Planning a bar or bat mitzvah during a pandemic means making myriad decisions. Ironically, the more options we have, the less personal the event can feel. For some, the idea of doing anything on Zoom —much less marking a defining rite-of-passage in a child’s life — can leave us struggling to connect with the sacredness of the moment.
Whether you land on a virtual, hybrid, or a small in-person service and celebration, there are ways to put your personal stamp on the event so your guests — and, more importantly, your family — feel the deep meaning and accomplishment that your child is having on their big day. Here are seven of our top tips.
1. Put your Jewish values front and center
As part of your preparations for the bar or bat mitzvah, talk as a family about which of your shared values are rooted in your Judaism. The values can range from truth to respect to justice, friendship, courage, or, my family’s favorite, shalom bayit (peace in the home). Whatever you land on, focusing on a value that holds special meaning for your family will give you a lens through which to examine all the other decisions you will make for a bar or bat mitzvah that represents you all.
2. Invoke your ancestry
Whether or not you are able to celebrate your child’s bar or bat mitzvah with many members of your family — either in person or connected through virtual platforms — there are always those who are not able to be with you. So, take the bar or bat mitzvah moment as an opportunity to tell your child stories of their ancestors, those who they carry with them as they read from the Torah. Placing a photo of family members, sharing a special memento or an item, or incorporating anything else that can symbolically represent the presence of those who came before will help your child feel surrounded by generations of family.
3. Dress for the occasion
In normal or pandemic times, what we choose to wear can help us feel more fully ourselves. Talk about what is most important to your family’s wardrobe, from comfort to suits, ties, and dresses, to anything that feels special and different from the everyday. Wearing clothing that makes each member of the family feel their very best will help everyone feel at ease and fully present on the day.
4. Think broadly with themes
Anything your child loves can be a theme at a bar or bat mitzvah. Sports, films, or cities like New York or Paris are classic themes, but your child can express their unique selves by focusing on a favorite animal, a color palette, a scientific or historical idea that fascinates them, or even a hobby! With the celebration likely to be smaller than you might have planned without the pandemic, you can bring in activities, decorations, and favors that truly showcase your child’s passions.
5. Let music tell the story
There’s a reason “Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof” is such a popular song to play at weddings or bar or bat mitzvahs — it so beautifully captures the whirlwind of emotions that accompanies these big moments that drive home how much a child has grown (and will continue to grow). Set the tone for your day with your musical selections, remembering that you don’t have to choose a “sad song” to express profound feelings. Sometimes, that song your child used to boogie to when she was a toddler is the one your family will most want to hear when it’s time to hit the dance floor — in person or on screen — on their special day.
6. Give your child a “first”
The heart of a bar or bat mitzvah is the concept that the child is becoming responsible for living their Jewish values for themselves. This is a huge “first” in and of itself, as is the joy of being called to read from the Torah. Celebrate the newness of this rite of passage by thinking of other “firsts” that would be meaningful to your child. These could include awarding a long-awaited privilege, presenting a special gift, allowing for a later bedtime, or anything else that will reinforce the new opportunities that accompany your child’s new responsibilities at this moment in their life.
7. Dial down the pressure
If curating a bar or bat mitzvah that is utterly unique, personal, and bespoke feels overwhelming to you, take a deep breath and remember: your child’s day will be personal because your child will be the one doing it. Nothing needs to happen beyond that for the day to be a celebration that only your family could create. So, if things fall through the cracks, need to change unexpectedly, or are less creative than you had hoped, think of the famous Talmudic quotation: “This, too, is for the good.”
Header image by Grace Yagel