The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is one of the greatest and most memorable milestones in the life of a Jew. In fact, the process and culminating celebration can be a real turning point that inspires pride in Jewish identity and heritage and a lifelong passion for Jewish learning and practice.
However, some believe this is being lost to the increasingly lavish nature of Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations. Studies show the average cost of one today in several U.S. cities easily tops $50,000. Perhaps Rabbi Elianna Yolkut, author and former assistant rabbi at Adat Ari El in Valley Village, California, sums it up best when she says: “When we focus on creating meaning through ostentatious celebration, we forget what Bar/Bat Mitzvahs are really about: responsibility and ownership.”
Here then are five tips for today’s parents to ensure a Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience for your child that is marked by as much meaning and relevance as possible:
1) Share your child’s learning style and habits
Does your child learn best by hearing or seeing? Do they take their time with their homework or rush through it? Are they proactive or do they like to procrastinate? Your child’s individual learning style and habits can play a major role in the success of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Set the right tone from the very beginning by communicating these habits to the people supporting your child in the process, whether it’s a cantor, rabbi or independently hired tutor, so that they can decide the best way your child will take in and comprehend the material.
2) Understand the stress and offer some relief
Your child is busy enough with schoolwork, sports, friends and other passions, so preparing for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah on top of it all can be downright overwhelming. The last thing you want is for them to want to “just get it over with” instead of taking their time to grasp each word they’ll be reciting from the Torah. Offer encouragement and let them know that overcoming obstacles shows maturity and is part of growing up. To help calm nerves and give your child a break, treat them to dinner at their favorite restaurant or to a movie.
3) Provide more meaning through choice
Your child’s ability to have their voice heard throughout the Bar/Bat Mitzvah process can be extremely empowering. Consider giving them a celebration budget and asking them to help manage it. Encourage them to translate their passions into a mitzvah project they will really care about and enjoy (for example, a baseball fan may find meaning in teaching the sport to others with special needs). Let them decide on the smallest things like whether they wear a tallit you or another family member wore or pick out a brand-new one for their special day. Your child’s ability to make choices will personalize the experience and make them feel more invested. Plus, it will give them confidence in knowing they can make important decisions for themselves.
4) Show them how much it means to you
If the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony is a big deal to you as a parent, then it’s more likely to be a big deal for your child. Tell them how your own Bar/Bat Mitzvah was a profound experience that set the stage for a life of Jewish learning and practice. Share what it means to your personally for your child to follow in your footsteps and experience this incredible rite of passage. If you’re invited to the bimah on your child’s special day to share a few personal words of reflection, think of what to say beforehand so that your words to your child—as well as those in attendance—are truly impactful.
5) Emphasize the journey is far from over
It’s critical that your child understands that while their Bar/Bat Mitzvah is an exciting and important milestone in their young life, it’s just the beginning of a lifetime of spiritual education and discovery. A great way to keep the momentum going after the ceremony is to find a book on Jewish values or wisdom that both you and your child can read each week and then discuss how it can be applied to everyday life. Another way is to take on a service projects throughout the year as a family to create ongoing, positive change in your community.
Read this Forward magazine article on how splurging on your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah may shape their saving and spending habits in the future.