By the time our fifth child was nearing the age for his bar mitzvah–Judaism’s traditional rite of passage–we decided to search for a more meaningful and less materialistic experience than our other four children had. You know, the synagogue ceremony (which many showed up late for or skipped altogether) followed by the huge dining/dancing affair (which put my large Jewish wedding to shame) in a social hall.
If this alternate idea sounds intriguing and you’re also looking to accomplish a similar goal, just follow these 13 simple steps.
1. Announce to your child that Israel is a great place to celebrate and begin to get the whole family excited about traveling there. Pour your energies into researching great tour guides and finding the rabbi to officiate at this faraway, exotic simcha (happy occasion).
2. Suddenly realize that many guests, close friends, and family will not be able to attend, mainly due to travel costs, time constraints, and health concerns. Imagine your Grandma Ethel’s phone call. “What’s this? Just because I’m afraid to fly, I should miss out on my little Jakeala’s big day? Not having a great-grandmother there? Whoever heard of such a thing?!”
3. Begin to brainstorm an additional uncomplicated, fun, and affordable way to commemorate the actual day your child turns 13. Decide on a lovely (but free!) get-together in a local park because you won’t have much cash due to the upcoming Israel trip.
4. Realize that the summer date will be hot and you’ll need to provide shade. Rent canopies.
5. Do you expect Grandma Ethel to sit on a swing in the sandbox? What kind of person are you? Rent folding chairs.
6. Since this is a casual gathering, handwrite “please bring a dish to share” on your invitations. Become aware of how tacky this is after you hang up with Grandma Ethel. Change to “please bring a canned item to donate for homeless shelters, which is our child’s mitzvah project.” Hire a caterer.
7. Conclude that cellphones don’t take the best quality photos. Uncle Louie, the family photography buff, offers to take pictures for you, but honestly (according to Grandma Ethel) shouldn’t her son who works so hard all week be allowed to enjoy himself as a regular guest? Consider hiring a college student (earning a degree in filmography) but worry about them not being Jewish–they’ll overlook all the traditional shots. Hire a professional photographer who has done many bar mitzvahs and knows how to pose your child with the Torah.
8. A Torah! You need one. Your local rabbi states that under no circumstances will he bring the holy scroll to a park. Switch the entire simple gathering to your synagogue.
9. Synagogues are serious places and friends who thought they were coming to a park are anticipating their young children playing on slides and teeter-totters. Hire a magician to keep them occupied.
10. Why should all the bored teenagers be kvetching? Rent a wax hands booth and caricature artist. And then, because teen girls usually reveal lots of bare skin, rent a henna tattoo booth.
11. Remember how Grandma Ethel has been saying for years, “My biggest joy will be to live until I’m 90, so I can dance a Hora at my grandson’s bar mitzvah.” Since you have no music, she insists Aunt Ida should sing. Hire a five-piece band.
12. Because your gathering will no longer be held outside, chocolate won’t melt. Therefore you don’t have any excuses for saying “no” to your child’s request for a Candy Bar. Order a half-pound per person (guidelines from the party planner’s website) of sugar-laden confections to be set up buffet-style, with cute little boxes to take them home in. Make a mental note if Grandma Ethel complains about a lack of bar mitzvah cake (with traditional candle-lighting ceremony) to remind her that this is not a bar mitzvah, it’s just a get-together.
13. As the day gets closer, cross off the videographer, DJ, prizes, dresses, suit, hair appointment, party favors, centerpieces, seating cards, and thank-you notes from your to-do list.
Oh, and cross off the most important thing of all, “Planning a meaningful and non-materialistic bar mitzvah!”