My favorite veterinarian and owner of shiny, shiny hair, Mary/Dr. Toad, writes:
My son Alec has been invited to a bar mitzvah. He is invited to both the formal part and the party afterwards.
While his friend has done a good job informing everyone as to what this means, I still have no clues about some stuff.
What does one wear to these things? I realize that the formal part needs dress up clothes (shirt/tie) but the party is being held at a local arcade type place.
I assume a gift is appropriate, but have no clue as to what type of gift. Should it be something religiously significant? Sadly, I’ve gotten nothing but gift cards for most occasions lately as my grocery store is open 24 hours and carries gift cards for most places and it’s on the way to every event. I’m pretty pathetic.
Magic Jewball, save me!
This could be my most subjective, take a stab in the dark answer yet. Both because this is highly dependent on where you live/nature of the celebrating family/type of affair and because I am no longer really on the Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit and definitely not as a friend of the celebrant. Back in my day, it was a popular gift to give a Polaroid camera, if that tells you anything.
So, with that caveat, I’ll take my stab and then invite others to join me in the social hall, uh, comment area, where we’ll enjoy a kiddush sponsored by the proud grandparents and give further advice.
To fill in everyone else, the actual main part of a Bar Mitzvah celebration usually takes place in a synagogue where the Bar or Bat Mitzvah (this term actually refers to the young person and not the party – he is a Bar Mitzvah and she is a Bat Mitzvah) will be called to the bimah (a raised platform at the front of the synagogue) to chant the Torah portion of the week and/or the Haftorah portion, which is a sort of matching reading culled from the last two thirds of the Hebrew Bible (what y’all would call the Old Testament). It is sung in an ancient melody and the Torah and Haftorah each have their own. The blessings said before and after each section of the reading (there are seven on the Sabbath) are considered an honor and so the Bar or Bat Mitzvah may also or alternately be called up to say the blessings. This being “called up” is actually the point and it is literally called an aliyah or “going up.” A Jew is not allowed to say these blessings before becoming a Bar (age 13) or Bat (age 12) Mitzvah so this is a big, big deal and everyone will be excited and congratulatory. It is a huge moment in the life of a Jewish person. From that time on, a Jew is responsible for his/her actions and takes on more of the responsibilities detailed in Jewish law.
Being that this part happens in the synagogue, dressing up, as you say, would be a good idea. The party afterwards differs immensely from person to person and some people have one party for everyone and one just for kids. An evening shindig at a hotel will probably require different styles than the one you describe at the arcade. I would guess that will probably be informal and kids will wear what they usually wear to kid parties at arcades, or maybe a shade nicer? Maybe the best thing to do might what we ladies have been since time immemorial and do the “but what are YOU wearing?” thing with moms of other kids attending. Then if you’re wrong you can all be wrong together!
And now to the gift question which I know puzzles lots of people. Here’s my take and others can offer theirs. I LOVE giving Jewish ritual objects or things with religious significance for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. But, you know, I’m Jewish, and know what to get. If I were invited to a baptism, I’d really have no idea and I’d assume no one expected me to give anything religious. So no worries about that. No one expects Jewish stuff from non-Jews. Some people like to say, “you’re supposed to give money. And it has to be in multiples of $18.” This drives me crazy. Money is a fine gift but it is in no way what you’re supposed to give. There’s really nothing that falls into the “you’re supposed to” realm with Bar Mitzvah gifts. There’s just “that would be appropriate” or “that’s a nice gift.” Same with multiples of $18 (corresponds to the word “life” in Hebrew). It’s nice but in no way required. Many people do, many people don’t. Gift cards are just fine (in any denomination) and I have given ones to Amazon to cousins myself (we can be both be pathetic!). Lots of it depends on your relationship to the boy. Your nephew? Something personal. Your co-worker’s kid? Money is swell. Your son can ask his friends what they are giving but I think you are totally safe with a GC.
Mazal tov to the Bar Mitzvah and I hope Alec enjoys the party. Thanks for writing!