The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book by Jayne Cohen and Lori Weinrott
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Southeastern Virginia Jewish News.

Reviewed by Dana Adler Rosen

If you have a bar/bat mitzvah somewhere in the horizon, this is a must read. Filled with inspiring ideas, Cohen and Weinrott help bring balance to this meaningful Jewish milestone. When planning a bar/bat mitzvah, it is easy to be paralyzed not knowing where to start. This practical yet creative guide is a welcome tool.

This guide suggests imaginative ways to combine traditional and personal values in the ceremony and the ensuing celebration. It also presents practical suggestions for planning a bar/bat mitzvah as well as serving as an idea book. The duo help families navigate and plan the year preceding the bar/bat mitzvah, prepare for the myriad elements of the bar/bat mitzvah and emphasize the meaning behind the service and the traditions. They don't stop with the bar/bat mitzvah year but also have suggestions for the post bar/bat mitzvah year with appropriate mitzvahs (good deeds) as a class.

Part I is entitled "A Family Celebration." It is broken down into sections concerning the service and how to make it a memorable family event without falling into the peer pressure trap. Ideas abound for all levels of observance and the author's are non judgmental. Since it is inclusive, there is a wonderful section on adoptive families as well as special needs families stating that "the tent of Judaism today is very wide." They also address the elements of the service, the blessings, honors and aliyot with helpful ways to prepare for all honors. They cover ritual items for the synagogue and suggestions for "making it a mitzvah" by purchasing handcrafted kippot from needy artisans through Myriam's Dream which provides work for the elderly around the world. Or for purchasing a beautifully embroidered tallit bag made by Ethiopian Jews to benefit poor Jews survival in Ethiopia.

Throughout, the emphasis is on creating a mitzvah. On most pages, there is a highlighted box with suggestions for mitzvah projects such as participating in bar/bat mitzvah twinning programs with bar/bat mitzvah kids in other countries. And then starting a clothes closet of celebratory clothes that are expensive and outgrown to be sent to needy students participating in the bar/bat mitzvah twinning program in another country. Or organizing the bnai mitzvah class to collect tableware, pots and pans to deliver to Jewish Family Services for redistribution in order to share the collective celebratory meal. The mitzvah ideas in this guide are quite good and would also be suitable for any age level, school or organization . After the bar mitzvah year, they suggest joining with kids from other synagogues and hosting a dance marathon at the JCC to raise money for special needs kids. Or help kids with disabilities by becoming a buddy in Little League or soccer.

There is also emphasis on traditional Jewish family values. On many pages there is a highlighted box entitled "From Generation to Generation" encouraging family traditions. One father took his own father's tallit, removed strands from his father's tzitzit and had it woven into the tallitot of other family members. "His wife embroidered cranes, a Korean motif, into the mantel of their daughter's bat mitzvah tallit in tribute to her Korean birth, and wove some of his father's tzitzit in with her new ones."

Part II is entitled "The Festivities." They have suggestions for the festive meal, decorations, entertainment, how to's on contracting with caterers, florists, entertainment, invitations, hotels, as well as original ideas for the home based celebration replete with recipes and menu suggestions. They also provide clever ideas for pairing with a timely Jewish holiday . They cover the joyously simple to the creatively elaborate. Even when they discuss the festivities, they emphasize the Jewish elements and ways to always have the traditions constant. They provide fresh suggestions for a candle lighting, the Ashkenazi chair dance, the hora dance (descended from a Romanian peasant dance), the challah and blessings over the wine and bread. Or an Israeli market, Purim Ball, or a Moroccan feast. While most are Ashkenazi based, I would have appreciated more international or Sephardic traditions.

They emphasize "adding a Jewish flavor" with such things as instead of numbering party tables, choose Judaic names for them named after the "Twelve Tribes" or Jewish heroines. Their philosophy is to provide a welcome fresh approach with ideas to make the bar/bat mitzvah a more personal celebration rather than a canned and trite event. "The goal is not to have guests remark, "Wow, I never saw anything like that" or "That must've cost a fortune," but instead, "There was such a wonderful spirit at that celebration" and 'What a great time I had."

The check list, time line, cost analysis, sources, web sites, are invaluable. The ideas for making mitzvahs and for bringing the family together in a meaningful way during the service and the celebrations are even better. The word "ideas" keeps surfacing but this book is indeed a bountiful idea book.

The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book
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