Bar & Bat Mitzvah Party Ideas

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Low-key, low-budget bat mitzvah

May 2010

Hi there, Our daughter will have her bat mizvah in August 2011 in Walnut Creek. I am looking for more recent ideas and information on a few things (well, on everything! I've never planned one of these before!) than are currently archived on the BPN website:

  • how to have a low-key bat mitzvah (daughter wants low-key, at least at last check - she is not a social butterfly, but rather a quiet, studious type who loves to read and has a very small circle of friends she likes to hang out with. She does not like to be the center of attention. She doesn't like to dance, either, but I'm assuming she will want a DJ - we'll have to see).
  • how to have a low-budget bat mitzvah that is still special and meaningful and FUN!
  • recommendations of local people to hire for various things (e.g., caterer, DJ, videographer, venue for the party, etc. - don't even know what we need!)

how to deal with who gets invited: real meaning of this question is that my husband and I have all sorts of family & friends whom we will want to invite, but daughter may balk as it's ''her party'' (of course, we are paying for it, so...) and we may get some pushback here. Almost all family would be coming in from out of state

RELATED ISSUE RE: BEING A GUEST AT A BAR/BAT MITZVAH: how to deal with the many bar/bat mitzvah invitations that our daughter will likely get from her classmates in terms of what types of gifts should be gotten for the bar/bat mitzvah that won't break the bank, particularly since we will be paying for our daughter's bat mitzvah
Thanks! Mom of the bat mitzvah girl

I may be coming from left field here but: back in the age of the dinosaurs when I attended a bar mitzvah, the ritual at the temple was followed by a nice lunch party at the parents' house. It is a relatively recent development that a bar or bat mitvah has to be as elaborate as a wedding. Since you say your daughter is a low-key type, why not sit down with her and imagine a party that will truly make her happy? True, she may feel pressure to do whatever her friends/classmates are doing--but maybe she would be happy to do something different, if you open up the possibility. Maybe she would enjoy a small party with her best friends and close relatives at a favorite place: at home, or a special restaurant or outdoor venue. Good luck and mazel tov to your daughter!

Mazel tov! Having been there and done that, I have some thoughts about guests and guest lists: it'll go more smoothly if you don't encourage your daughter's idea that this is ''her party'' -- it is a party to celebrate her wonderful accomplishment and her passage into Jewish adulthood, which is a real milestone for your entire family, and in that spirit your invitees should include your family and friends as well as hers. If I were you, I wouldn't tolerate much balking or push-back from a 12 1/2 year old on this.

As for classmates' invitations and gifts, you're right to anticipate that this could get out of hand. I strongly urge you and the other families of the bar/bat mitzvahs to discuss this and come to some agreement about upper limits for gifts (or, maybe no gifts at all) for each other. Also, in the synagogue we attended, it was an acknowledged custom that *every* child in the b'nai mitzvah class be invited to each classmate's bar/bat mitzvah ceremony and party. Not everyone attended of course, but this saved many hurt feelings, preserved self esteem, avoided the distraction of kids' wondering who's in/who's not for so- and-so's bar mitzvah, and communicated to the students that they are part of a community bigger than just themself. -- Been there done that

I'm planning a similar low-key, low-budget Bar Mitzvah in August. Contact me, and we can share ideas. ruth

After a morning service and synagogue kiddish lunch(catered by Lois Moore), we held a dessert party at our (1100 sq ft) house and in our backyard. The activities were pretty minimal -- silly balls, glow sticks (my daughter's request), and a chocolate fountain. We also did Havdallah which was an amazing bonding experience for the friends and family who shared the evening. Our year, a number of families held the parties at home, which all told has advantages, as even with a small place there are different spaces to hang out in, so the preteens/teens can run around, while the older people can talk to each other. You could think of the party as analogous to a birthday party where for the kids just being together is the fun. We did have the party catered so we could just enjoy our guests, though I know some people who have managed without the caterer. If you hold it at your house, and you have a small house, the main trick is to move as much as you can out of the traffic -- quite a bit can fit into a back bedroom. anon

Non-traditional Bar Mitzvah?

