So you've been invited to a bar mitzvah. If this is your first, you may not know what the celebration is all about, let alone what to wear, what gift to bring and what kind of festivities take place. The good news is that you can look forward to one great party--and with a little bit of preparation you'll blend in with the whole meshpucha (Yiddish for family). Read on to learn more.
Understand what a bar mitzvah is. A bar mitzvah celebrates a Jewish boy's rite of passage into adulthood and usually takes place when he's around 13 years old. It begins with a formal ceremony and usually takes place in a synagogue during Saturday morning services. The bar mitzvah boy reads from the Torah, leads the congregation in prayer and usually talks about a community service project he conducted as part of his preparation.
Get ready for lots of fun after the ceremony. Sometimes the reception can take place immediately afterwards. Other times it can be a nighttime party or a luncheon the following day. It's usually fairly similar to a wedding with catered food, floral arrangements, favors and a disc jockey or band.
Dress in a suit or dress for the ceremony. Women need to make sure their arms are covered if the ceremony is held in a conservative synagogue. For the party, suits are also appropriate unless the invitation says black tie--which is very unusual. Women can wear cocktail dresses for evening affairs and suits or more casual skirt outfits and dresses for luncheons.
Bring a gift similar slightly lower in scale to what you'd give at a wedding. A cash savings bond is always a great idea, or you can give books, camping equipment, an iPod, a watch or anything else you think would appeal to a 13 year old boy. The Hebrew representation of the word "life" is the same as the number 18, so people often give cash or checks in multiples of $18, such as $36 or $180.
Expect a kosher menu if the reception is at a synagogue. This means no dairy and meat products served at the same time--fish and dairy may be served together, but not fish and meat or poultry.
Enjoy a party filled with dancing, games and often a candle lighting ceremony, where the bar mitzvah boy asks the people closest to him to light the 13 candles on his cake.
Tips & Warnings
- Jewish girls go through a nearly identical rite of passage when they turn 13, called a bat mitzvah.
- Don't clap during the religious ceremony.
- Men must wear yarmulkes while inside the synagogue, even if they are not Jewish.