When the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020, many families pivoted from long-planned bar or bat mitzvah celebrations to virtual versions. In a matter of weeks, flexibility became the watchword as ceremonies and celebrations alike went online.
Even as the pandemic starts to recede across the U.S. and restrictions are lifted, virtual bar and bat mitzvahs — or a combination of in-person and virtual events, known as “hybrid”— continue. Fortunately, families now have the gift of time to plan and anticipate how to make the milestone special.
But how much time, exactly, is needed to set a plan in motion that minimizes stress and maximizes meaning?
Though everyone will have different levels of detail and planning needs for their virtual events, there is a general timeline and checklist that can help families feel prepared, excited, and ready to relax into the joy of the big day. Here’s what you need to know and do — and when to do it.
A virtual celebration may not require hotel reservations or airline tickets, but it does need to get on your loved ones’ calendars. Here’s how:
ASAP: save-the-date — Send either an electronic or simple paper save-the-date notice as soon as you’ve settled on your date. This will give your guests an early opportunity to anticipate the event as other calendar demands pop up.
8 weeks out: paper invitations — If you’re going the paper invitation route, plan to mail them six to eight weeks before the bar or bat mitzvah, leaning toward the longer end of that range to account for possible postal service delays. If possible, order your paper invitations a month before you plan to send them.
Multiple times: Zoom link — It’s best to provide guests with multiple opportunities to know how to access the celebration, via Zoom or another virtual meeting platform. You can share the link and password on your electronic or paper invitation — and plan to send it again as an electronic communication the day before the bar or bat mitzvah.
Materials and favors
2-plus weeks out: order favors — Many companies that make custom party favors (sometimes called “swag”) ask for a two-week lead time for ordering. The same goes for lawn signs and other fun extras (bedazzled sneakers, anyone?). Be sure to account for shipping time (to your house and out to guests, if you are sending anything to others) when scheduling your order.
1 to 4 months out: Judaica — If you are ordering a designed or customized tallit (prayer shawl) or kippot (yarmulkes), many companies require a lead time of a few months. If your plans have changed suddenly and you’re on a timetable, there are vendors that can turn around a custom order in weeks, or you can visit a local or online Judaica shop for quick turnaround.
1 to 2 weeks out: mail favors — If you are sending party favors, or “mitzvah bags” containing wine or juice, a printed program for the bar or bat mitzvah, and other celebratory items by mail, try to send them so they arrive a week ahead of time, just in case there are any postal delays. If you are dropping off these materials on local doorsteps, you can wait until the Thursday or Friday before the celebration — or delegate that task to a local friend.
Activities and extras
There are myriad options for virtual activities to do after the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony, and many can be put together in just a little time (or planned well in advance).
3-plus weeks out: virtual hora — Many families are creating “virtual horas” by asking loved ones to record short videos of themselves dancing to a pre-recorded “Hava Nagila” or other Jewish circle dance music. A fun touch is to order a “Face on a Stick” representing the bar or bat mitzvah child, so friends and family can dance “with” him or her. Allow two weeks to order and ship the faces, if using, and to give your loved ones additional time to finish their recordings before either editing them together yourself or outsourcing to a video production company.
1 to 4 weeks out: video montage — A video montage is a special way to showcase a family’s pride in their child’s growth and accomplishment. Set to music (both fun and meaningful) and rich with photos or video clips of the child from birth through the milestone day, this montage can be assembled by the parents, or outsourced to a video production company. Be sure to leave time to collect your photos — including consideration of whether you want to ask friends and relatives to send their own snaps to include.
2-plus weeks out: virtual entertainment — Magicians, musicians, artists, and game-night entertainment companies are terrific virtual bar and bat mitzvah options. Obviously, your choices will vary based on the entertainers’ availability, so the earlier the better for booking.
ASAP: photographer — Event photographers’ schedules can be hard to crack, even for simple at-home photo shoots at virtual bar and bat mitzvahs. Prioritize your photographer search so you can explore options like on-the-day portraits and candids, and/or a family photo shoot before the mitzvah day itself. Photographers vary from weeks ahead of the event to over a year.
1 month out: Zoom manager — Your synagogue might be able to connect you with someone whose role will be to “host” the Zoom meeting, admitting guests, helping people mute and unmute when appropriate, and troubleshooting any technical challenges that might arise. This person can also help facilitate a virtual guest book, should your family desire that.
Safety, function, and accessibility are crucial as you implement and test out your technology plan.
2 weeks out: By the two-week mark before the bar or bat mitzvah, you will want to feel confident in these technical aspects of the day:
- Password protection / security
- Connectivity and WiFi strength in the home
- Sound (microphones, ambient noise, earbuds, etc)
- Lighting (ring lights, overhead lighting, natural light)
- Music (playing music through different platforms)
- Recording (you will want to be clear on whether and how to record the ceremony to share with those who could not attend.)
Your bar or bat mitzvah child will do a lot of learning and preparation for their milestone celebration. Your own preparations for the service could include:
- Creating a program or booklet (give yourself time to send it electronically or by mail)
- Choosing readings for honored guests
- Writing a speech to read to your child
- Arranging to have plenty of tissues on hand for tears of joy and pride
Food and decor
1 month out: balloon arch — If you’re planning on incorporating this always-popular bit of decor, keep in mind that party stores and professional party companies need a few weeks’ notice to prepare balloon arches to set up indoors or on your driveway, so reach out early.
1 to 2 weeks out: the celebratory meal — Catering options abound and can be fastidiously planned several months in advance. But for a small, mostly-virtual bar or bat mitzvah, it can be as easy as reaching out to your favorite restaurant to have a well-loved meal served to your family.
1 to 4 weeks out: cake — A cake represents such a sweet moment in the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony. Yours can be small, but it will certainly be special! A specially designed cake by a top bakery is a special treat. Local bakeries and grocery stores often have easily customizable cakes for last-minute ordering.
1 week out: set-up — If you have to move furniture to accommodate your Zoom set-up, try to get it done a few days before the event so you have time to rehearse, test out the various technologies, and relax in the space that will become your home sanctuary.
Header image by Grace Yagel