Steeped in tradition, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a rite of passage that happens when a Jewish boy turns 13 or a girl 12, much like a Christian Confirmation. Perhaps you’ve been invited to your first Bar Mitzvah and you’re not quite sure what you should do or if there is any special protocol to follow. While it is a religious ceremony, it is a very happy occasion.
So relax. Here’s a composite of all you need to know about Bar Mitzvah etiquette; a few quick pointers and you’ll understand the great joy surrounding the celebration. If you’re female, of course you’re wondering what to wear. A suit or dress for the Synagogue service is perfect. For the party or reception, if it is in the evening, it’s time to dress up and wear something festive. Your favorite little black dress or something that sparkles is just perfect. Men generally wear suits or jackets. It is also a sign of respect to follow Jewish custom. For a man, this would mean wearing a skull cap (Yarmulke) while in the Synagogue. The family will provide them, so no need to buy. Some more conservative Synagogues expect women to wear hats or a simple head covering. You can always ask your host if you are unsure. If you’re wondering about an appropriate present, a monetary gift in the form of a check is given most often. There is no hard and fast rule about the amount.
During the service there will be a reading from the Torah, blessings from the Rabbi and tender words from the family. You’ll see a nervous 12 or 13 year old looking very serious as he or she delivers a speech on the importance of attaining religious adulthood. There will be lots of kissing and congratulating after the service, rendered with gusto, as “Mazel Tov” which actually means good luck/congratulations. Your participation in the ceremony will just be to stand or be seated when asked. Because the service takes place on the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, cell phones should be off. Time wise, the ceremony will run between 90 minutes and two hours.
The reception following, ranging from simple to extravagant is a great celebratory event for the family and a sensational birthday party for the girl or boy. Just as weddings vary so do Bar and Bat Mitzvah affairs. You can count on copious amounts of wonderful food, beautifully presented. As a matter of fact, you may want to consider not eating the day before! If it is to be a large reception expect music, dancing and in most cases, entertainment. The amusement is often skewed to the theme of the affair chosen by the boy or girl. Themes range from assorted sports to movie characters, Broadway musicals, and favorite colors. In many cases, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah reception resembles a mini wedding. The diverse talents of event designers know no bounds when it comes to creating a one-of-a-kind party.
Most likely, you’ll witness a Candlelighting Ceremony where the Bar Mitzvah boy or girl calls on special family members and close friends to come up and light one of the candles on his cake. Or, candles will be distributed on each table and everyone will light a candle, creating a dramatic effect when all the lights are aglow.
One of the most significant facts concerning the event is the honor of being invited to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It is such an important event to the family, that those whom they choose to share it with definitely hold a very special place in their lives. So enjoy the feeling and get ready to celebrate.