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A sampling of some of the bar/bat mitzvah stories in our book
Twins in a Sukkah: Daniel and Rebecca's Autumn Bnai Mitzvah
The twins. Ever since they could remember, that's what everyone called them, as if they were a pair, like peanut butter and jelly. OrHarry Potter and Hermione. It wasn't that they didn't get along. They were just different. Daniel and his friends were always hiking in the woods, following trail blazes and streams; Rebecca was a member of the swim team. She wanted a party with dancing; he was still shy around girls. How could they possibly agree on one bar/bat mitzvah celebration that would please both of them?...
An Intimate Celebration at Home: Linda's Early Spring Bat Mitzvah
It had been a painful divorce, but the weekly Sabbath--an occasion to take the time to renew and refresh oneself-had helped Barbara and Linda work through it and had strengthened the mother/daughter relationship. Every Friday evening, they put the busy week behind them, lit the Shabbat candles together, and sat down to the fresh challahs they had prepared. After dinner, they took a long walk with Kasha, their little terrier mix, and watched the nighttime sky...
In a Butterfly Garden: Julia's Bat Mitzvah
Julia had followed Lesley into the gardens from the time she was a toddler, dragging her tiny hoe and playing hide-and-seek among the foxgloves as her mother weeded and transplanted cuttings. One spring Lesley even set up an area for butterflies, choosing special blooms like buddleia, joe pye weed, and flowering milkweed to attract them. There was no question but that Julia's bat mitzvah celebration would be here at home...
Noah, The Boy Who Loved to Bake Bread
Noah was an active child who loved to use his hands tossing a basketball or whipping up breakfast. He was having some difficulty with the quiet concentration needed to learn the Hebrew chanting for his Torah portion, and he mentioned his frustration one day after services to Becca, his former nursery school teacher, who was currently teaching at a Hebrew day school. "My Torah portion is totally cool. It's from Emor, about baking all these Sabbath challahs. I've been baking challahs with my mom since I was eight. But I just can't seem to sit down and really work on the chanting"...
A Celebration of Hanukkah and the New Moon: Sam's Bar Mitzvah
By the age of two, he was asking for crepes at breakfast instead of pancakes. At eight, he was spray painting autumn fruits for Mom's centerpieces. But it comes with the territory: Sam is Lori and Jon's son, and growing up in his mom and dad's catering business, he chose to work in a soup kitchen for his mitzvah project, and developed his own very definite ideas about food and parties. When it came time to plan his bar mitzvah celebration, he wanted a say in all the decisions...
A Time to Dance: Rachel's Late Spring Bat Mitzvah
This story begins in the late 1960's, when a young girl watched her family reconnect with their Algerian traditions at her brother Philippe's bar mitzvah in Paris. Brigitte can still taste the couscous au beurre lunch they shared at home after the services, and she remembers the Arab band sitting on her living room floor at the party that night. "Yuyu, yuyu," the women yelled, swaying their hips to music that sounded wonderfully exotic to her ears...relatives and friends, laughing, dancing...her stern grandpa suddenly moving in tune with the music, expressing himself in a way she could never before have imagined...
Lenny, The Fifty-Two Year Old Bar Mitzvah Boy
Old enough to have had four bar mitzvahs, Lenny was passionate about two things: the bar mitzvah he never had and the jazz saxophone. His celebration at age fifty-two combined both. In the Torah portion Shemot, Moses sees God's sign in the flames that would not be consumed. Lenny found an obvious parallel in his own life, and spoke openly to the congregation about his own "burning bushes," events that crystallized his thinking about Judaism and led him to the bimah...
