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Jewish Journal

B’nai Mitzvah Planning 101

by J. G. Friedman

March 11, 2004 | 7:00 pm

So you're going to have a mitzvah -- whether it is a bar or a bat, the planning begins early. Way before Hebrew school age, you will hear at least one grandfather wistfully thinking aloud at about age 5, "In eight years, we will have a bar mitzvah."

From there it continues directly to the child. "You're 7 years old? Why, in only six years, you will become a bar mitzvah."

As the months go by, there will be similar remarks followed by, "I know, papa. Only six more years."

About two years before, the parents will begin to pay attention. The first thing to do is set the date. Once the community calendar has the date, usually around the child's 13th birthday, you are on your way.

Never had a bar or bat mitzvah before? It's a piece of cake (usually pareve, even if you don't keep kosher, in the case of a meat meal).

First you have to decide: Do you want to do what everyone else is doing, or are you going to be different?

The next step is to choose the caterer. If the affair will be held at the synagogue, you will need someone approved by your board. Set those dates and choose your menus. You will usually need something for after service Friday night as well as Saturday noon. Some choose a Saturday evening meal as well.

The bar mitzvah usually consists of a Friday night service and kiddush afterward. Held in the synagogue, we usually assume the people have had a meat meal for Shabbat and will prefer a pareve dessert. The caterers have a wonderful selection of pareve desserts -- gooey or not. Along with this, the actual bar mitzvah cake might be on display. Most popular are trays of fruits and small cakes, cookies, cupcakes.

Friday night, after services, also includes coffee, tea and sodas.

Some people have a luncheon and others have a dinner; some have both. For example, some synagogues allow music during the day. In that case, you might have a very celebratory luncheon, along with a band or DJ, and cut the cake along with cutting a rug.

Where music is not allowed in the synagogue, some people choose to take the affair to a restaurant, in which case the rabbi and teachers probably cannot participate. Others wanting to celebrate the bar mitzvah with everyone will have a quiet luncheon and come back to the synagogue -- after sundown -- for the big celebration with music.

For the luncheon or dinner, after the menu with the caterers is selected, the next step is flowers. You should offer one or two arrangements for the bima. After services, they can be brought down by the caterer or florist to be placed on the stage of the banquet room. Instead of flowers, some choose to have two big baskets filled with food items for the local food bank. What better time to do a mitzvah than when you are having your own mitzvah. Count your blessings by sharing with others.

Are you going to spend a fortune on centerpieces? Does your 13-year-old care about the flowers? Some choose to have the boy or girl's favorite cake as a centerpiece. You can be sure that a centerpiece of a strawberry shortcake or a half sheet cake of a baseball diamond with bases loaded is very well appreciated by the teen set. When you use the cake theme, each table has a cake big enough for the people at that table.

You can choose to have music or not -- and, most important, you can dance to your own tune.

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