it's buffet service. Centerpieces could be balloons, flowers, jars of colorful candy, topiaries, etc. If your theme is a charity, you could build a centerpiece around that. For example, if your charity is a literacy program for children, festively tied children's books could serve as your centerpiece for donation after the party. If your charity is a pet shelter, you might create centerpieces with colorful pet bowls and toys, and photos of animals waiting adoption.
You may also want to add other decorations to the party rooms. First, you'll need to choose a color to tie in with your theme, and this will be used in your table linens, and possibly chair swags. Beyond that your decorations can simply be fun elements, like a large balloon arch, or something that ties into your theme, like palm tree blowups or balloons for a tropical theme. Or simplify your decorations by decorating with photos or your child doing her favorite activities, service work, or other accomplishments.
Parents will most likely give a speech about their child during the synagogue service.
You may also want to prepare a speech for the beginning of the party.
Select someone to bless the wine and challah either in the synagogue or at the beginning of the party. This is an honor that could go to the parents, grandparents or other special guest.
Some parents provide socks for the girls so they can take a break from their high heels while dancing and playing games. Socks may be personalized with the name or initials of the guest of honor.
You'll want to prepare place cards to tell your guests where to sit. These can incorporate the theme of your party.
When guests arrive at the party, ask them to sign a large poster as a commemorative guest book for your child.