The Sixties Revisited: Michael's Rainbow-Colored Bar Mitzvah Gathering
Michael's Torah portion, Vayigash, was about Joseph, his many-colored coat and his responsibility to his brothers: "God did send me before you to preserve life, the life of my brothers. I too accept responsibility for them." Building on this imagery, the family decided on an intimate homespun reception, 60's style. The rainbow-colored cloths covering the large round tables were fringed at the edges, reminiscent of the tzitzit on a Jewish prayer shawl, representing the mitzvot, or commandments. Though the table setting was simple--inexpensive glass plates, tie-dyed napkins to match the tie-dyed yarmulkes, bright woven bread baskets-it all held together. The potluck foods were set in simple vessels at each table, family-style...
And some of the practical how-to matters
Planning the Festivities: Timelines
Set up a long-term preparation timeline. Everyone's party planning path will be different: Some people will book a bandleader three years in advance, others just three months before. Nevertheless, we've included a long-term preparation timeline from Daniel and Rebecca's bnai mitzvah in the appendix to guide you in assembling yours. You'll also need to write up a timeline for the day of the celebration, noting each activity that will take place: when guests should be called to dinner, when the band will strike up the hora, when coffee and dessert should be brought out, etc. Because bar/bat mitzvahs are intergenerational parties, you may find you will have more than one activity scheduled for the same time. For example, there may be special entertainment for the kids while adults are still eating. Before orchestrating an element, take the time to visualize where your guests will be: Will the kids be in another room when you want to have the Havdalah service? Where will the guests be when the storyteller begins to spin her tales? You'll find a sample party timeline based on Daniel and Rebecca's bnai mitzvah in the appendix...
The Celebration Space: Location. Home Sweet Home
If you are thinking about using your home or summer place, or borrowing a house, consider the following: · Visualize the guests in the space. Are there fragile items that have to be moved, areas to be childproofed? Will you be anxious about spills and damage? In addition to evaluating the size of your home, consider whether there are adequate bathrooms (you can rent port-o-sans or trailers, if needed). Is there space for coats? What about local noise ordinances?
• Can your kitchen accommodate a party this size or will your caterer bring cooking facilities? Can your electrical system handle any special appliances?
• If you are planning to use outdoor space, you will need a tent if the weather turns inclement. Is there enough outside space to accommodate one? If there is heavy rain before or during the event, will the grounds be affected? By the way, the tent can be used for a children's party later or the next day.
• Don't forget these possible add-on costs: a dance floor, bathroom facilities, outdoor lighting, and coat racks...
Tradition! Kiddush, Motzi, Candlelighting, and More: Making Traditions Meaningful
Taking one's place in the community as a bar/bat mitzvah is all about continuity: linking the past to the future, the streams of time become timeless. We love to weave customs and traditions, so integral to this milestone, throughout the celebration. They form an essential part of our party planning, touching on everything from design choices for the table and decor to food, music, and dance. You'll find ideas on how to do this throughout the book, especially in the sections titled FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.
The purpose of this chapter is to highlight some of the most important blessings, traditions, and customs, revive a few from the past, and perhaps even inspire you to create some anew. We begin with the best-known blessings and traditions, then go on to havdalah and others that, though less familiar, will equally enhance your simcha. And finally, we talk about the rhythm of the rituals, and how the traditions can work organically to orchestrate the bar/bat mitzvah celebration...
Flowers and Centerpieces: Planning Your Flowers Around a Mitzvah. Practical Matters for Mitzvah Centerpieces
• If you are working with a florist and/or a party planner, share your ideas with them. They may not know what a mitzvah is, but they know how to nurture a budding project. They have great resources, and may take on your concept as a creative challenge. And you'll all feel good about the work you've done. Or visit your local home improvement store for advice. Better yet, put your fix-it friends to work.
• Coordinate your displays with floral and plant material. Keep your designs clean, uncluttered, and most important, playful. Sort by color or shape, and cluster like items together to maximize their visual effect. For a kid's hospital, group colorful picture books by size and shade and enclose them between bookend vases holding matching flowers. For a donation of art supplies, you might fill a paint can with paintbrushes and flowers that echo their shape: erect, narrow-blossomed carnations or calla lilies...