The stark reality is that unless we are: 1 — an organizational queen; 2 — married to the organizational king; or 3 — have nothing else to do (which is clearly not the case considering we are parents), planning our child’s bar or bat mitzvah promises to be profoundly overwhelming.
The following timeline will help you stay on track along the way.
Two to ThreeYears Out
- Secure a date. Unless your synagogue is going to track you down like mine did, contact the temple office when your child is less than 10 years old and set the wheels in motion.
- Inquire about tutoring. Synagogues vary in the ways they handle bar/bat mitzvah lessons, so it’s important to be clear on how things work in your congregation. Will the rabbi tutor your child? If not, will the synagogue arrange a teacher or are you expected to track one down on your own? Will payment be handled through the synagogue office, or will you pay the tutor privately? Is there a list of recommended tutors? Do some work better with certain kinds of kids? If your child has a learning problem and may need more extensive tutoring or a specific approach, let the rabbi know now.
- Begin bar mitzvah networking. Get into the habit of probing parents of children within a year of their bar or bat mitzvah for simcha scoop. Of course you want to get the usual rundown of the best — and worst — party planners, photographers, caterers, venues, etc. But don’t stop there. Ask about meaningful traditions and special touches they’ve experienced in b’nai mitzvah ceremonies and celebrations.
- Start having Torah portion parleys. “Mitzvah Chic” writer Gail Anthony Greenberg suggests that we make it a routine to discuss one idea from the weekly portion each week to help prepare our child to write the devar Torah.
One Year Out
- Work out a budget. Without a hard-and-fast budget and list of spending priorities, we are essentially toast.
- Become at home in the synagogue. If you don’t attend services regularly, it’s time to crack open the siddur.
- Start stitching. If you will be needlepointing a tallit or tallit bag for your child’s bar or bat mitzvah, it’s time to hit the thread.
- Compile a baseline guest list. It’s important to have a general sense of numbers and how many rings out from your inner circle you’re planning to invite.
- Begin researching possible tzedakah projects.
- Put down deposits. It’s time to make some decisions and pay the piper. Venues, DJs, bands, photographer/videographer, decorators and the like will all require some nonrefundable token of your commitment at this point. Just be sure you have the terms in writing before you give them your credit card number.
- Decide if you will be having other events throughout the weekend. Many families invite close friends and family to a Friday evening Shabbat dinner before the big event and/or a Sunday brunch as a send-off.
- Look into lodging. If you have out-of-town guests coming, find a convenient hotel that is willing to offer a promotional price and reserve a block of rooms.
Six Months Out
- Order invitations. Even if you are the decisive type, this promises to be a challenge. (Who knew that there were so many different shades of blue ink to choose from?) Be sure to err on the side of ordering too many invites rather than too few, because reprints of small quantities can be costly.
- Tackle the trope. If you or any other family members will be reading from the Torah at the service, get your portions now — trope is tricky.
- Get cracking on the devar Torah. Reflecting on the Torah portion can be as hard, if not harder, than learning it, so it’s important to give your child plenty of time for rewrites.
- Track down a tallit. One of the most powerful moments in the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony is when the parents present the child with his/her first tallit. If you are not a stitchin’ chick, it’s time to start shopping. Judaica stores (online and brick and mortar) and synagogue gift shops are a great place to start.
- Decide on decorations and centerpieces. If you will be assembling them yourself, start gathering materials. If you are working with a party planner, finalize the concept.
- Check on your child’s progress. Remain in close contact with your child’s bar/bat mitzvah tutor to be certain he/she is moving along well. If necessary, add extra sessions.
- Keep up with the kippahs. Place orders for imprinted kippahs. Be prepared to make a slew of unexpected choices (silk or satin, leather or cloth, patterned or solid, etc.).
Three Months Out
- Check on your child’s d’var Torah writing progress.
- Collect pictures for the video or slide show. A video presentation featuring the bar/bat mitzvah child growing up and special family members and friends is always a hit at the party. Plus, it forces us to make a historical document of our child’s life that we’ll cherish for years to come. If you are techno-savvy, there are lots of programs that will enable you to do this yourself. Otherwise, there are plenty of vendors out there more than willing to do it for you.
- Have your tastings. Go for free tastings (you’ll pay later, and then some) and finalize your menus.
- Shop for bar/bat mitzvah attire. Hold out on alterations for kids’ clothes for now.
- Address the envelopes. Whether you will be having a calligrapher or laser printer do the work, it’s time to get started. Take a fully stuffed envelope to the post office to be weighed and buy the stamps. (Hint: You may want to send yourself an invitation as a test run to be sure the envelopes stay sealed and the calligraphy is legible by the postman.)
Two Months Out
- Mail invitations. Some people prefer to have their invitations hand-stamped to maintain a clean look.
- Decide on aliyot and honors. Decide who will be opening, closing, undressing and redressing the Torah. Find out the Hebrew names of everyone receiving an aliyah.
- Draft a bar/bat mitzvah brochure. Many families choose to set out personalized fliers offering special general messages and a list of the people — and their relation to the child — who will be participating in the service.
- Write your speech to your child. Considering how crazy life is about to get, you are wise to get the emotional piece out of the way now.
One Month Out
- Have practice services. Boost your child’s confidence and refine davening skills by periodically having him/her run through the service at home.
- Lay out a seating plan. If you’ll be assigning tables, get out a pencil with an ample eraser and start arranging the troops.
- Coordinate a rehearsal time with your synagogue. Try to arrange for the photographer of videographer to be there for a mock-up bar/bat mitzvah shot.
- Coordinate out-of-town guest transportation to and from airports and weekend festivities.
Three Weeks Out
- Touch base with your vendors. Having learned the hard way — my photographer showed up at the wrong restaurant location and missed the entire first half of the party — I can tell you it is absolutely imperative that you confirm time, date and place with photographers, caterers, DJ’s, videographers, decorators and any other involved parties.
- Alter your child’s clothing. Tell your kids to hold off on the growth spurts and head off to the alterations place.
- Stock up for the hospitality suite. If you will be having a hospitality room for out- of-town guests, it’s time to hit Costco.
- Put together welcome baskets/bags for out-of-town guests. Include a schedule of events and detailed directions.
One Week Out(Oy Vey!)
- Confirm final guest count with caterer — keeping in mind that once you have guaranteed a number, you’ll be paying for it, even if fewer guests show up.
- Prepare an emergency kit. You can never be too ready for a wardrobe malfunction. Throw together a bag with a sewing kit, hairbrush, extra stockings, bandages, lipstick and any other emergency items you might need and put it in your car — NOW.
- Do your pre-bar mitzvah family mitzvah. There’s nothing like an act of tikkun olam to snap the big picture back into focus.
One Day Out
- Breathe deeply, enjoy the moment and get ready for a wild, wonderful, whirlwind weekend.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning educator, mother of four and author of the book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone For Hanukkah?” (Random House, 2007).Read her online at sharonestroff.com.