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Q: When my child is invited to a school friend's Bar/Bat Mitzvah service, should I attend services with my child?
A: Attending the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service of a school friend is a family responsibility; the entire family should attend and is welcomed by the host synagogue. You'll find it very gratifying to experience each new Bar/Bat Mitzvah with your child and your attendance will add the supervision that is necessary when many young people attend a service. If you need to be at another synagogue service or don't drive on Shabbat, one family can cover for another and be responsible for your child. Dropping your child off at services is not appropriate.
Q: Why a kosher party?
A: Here is an opportunity to live out the important teaching of the tradition. Kashrut is our chance to bring Kedushah and significance to the mundane act of eating. Rather than merely satisfying a physical urge, we are able at our Bar/Bat Mitzvah simcha to be reminded of our unique role in the world as creatures of God who are able to sanctify our lives through even the simplest of deeds. Indeed all parties require a commitment to Klal Israel that every guest can eat together.
Q: What is a kosher party?
A: It is universally accepted that a party that utilized a Vaad (Council of Rabbis) approved caterer accommodates all levels of Kashrut. These caterers are prepared to explore with your family creative ways to be utilized in various settings. These caterers are eager to compete and create ways to be utilized in the synagogue, home or other locations.
Q: What should we do if non-kosher food will be served at a party?
A: If your child is invited to a party where non-kosher food will be served, this is in direct violation of many Hebrew school policies. Some families will choose not to attend the simcha on religious grounds. If you decide to let your child attend, please don't hesitate to ask the host to furnish a kosher meal for your child. Families choosing to host parties at a non-kosher site should be very sensitive to this issue. They should realize that their decision is disrespectful to the educational goals and basic precepts of Judaism. Violation of the Kashrut standards is an unethical practice as it directly undermines the educational message of the school and its families.
Q: What if a dairy party is taking place at a non-rabbinically supervised site?
A: Some families hold Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties at non-kosher establishments, but attempt to meet Kashrut standards by serving only dairy products or kosher foods. Hosts of such parties should be prepared to explain to fellow families what is being prepared, how it is prepared and how it will be served.
Q: What is appropriate dress for boys and girls at services and parties?
A: Please encourage your child to dress like a mensch. Synagogues expect the boys will wear sport coats or suits and dress shoes and that girls will wear appropriate shul clothes. Strapless or low-cut dresses are not appropriate at services. Party dresses, no matter how fancy the affair, should offer a degree of modesty.
Q: What is the parents' responsibility concerning RSVPing to a party?
A: A part of the parents' role during the Bar/Bat Mitzvah year is to teach their children social etiquette. Even though the invitation is addressed to your child, it is your responsibility to be sure he or she responds appropriately and on time. Once the response card is mailed, your child should not cancel at the last minute unless there is a bona fide family emergency.
Q: Is the decision whether to attend a party the child's or the parents'?
A: Certainly, your child has a say in whether he or she would like to attend a party on a given weekend, but the decision should be made with adult supervision. There may be weekends of two or three parties; it is important to teach your child to be sensitive to all the children in the grade and try to share in everyone's simcha. Also, do not allow your child to cancel attending one party in favor of another.
Q: Does my child have to attend services if he or she will be going to the party?
A: It goes without saying that the heart of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah simcha takes place in the synagogue at the religious service. Help your child to understand Jewish priorities by making it clear that it is inappropriate to miss the service unless your family needs are essential.
Q: What type of gift is appropriate for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child? If my child doesn't attend the party, should I still send a gift?
A: Gifts or contributions make a child aware that he/she is attending a simcha and not a school program. While the amount and type of gift is a family decision, here are some guidelines: Some families may choose to send a tribute or donation (a JNF tree, for example). Some families will want to purchase presents or send checks. There are attempts for parents to set up present sharing clubs that would allow parents to pool their resources and keep expenses to a minimum by standardizing the gifts. Gift giving depends on how close your child is to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child, how many members of your family are attending and a host of other variables.
Q: What are suggested for Bar and Bat Mitzvah invitations?
A: When it comes to Bar and Bat Mitzvah invitations, as in any other marketplace, the forces of supply and demand are intimately connected. The glitzy, irreligious (even sacrilegious) designs found in some invitation books reflect the fact that many families demand such invitations (or, at least, choose them over others that are offered). Concerned parents must consider what is "appropriate," "Jewishly meaningful," and, of course, affordable. One useful way to frame the issue is to remember that the invitation is to a religious service (including the reading of Torah, our sacred text) and therefore should convey, through its design and content, a dignified, religious spirit. Ideally, the invitation should include some Hebrew as well as English text. Some invitation styles offer a beautiful dual text format (in which the entire text appears in both Hebrew in English). This makes a very powerful statement about your child's Jewish education. Other styles include the child's Hebrew name (by which he or she will be called to the Torah) and/or Judaic artwork (embossed art depicting a Torah scroll, a tallit, and so on). Many printing companies offer Hebrew calligraphy, or can "shoot" camera-ready Hebrew text or artwork provided by the family for a modest charge. Depending on how involved your child is in planning the simcha, a dialogue and negotiation concerning what is and is not appropriate for a Bar/Bat invitation may be in order.
Q: What about invitation prices?
