One of the happiest times in my life was planning my daughter Gabrielle’s bat mitzvah. Many people find this shocking. I was a little bit shocked, myself. Planning a bar or bat mitzvah is stressful on many levels. It is expensive and it is time consuming with numerous deadlines. But most of all, it is challenging because all of these things are happening while managing a hormonal adolescent!
I knew from the start that I would love helping my daughter prepare for the service. I loved hearing Gabrielle hum her haftarah portion as she walked around the house, and I was inspired when we worked on her d’var Torah (sermon) together. In addition, I loved preparing to read a Torah portion myself during her service. But as someone who does not really love big parties (and I certainly am nothing close to a party planner), I was nervous that I would not love planning the celebration that followed the service. But I have to admit, I LOVED the process. Here are five ways you might love it, too.
1. Set an intention to love it.
The first thing I did was to buy a bracelet from my sisterhood gift shop—a bracelet that said “Joy” on one side and “Simcha” on the other side (the Hebrew word for joy). This was my reminder that this is a joyous occasion and to let go of anything that steals the joy.
In addition, I knew I could not be miserable during the process with the expectation the wonderful day would make it all worth it; as we all know, life is unpredictable. My older brother was sick for his bar mitzvah, my cousin had girl drama at hers, and plenty of people have had weather interfere with their special day. Therefore, I tried to get everything out of the planning process so that if the unexpected happened, I could still say that my daughter’s bat mitzvah was wonderful.
2. Create a meaningful theme.
We decided to have a “girl power” theme for the party. We found this theme to be inspiring and satisfying. We created the logo “Go For It!” with the idea that you should try new things. We wanted the message to be that it’s not about being successful or perfect; rather, it’s about being brave and putting yourself out there. Gabrielle’s logo was a picture of a girl with a cape and a ponytail, and we incorporated girl power into the event any way we could.
Creating a theme with a message you believe in is so satisfying and brings a deeper meaning to the party. Our hope was that the girl power message created a positive and inspiring environment to celebrate in together.
3. Involve the whole family.
Over our holiday break before the bat mitzvah we took a three-hour car ride together as a family. During the car ride we wrote the candle lighting poems together. The candle lighting ceremony is a tradition at many bar and bat mitzvah celebrations where the family chooses 13 different people/families to honor by calling them up to the cake to light a candle. Many families write poems as a way to call up the people who are honored.
During the car ride, we all worked together as a team to come up with clever, funny, loving poems for the special people in our lives. We laughed about funny stories we recollected and felt connected to our larger community. When it came time for Gabrielle to write her poem introducing my husband Gideon and me, she called my sister and worked on the poem with her over the phone—thus another opportunity to connect.
4. Connect with your friends and extended family before the big day
I knew that conversations would be quick during the actual day of the event. There would be over 200 people there, so there was no way I would be able to have the deep meaningful conversations I prefer with each of my friends and loved ones. So I made an effort to connect with people throughout the process. We asked our guests to RSVP via email (rather than mail in a response card), and this inspired conversations. Someone I hadn’t spoken to in a while would RSVP over email and then I would reply back, starting a conversation that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
A year before the bat mitzvah, Gideon emailed some long time friends so they were sure to put it in the calendar. The side benefit to that was that the email chain continued throughout the year. Many stories and inside-jokes were shared and recollected, allowing us all to laugh and share together through cyberspace.
5. Get help!
I was blessed with an amazing community of supporters who helped us prepare. My friend and party planner Dayna seemed as excited about the special day as I was. She would text me pictures of ideas, and as the event got closer the excitement grew. We had fabulous Hebrew tutors for my daughter and our synagogue in general shared the excitement with me. Even though they have dozens of b’nai mitzvah students each year, they made us feel special. Everyone’s enthusiasm was contagious, and it made the planning all the more special.
Surrounding myself with positive people who shared my priorities (that the event be wonderful and meaningful while having fun in the process) was essential. Stay away from competitive or negative people during this time. There is too much to be grateful for.
In the end, the day was amazing, but it was no more special to me than the planning process. Feeling grateful, acknowledging a milestone, connecting with my family and larger community, and learning and sharing positive messages are all meaningful Jewish values, and our bat mitzvah year reflected that.
My son’s bar mitzvah is in a little over a year. Time to find my “Joy” bracelet…