Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Jew & A – 13 Candles

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism,Reasons to be cheerful
On March 1, 2012
At 11:45 pm
Comments : 6

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!


6 Comments for this post

Mary says

Thank you so much!
And it turns out I made a mistake with the locale of the party. It’s at Wildwood Country Club, not Wildwood, the arcade place. Which I didn’t even know existed until this week.

And a HUGE thank you for the tacit approval of a GC.

This is such a cool tradition – I wish I could go to the synagogue part.

Elena says

Very interesting, Becca. My odds of ever being invited to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah are very slim, but yaneverknow. I remember hearing about bar mitzvahs from Jewish comedians on Ed Sullivan in the 1960s, but never knew about bat mitzvahs til much later–have they “always” been done or is it more recently that girls get to participate too?

Becca says

Oops, yes, country club rather than arcade does make a bit of a difference! Maybe he won’t need to change then. It is a cool tradition! I hope both you and Elena get to go to one some time.

Elena, yes, having parties to celebrate Bat Mitzvahs is more recent and calling women to the Torah is even more recent (and not done by the Orthodox).

Alex says

Becca, well done. With respect to gifts, when people ask me, I usually say, “If just your kid is going, then something on the order of what he’d give as a birthday gift is appropriate. If your whole family is going to a catered party in the ballroom at the Hyatt, you might want to be more generous. But just how generous to be is really a matter of local custom.” And I am totally with you on the gift cards.

Mary, do you know for a fact that you can’t go to the synagogue part? Usually, the synagogue part of a bar or bat mitzvah occurs as part of a congregation’s regularly scheduled Shabbat morning service–in other words, during pubic worship. If this is the case, and you’re curious to see what happens, you may actually be able to go. You could ask the parents. People asked us when my kids were becoming b’not mitzvah (plural of bat mitzvah).

Becca says

Really, Alex? Because in my day, friends would give me a record album for my birthday (used to cost maybe $8-$9) and they spent a lot more on my Bat Mitzvah presents. Has it changed?

Alex says

My advice was intended for non-Jewish friends. You had a very Jewey upbringing. That may account for the difference.