March 2010

My son has been attending Hebrew school, very reluctantly, for the past several years. He is currently in 5th grade and the pressure is building up for the Bar Mitzvah in two years. As we get closer I am starting to feel less comfortable with pushing him to do something that he struggles with so much (he is very clear that he does NOT believe in God, for example), and I am considering other options. I really would like him to have a Bar Mitzvah, but am wondering if there are other ways to do it rather than through a traditional synogogue. We joined the synogogue so that he could go to Hebrew School, but do not participate in the community beyond that -- it just hasn't really jelled for us. I would love to come up with a Bar Mitzvah experience that could be more meaningful (and less expensive!) for both of us. Bar Mitzvah bound

It sounds like what you and your son might really want is the most traditional bar mitzvah of all - a simple ''aliyah'' (being called to the Torah). That's all the bar mitzvah really is, the first time a child is called to the Torah and admitted into the community of adults. He does not need to prepare a speech or learn to read a portion, which is usually what gets kids nervous, and it doesn't even need to happen at a Saturday service. You also don't need to have an elaborate party if you don't want to make a big deal of it. And in case no one ever told him, a belief in God is not required in order to be an observant Jew or a member of a Jewish community. Sue

Hi, My son and his friend had their Bar Mitzvot at Hillel with by Sacha Kopin. She is wonderful and made studying Hebrew fun and meaningful. She came to our house for his lessons, and when it was time for the ceremony, he was confident and ready. Without Sacha, I don't think my son or his friend would have been interested in or motivated enough to have their bar mitzvot. You can reach her at sacha [at] Jamie

There are quite a few options out there for Non - traditional Bar Mitzvahs. First, have you tried Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont? Their program is pretty kid friendly (although not for everyone). Every child must agree to the process, and they mean it.

If that doesn't work for you, contact Jewish Milestones, they can help you look at all of the options and how to make the whole learning process and event meaningful for you and your son.

My last suggestion is find a congregation that you also want to participate in. If its just for your son, he'll probably never buy into it.

I'm pretty networked in here in the east bay and would be happy to a conversation with you. Marcia

I think there is a lot of pressure to have a Bar MItzvah a particular way when you are part of a religious community - my daughter has one coming up in July - and we have really tried to move away from those expectations and make this about her and our family. The education she is getting I believe is an important foundation from which to make later decisions about whether or not she really wants to participate (and to what degree she wants to participate) - but I think you can create a meaningful event within those confines. I suspect that there are others in your community who feel the same way - it just tends not to be something discussed, and in general I have had to learn to not care about what others think of the way we are conducting this event.

For us the focus is on the bnei mitzvah - NOT the party - our child is good with that, and we are able to keep it a much more spiritual event because of that. I also think that questioning faith is normal (and is in fact encouraged in judaism) so if you have the right rabbi working with your child this can be a great learning opportunity. Good luck!

Rabbi Yehuda Ferris is a hip, warm, non-judgmental Rabbi.Great with kids. Also small, warm, services. Maybe it would be a good fit. 510-540-5824. mimi

I suggest stepping back and looking at this from the wide angle. You say that you joined a synagogue so that he could go to Hebrew school. Why did you want him to go to Hebrew school? Right or wrong, the vast majority of people put their children in Hebrew school in order to have a bar or bat mitzvah. The pressure you are feeling is probably more about the common expectation.

Why Hebrew school? For a basic childhood Jewish education? So, tell your rabbi that you don't intend to have a bar mitzvah. (According to Jewish law all boys become bar mitzvah, a son of the commandments, at age 13. So your son will be a bar mitzvah whether he is ceremoniously called to read from the Torah or not.) What do you want from the synagogue experience? A community that loves, embraces and supports you? Often with spiritual communities we expect this to happen magically. But just like the PTA, you have to join in to get something out of it. You say that you don't participate in the community, it just hasn't really jelled for you. Maybe you are in the wrong synagogue for you. Or maybe you haven't tried yet. Or you didn't know what to do to make it happen. Or your attempts didn't work. In any of these cases, there are solutions to get you what you want.

