A Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a very joyous and very sacred rite of passage in the Jewish community. It clearly defines the age where we become fully fledged members of the Temple and greater Jewish Community worldwide. It is the beginning of adulthood and truly a time for great reflection and celebration for all! It can also be a very emotional time for the parents and family of the individual.
Planning a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is fun, exciting, special and often overwhelming. It falls between the concept of planning a birthday party and a wedding. Since this event is so special and only happens once in a lifetime (unlike a birthday), many people feel nervous about "getting it right." Others have been planning their son or daughter's Bar or Bat Mitzvah since birth and know exactly what they want.
This event should be personalized and fun, however, many people get lost in the details of the day instead of enjoying the process of this special time. No matter which group you fall into, there are a few simple things that you can do to ensure that this event is special, meaningful and will leave lasting memories for all.
Get started early. There are lots of things to prepare for like Torah Study for your son or daughter and having the dates coordinated with the local Jewish community. The bare minimum of time to plan is six months, but I recommend at least one year. Decide on a date and check the calendar to see if it conflicts with any upcoming holiday or observance.
Plan your guest list and budget. These two things go hand in hand and should be done very early in your planning so you know what kind of a party you are dealing with. There is no set number of people you should invite or amount of money that you should spend on this event. Despite the fact that many people plan large scale lavish events, it is not a necessity. Once you have answers to both of these questions, the rest of the planning should go rather smoothly. Be sure to invite some of your child's friends as well as all of the people you know and associate with in the Jewish community.
Decide where you want to have the event. For many, they would like to have it in the Temple, for others a local hall or even their own home is a better choice. Often a combination of venues is the right choice, having the ceremony at the Temple and the actual dinner and entertainment portion off site. This can also dramatically change the cost or convenience of the event.
Contact the Temple. Talk to the elders in your Temple and/or the Rabbi's office staff. Let them know the date you are planning and what your intentions are for the event. You may find that the day you want is booked or that the temple has other events happening that will prevent some of your guests, or the Rabbi, from attending. You also may get assistance in finding a caterer that is compatible (kosher) to serve food inside of the temple. Having your event there may not even be possible.
Choose what type of an event you want. Many people are now having luncheons and breakfast type events instead of a traditional formal event. Others have been dreaming about a formal event for a long time and will settle for nothing else. You should decide this in tandem with what your budget will allow and how many people you choose to attend. One popular choice is to have a very small event at the synagogue with close family and a few friends and then make a journey to Israel in the following weeks. Given this option, many kids would prefer a smaller party with the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land. It can be a great event for the whole family. If you are looking to take a trip to Israel a good way to get started is www.shalomjourneys.com.
Pick out special keepsakes. There are lots of great ideas for keepsake gifts, from coffee cups to t-shirts with the name and date of the event. Plan for one gift per guest and a few extras "just in case" more people come. Some other great ideas range from personalized pens or key chains to silver jewelry or stationary sets. Get creative and keep your child's personality in mind. A few places you can find ideas for favors are www.partymommas.com and www.partydecorationsbymarlyss.com.
Get your child involved. After all, it is their day to enter into the Jewish Community. They are also a lot more likely to be cooperative with the whole process if they are involved in the decision making. Ask him or her about food choices, themes, colors and guests they wish to invite.
Find a good caterer. While you may be an excellent cook, or have a team of willing relatives, a kosher catering company is often the best bet. Contact at least two different caterers and talk to them about your event. Be sure to sample their food, and ask about other events that they have done. You may already have a good or bad impression of their work and not even know it. Talking to others in your community can help you get in touch with the right people for your needs. You should also ask about their cancellation policy and what type of safeguards they have in place to ensure your event will go smoothly. They may also cover more than just the food, such as tent and equipment rentals, decorations and entertainment. Be clear about what your needs are for the evening, and don't feel pressured to commit to one company right away.
Enlist trusted help. Choose a friend or relative (or two) to help you put this all together. Be sure to assign tasks for everyone and don't be afraid to check on their progress from time to time. You should ultimately be the manager of the event. Make it clear to everyone what your vision is and ask that all decisions are run through you. This is not really an event where surprises are a good thing, especially when you think things are going to happen in a certain way and they don't. By maintaining good communication with you "team members," you should be able to avoid any last minute "drama" that may occur.
Enjoy it! This is a beautiful event for you and your child so try to enjoy the process. You may be blessed enough to plan another for your other children, but each event is special and only happens once. If this kind of thing stresses you out, talk to a friend who has a knack for party planning. Some people really love to be involved, especially when they can help a friend.
These guidelines should get you started on your journey, but there is a lot of help out there if you need it. Check out the phone book and ask around at your local Jewish Community Center about their resources. Often there are people whose job it is to help coordinate such events for the community. The Internet is also a great place to get ideas and seek out caterers and other vendors you may need. Sometimes it is a good place just to get inspiration or clever ideas. Whatever you may decide to do, Mazel Tov!