The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book by Jayne Cohen and Lori Weinrott
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“J” The Jewish news weekly of Northern California
(Formerly the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California )
“Guide for Modern-Day, Meaningful B’nai Mitzvah”
August 20, 2004

by Liz Harris

Planning a bar or bat mitzvah?
Though the title “The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book” may be a stretch, Jayne Cohen and Lori Weinrott have come up with a comprehensive tool for families — especially those outside the fold of a congregation — starting b’nai mitzvah planning. Mindful of contemporary needs, Cohen, a food writer, and Weinrott, a caterer, toss just about everything into their 280-page guide.

In the section titled “The Ceremony,” they begin with the very basic, “What is a bar/bat mitzvah?” Their simple explanation (“The bar/bat mitzvah celebrates a child’s entry into the adult Jewish community, and by extension, the world community) is typical of their attempt to briefly touch on a range of topics, such as ritual, history and the sensible question: “Why 13?” without getting too detailed.

From there, they move on to “The Community: Widening the Circle” and dwell on issues relating to the synagogue. For those unfamiliar with the “synagogue journey,” they offer information on how to select a community, how to join, related expenses and expectations. And with a nod to the many families that are not joiners, they mention nontraditional venues, elements of the bar or bat mitzvah service and basic preparation.

It is clear, however, that in the large second section, titled “The Festivities,” the writers are in their element. After all, the New York-based Cohen has written for such magazines as Bon Appetit and Gourmet, and is author of “The Gefilte Variations: 200 Inspired Re-creations of Classics from the Jewish Kitchen.” Weinrott, the co-founder of a Philadelphia-area catering company and partner of its kosher division, is an event planner who has organized countless b’nai mitzvah celebrations.

“The Festivities” offers strategies and specific suggestions on everything from invitations to décor and lighting; flowers to table setting and centerpieces; music, dancing and other entertainment; getting help, serving and setting up; recipes and planning tools.

Whereas the first part of the book gives basic information, Part Two is fairly detailed, with suggested menus, recipes, entertainment ideas and sample budgets. Mindful of those who have to watch their spending, the authors have included plenty of cost-cutting ideas.

Through their comments and coverage, the authors make it clear that they want to be inclusive: Their book is intended as a resource for parents and kids, Jewish and interfaith families, single-parent families and same-sex parents. The book even takes into account those for whom “family issues,” such as a bitter divorce or the sudden death of a relative, might crop up, getting in the way of a planned celebration. (Their advice: Postpone the event, if need be, until happier times.)

Also in the spirit of inclusiveness, the authors aim their guidebook at both those families comfortable within established streams such as Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist, and those outside. (Orthodox Jews most likely would not find the book useful.) Those still struggling to find a meaningful Jewish identity and who want to celebrate the coming-of-age ceremony will get a good overview of what is entailed. The latter group, especially, will find a lot to digest. For besides the authors’ culinary expertise and knowledge of party planning, they are modern women, after all.

Take their chapter “Tradition!” They highlight some of the most important blessings, traditions and customs and discuss how these can be woven into the event to make it more meaningful. After all, they write, “In a world where nothing seduces like the high-tech and future-forward, it may surprise many parents to learn that their children, 13-year-olds going on 25, still feel a strong connection to centuries-old customs and traditions.”

“The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book” by Jayne Cohen and Lori Weinrott (288 pages, Crown Publishing Group, $18).

Copyright J, the Jewish news weekly of Northern California

The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book
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