A: Be prepared for sticker shock the first time you leaf through Bar and Bat Mitzvah invitation books. On careful examination, however, you will see that there are many styles that are relatively modest in cost and also Jewishly appropriate (also some beautiful, appropriate invitations that are more on the expensive side). If you like a particular design, it often can be produced on less expensive paper to keep the cost down. You can purchase invitations and envelopes but have the party inserts and reply cards (post cards cost less than cards-plus-envelopes and also save trees) printed separately and less expensively elsewhere. Inexpensive thank-you notes can be purchased anywhere and need not match a fancy party invitation. It is usually possible to include Hebrew text and Judaic art in whatever design you choose. Many families design their own exquisite Bar or Bat Mitzvah invitations, sometimes featuring their own calligraphy or other personal touches. There are many ways to come up with an appropriate, affordable, beautiful Bar or Bat Mitzvah invitation.
Q: What are some guidelines for my child's behavior at the service and party?
We are teaching our children to behave properly. Please remind them that they are guests at the synagogue and guests at the party and should have appropriate behavior and good manners. They should be prompted to congratulate the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child during the Kiddush, to greet their hosts (the child and his/her parents) at the beginning of the party and say goodbye and thank you to the hosts when leaving. During services the children should participate as congregants in the service. Each synagogue has a clear set of expectations for behaviors in the service.
Q: Are boys expected to wear kipot during the parties?
A: In Jewish terms, the party is a seudat mitzvah, an integral part of the religious event. Boys are expected to wear kipot during the party.
Q: What is an appropriate time for parents to pick up children from evening parties?
A: Please use good judgment! It is entirely appropriate to pick up children no later than 11pm from parties falling on school nights; weekend parties may have a later pick up time. Children shouldn't feel embarrassed to leave before the band is finished playing.
Q: What about joint parties?
A: It can get complicated, but if families start out with a close personal relationship and enjoy the experience of working together on the details of planning a simcha, a joint party can be a wonderful experience for all concerned.
Q: What Jewish books make the best Bar and Bat Mitzvah gifts?
A: The Schocken Guide to Jewish Books, by Barry Holtz (Schocken Books, NY, 1992) contains an entire chapter answering this question. This book is available at local bookstores. It is a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to expand his or her Jewish knowledge. Another category of Jewish gift that should not be overlooked is a gift certificate from a local Judaica shop or Jewish bookstore. Browsing there can be a voyage of discovery for adults as well as for 12-and 13-year olds.
Q: Is it appropriate to invite my child's teachers?
A: In Jewish tradition, one who has taught a child Torah is like a parent to that child, and a student must show honor to a teacher who has taught him or her even "one letter." Your children's teachers should be invited to witness the moment when their student is called to the Torah as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Many families invite all or some of the teachers their child has had over the years.
Q: I am a Christian lady whose sister married a wonderful Jewish man about 18 years ago. They have three children and are raising them in the Jewish faith. My family is very excited that their son's Bar Mitzvah is coming up, but I am concerned about the proper etiquette for a non-Jew at the ceremony. I know very little about the meaning and purpose of a Bar Mitzvah. I would like to know what may take place, what is expected of the family, and maybe what an appropriate gift would be. My brother and his family live in another state and although we have a wonderful relationship, I would hate to "bother" them with my questions!
A: I recommend a book called "Putting God on the Guest List, Reclaiming the Spiritual Nature of your Bar/Bat Mitzvah" by Rabbi Jeff Salkin (Jewish Lights Publishing), which has a chapter specifically for non-Jews. In general, Bar/Bat Mitzvah means a young Jewish boy/girl, age 13, is considered by Judaism to be of the age to be included as an adult member of the Jewish people, with personal responsibility for following the commandments (In Hebrew, called Mitzvot, plural of Mitzvah, as in Bar Mitzvah). "Bar/Bat Mitzvah" means "Son/daughter of the commandments." If the service you are attending takes place, as most Bar/Bat Mitzvah services do, on a Saturday morning, the synagogue service is in the Jewish Sabbath morning service. In Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues the service runs on average 90 minutes to 2 hours; in Conservative synagogues it can run to three hours. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah student usually signifies his/her coming into the adult community by participating as a leader and a reader in the service, but the degree of participation varies from synagogue to synagogue. The main event of the service, which occurs about midway into the service itself, is the taking out of the Torah scroll, which is a handwritten parchment containing the 5 books of Moses (the first 5 books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). After the scroll is taken out of the Holy Ark, a section is read containing that Sabbath's lectionary reading. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah student usually reads the final section of the Torah reading, and often reads more than that. After the Torah reading is done, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah student usually reads an additional biblical passage called a Haftara, usually taken from the writings of one of the prophets. This reading is not from a scroll but from a book or booklet. In many synagogues, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah student also teaches a lesson in English about his/her scriptural readings, called a D'var Torah (also known as "The Bar/Bat Mitzvah speech" to the children). Depending on the synagogue, the student may also lead the congregation in the reading or chanting of some parts of the service. The expectations of the family are usually explained by the rabbi to the student and his/her family. The extended family is invited to the service, where it is customary for men (and in Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues, women often as well) (Jewish or not) to wear a headcovering (called a keepa or a yamaka). In some Conservative synagogues, women wear a lace headcovering instead. Usually, a synagogue will have a stand or basket of these items available at the entrance to the sanctuary if they are required. If the synagogue has the tradition of wearing the talit, or prayer shawl with ritual fringes, non-Jews do not wear the talit (prayer shawl). The reason is that the headcovering is a customary Jewish sign of respect before God, but the talit is a specific commandment of the Torah for Jews. As far as gifts, there are several traditions. One is to make a donation to a Jewish charitable organization in the name of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah student. This is a traditional Jewish gesture of "tzedaka", a word which means "charitable support of those in need" and derives from the Hebrew word "tzedek" which means "justice." It is also customary to give a Jewish book, or a gift certificate to a Jewish bookstore.
Here are some good question to ask your Bar Mitzvah DJ.
How many years of bar mitzvah experience do you have?
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