Belief in God is not required to be Jewish or to become bar mitzvah. Judaism is not a faith based religion; we are a belonging based religion. You are a Jew because you are a Jew, not because of any belief system.

A bar mitzvah is the welcoming into the community of a young person who comes of age as a Jew. Is this the community that you want to join you for this? The joy and sense of belonging should not end with the bar mitzvah.

Cost: Wow, I can only say that you would get a standing ovation at the Council of Rabbis meetings! YOU DON'T HAVE TO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY! That's where community comes in. You define what sort of party you want. Lunch in the synagogue social hall? Sounds good to me! Invite your friends to heat up their ovens.

A meaningful experience. Studies show that the things that have the greatest impact on us are not things but interpersonal interaction. Forget the decorations or the band, what he will treasure is having people looking at him with love and respect. If you don't want to do this, DON'T. If you just need help, call. 510-845-6420 x11 Dawn

Unique Bar Mitzvah Party Ideas?

March 2009

My oldest son is having his bar mitzvah this Fall. He is not interested in a big wedding reception style party with a DJ and games. We'd still like to have a late afternoon or evening celebration for him that includes kids and adults (probably 120-150 people total) and are trying to come up with a unique venue in the East Bay. We are in Contra Costa, but are fine to come thru the tunnel. It would be nice to have some activity that the kids (most will be from age 10 to just turning 13) will enjoy since he doesn't want a DJ, but they still need something to do. I'm having a hard time thinking of something that can include both kids and adults. Have looked into the Commodore Bay Cruise, but will need to trim down our guest list quite a bit to do that. Any other ideas?? Thanks in advance! Need ideas

You might try some of the museums that do birthday parties. Like Lawrence Hall of Science or Chabot Space & Science. There would be plenty of room and a wide range of interesting things to look at. Dawn

Fresh ideas for Bar Mitzvah party

Dec 2007

Looking for fresh ideas on what type of entertainment to have at a 13 year old's Bar Mitzvah party. About 70 kids are expected (next May). We have a DJ, but having trouble with ideas that will interest 13 year olds. Thanks!

Mazel Tov! If you are the one looking for ideas, then you have the wrong DJ. A good DJ for kids will offer ideas up that include games and contests with prizes. The DJ should be keeping them on the dance floor for quite a while with the activities and line dances etc. Also, try to develop a theme for the party. It should be focused around what your child is most interested in. My daughter was really into swimming, so we rented out the community pool.

Its also nice for the adults when the kids are occupied. It may not be quiet, but they will have some time to sit and schmooze. Jenny

We rented a diner for the night for our son's Bar Mitzvah. It was equipped with a jukebox and a sound system to hook in to. So, we hired our daughter and her friends to be the party coordinators. It was perfect! They were older teens and had their finger on the pulse of that age group. They put together a song list on an iPod that hooked up to the sound system. It was a huge hit. They created games and had great prizes for the winners that were tossed out to the crowd. One of the games was about who knew the most obscure facts about the Bar Mitzvah's life, which can get hysterically funny. They had an arts and crafts table, they had a ''write a note or draw a picture for the Bar Mitzvah person'' table, a poker game was always in play, dancing and ice cream eating contests with their hands behind their backs. There were giant jars of candy, food they loved and they had a wonderful, crazy time. It sounds so ''youngish'' for this age group, but they all had a blast. Hope this helps. had a great time.

