In the pre-pandemic “before times,” some synagogues offered video streaming of their Torah services so elderly, ill, or other loved ones unable to travel could experience, virtually, the milestone moment of bar and bat mitzvahs. Think of how far we’ve come, to the point where a “hybrid” bar and bat mitzvah — a combination of virtual and in-person experiences — is evolving into a sophisticated, multi-faceted way to stay safe, adjust to different comfort levels, and create a meaningful rite of passage in a time of pandemic.
Some communities are already shifting the vocabulary around hybrid bar and bat mitzvahs to reflect benefits we might bring with us into the “after times,” calling them “multi-access” events instead.
Whatever you call it, planning a hybrid bar or bat mitzvah requires some specific decisions and planning steps. Here’s how to make it happen for your family.
List out all the elements
Start with a list of each aspect of the experience — from Friday night Shabbat dinner to Saturday’s service and celebration to Sunday brunch — and see if a natural hybrid arrangement leaps off the page. Note in-person limitations you might face at your synagogue, at reception venues, or in your backyard in order to help guide your decision-making.
Think about your guests’ needs
Your guest list is not an abstract collection of people — they are your people. Consider your guests’ particular needs, and use those as a launch point to decide what to offer virtually, what to offer in person, and what to offer as a choice for friends and family. Take your community’s comfort levels, safety protocols, and overall health into account so you are planning an event your loved ones can access and enjoy.
Take a space inventory
A popular hybrid bar or bat mitzvah format that emerged during the pandemic is to have a virtual service followed by a backyard celebration. Be very honest with yourself about what kind of space you have to work with in your living room and/or yard. Chat with your neighbors as you make your plans to make sure everyone is comfortable with parking and noise expectations.
Give yourself time to plan
You have no way of knowing whether the Covid landscape will have changed — for better or worse — when your child’s bar or bat mitzvah date comes around. But if you can avoid last-minute planning, you’ll want to do so. Send a save-the-date, connect with a photographer, and design invitations earlier than you normally would so you have plenty of time to adjust if need be. Check out Kveller’s Ultimate Zoom Bar and Bat Mitzvah Planning Checklist for more ideas.
Have a Plan B (and C, and maybe D)
Adopt a flexible mindset in case of weather, unexpected Covid changes, or last-minute issues your vendors might encounter. Ask any vendors and venues what they recommend in case anything unexpected happens, and remind yourself that the day will be meaningful no matter what form it takes.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Your invitation is not the only way to communicate with your guests. A hybrid experience with multiple moving parts requires clear information so everyone knows where they need to be (in cyberspace or in the flesh) and when. If vaccines are required for a maskless indoors experience, for example, give people an easy way to let you know they’re ready to go. If you need to make a weather-related change, be prepared with a way to send an e-blast or to call non-tech-savvy loved ones to spread the word. And be ready to send the Zoom or other virtual platform link a few times in the days leading up to the event to make sure everyone is able to log on.
From “mitzvah boxes” containing Shabbat candles, challah, and juice or wine to party favors to links to photo montages or virtual hora videos, there are myriad ways to make sure each guest is included in the experience, whether they are attending in person or not.
Keep it “normal” for your family
Depending on your family’s situation, a hybrid bar or bat mitzvah can feel like less or more than what you had in mind when you first imagined what your child’s milestone moment would look and feel like. Even though you are having to think differently in this changed world, remember that you can and should stay true to your family’s style, social culture, and priorities. Think about the elements you would have included in “normal” times, like programs, invitations, favors, a theme, kiddush lunch or catered dinner — and do them in whatever way meets the hybrid moment.
Header image by Grace Yagel