I hired Jeremy Shafer at for a birthday party for a friend. He juggles from a tall unicycle, plays with fire, makes fantastic origami, and knows how to work a crowd. He had everyone laughing, oohing, and ahhing, from toddlers and teens to old farts. Highly recommended. He's pricey but worth it. peonygarden

To the parent looking for a unique touch to their child's Bar Mitzvah, I highly recommend a Bhangra group/troupe called Dhol Rhythms ( They are a troupe of dancers that perform/teach this wonderful high-energy Punjabi-Indian peasant dancing (Bhangra music has a beat that could challenge any pop music!) They performed and led a workshop at my daughter's Bat Mitzvah and everyone was wild about them (kids and adults alike). Bhangra music and dance is the big rage in England these days and is starting to catch on here. Young, talented Vicki Virk is the founder of the troupe and has done much to promote the artform here in the States. We're lucky to have her right here in the Bay area! They're great for big parties because they are colorful, dynamic and get everyone up dancing (even reluctant boys). The beat is so infectious and the dancing so invigorating and free. Try them! You won't be sorry!! Call Vicki at 510-928-0595 or email her at Vicki at NK

For both my son and daughter, we created a theme based on their mitzvah project or interest. We saw that we could buy a tree in Israel in the name of our guests, but that didn't quite appeal to my son. He was interested instead in saving the coral reef, so we worked with the Ecosystem Survival group (who understood what we wanted to do -- I believe the director was Jewish). My son ''bought'' some coral reef for preservation in the name of each of the adults attending, and they put together a certificate, ''deed,'' and other info. We used the envelopes as table cards.

My daughter at first was going to focus on peace between different groups of people, so we had a blast making centerpieces that were tableaux of multiracial children (dolls) in different settings -- art room, birthday party, garage band, Yosemite camping trip, each one different (she made a great minature s'more out of cardboard, brown corduroy and white model magic!) Put together by amateurs, but wowed the guests. Then she picked a global charity and made a contrbution in the name of each guest.

Finally, we used a DJ who only does dancing (no games), and solicits requests by going to each table. An added benefit was that the parents as well as the kids liked the music, so they were ON the dance floor rather than by the sidelines watching their kids (My daughter preferred elbowing us on the dance floor to having us as an audience for her friends.) Everyone loved him, and 8 people asked me for his phone number for their events. So check with you child about whether he/she wants just dancing or also games. Wendy

Special music for Son's BarMitzvah Video

June 2007

With my son's Bar Mitzvah coming up next year, I'd like to assemble a video montage to show at the party that evening. This video will be about 20 minutes long and set to music, and will use about five songs at four minutes a piece, give or take. The music is a really central and evocative part of the video. Now the question: I need those five perfect songs. These songs need to really express deep love for a son, for his value to his family, for his great worth as a young man and our hopes for him as we send him on his way into adulthood. I'd really appreciate recommendations of songs that tell any part of that story. I know friends have used the song ''Beautiful Boy'' by John Lennon, as an example, and that is certainly a sweet song and might be an option. But I think I'm looking for something more unusual, songs with lots of soul and lots of power (serious, fun, sweet, uplifting...).

When we put together a video for our daughter, the choices were abundant (Carole King, Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Van Morisson - hereby revealing my musical vintage) but it's much harder to find something for a son that is at once masculine but still tender. We're really open to lots of different types of genres, and don't need to be frozen musically in the '70's - '80's. Any special song and/or artist recommendations (and where we might find these tunes) would be greatly appreciated. thanks!!

I don't know whether it would be appropriate or not, but I cry every time I hear ''Day is Done'' by Peter, Paul and Mary (''tell me why you're crying, my son?'') Debbie

How about ''The Circle Game'' by Joni Mitchell? I think it's a great, touching, masculine growing up song. You can find the lyrics here: and I am sure itunes would have all of the songs you ultimately decide on. Good luck and congratulations.

You might try Lauren (Lauryn?)Hill. I know there is at least one song to her son Zion on her ''The Miseducation of...'' album, and there may be more on her later stuff.

How about ''Solsbury Hill'' by Peter Gabriel? Great song, and just dramatic enough as a backdrop to a montage. anon

Special touches for Bat Mitzvah dinner party

Sept 2006

Hi - Having not hosted a dinner party in ages, I could really use some tips from some party planners in our community. Our daughter's Bat Mitzvah is coming up in January and we'd like it (of course) to be really special. We'll be hosting two events in addition to the luncheon after the service: a Friday dinner the night before the Saturday morning service and a Sunday brunch. She's a very informal kid and doesn't want a fancy party as part of her celebration weekend. We'll have friends and family flying in from all over the country, really going out of their way to be with us. I'd like to acknowledge that and let folks know how grateful we are that they've gone to such lenghts to join us. Therefore, I'd really appreciate tips on how to make the Friday dinner memorable and any touches I could use to make each family feel special. We're renting a private room in a nice hotel for the entire evening; we're able to decorate the room as we wish, play music, dance, whatever we'd like. Sunday brunch is less of an issue - we'll have a great spread and it will be very relaxed. In a nutshell, my real question is, ''What makes for a great party?'' No disco for this kid

We recently attended a Bat Mitzvah out of state. We were there to attend all the events from Friday to Sunday. However, the one thing that really sticks in my mind is when we checked into our hotel. The hotel clerk gave us a basket with our family name and a note from the hosts thanking us for coming. The basket included candy (theme of the Bat Mitzvah), water, snacks, invitations and directions to all the events. We were very surprised, but it also made us feel very included. At the Bat Mitzvah dinner, they also named all of the out of town families and had them come up to take pictures with their daughter. It is difficult to fly out of town for such an event and I often wonder if the party will even know we are there. The basket made all the difference from the moment we arrived Tabnand

It seems like you are well on your way to making your special guests know how grateful you are - having a dinner for them in addition to the Bat Mitzvah. I recently went to Madrid for a friend's son's wedding and I felt welcome because I was included in such events. Also, the friend and her son both thanked me for coming and said they were really grateful. One thing they did for the pre-wedding party for ''family and out-of-towners'' was transport us all from the hotel to the restaurant. Then we felt we were on an excursion, something special. They didn't give any favors or anything like that - just great food and good company and verbal thanks. And, they spent their time with us when they were busy. My friend also said, ''don't give them a gift, you spent so much getting here'' (of course I did give them a gift, but again I felt acknowledged for making a special effort). Ideas beyond that though - a slide show making sure you have a photo with each guest in it, a favor or momento of some kind, a toast by your daughter to the group. Have a great time! Mary in Oakland

I have two thoughts for you. First, if you have family/friends travelling to this event one way to make them feel extra appreciated is to have gift bags in their hotel rooms when they arrive. I did this for my wedding and it was a HUGE hit. They were not expensive things, just useful stuff like bottles of water, nice snacks, mints, a map of the area with a list of area attractions and services. It is a really nice thing to do. Plus, the list of things-to-do in the area gave guests some guidance about what to do when they weren't with us. Second, a really thoughful favor at the always makes guests feel appreciated. Not something they can't use and will throw away but something that shows you thought about what they would really use. It is hard for me to say what not knowing your family but what we did (again at our wedding) was leave a card at each place that said that we were going to make a donation in that guests name with a charity. There were two (or three) charities listed on the card and the guest picked which charity they wanted. Then after the party, we grouped all the picks together and gave the charity $5 times the number of guests who picked that card. It was the same (or even less) than we would hav espent on favors anyway and it made the guests feel really good. Anyway, congrats and enjoy! lynnb

One thing that makes hosting parties fun for me is to pick a theme. In January it might be fun to pick a warm theme like Hawaiian Luau, Mexican Fiesta, or a Jamaican theme. Then that helps with decision-making as far as decorations, food, music, etc. Have fun! --loves a good theme


Bar Mitzvah Party ideas for techie son

Dec 2005

I'm looking for ideas for a bar mitzvah party/event for my son. He is not able to come up with any ideas about what it is he would like, just a list of what he doesn't want: no DJ with dancing, no bowling party, no sports party, etc. His main interest is technology (now what can I do with that!?). I want to do something nice, fun and affordable that includes both kids and adults on a Saturday night. Any suggestions or creative ideas?
Looking for Mr. Good Bar Mitzvah

Either the Exploratorium in SF, which could be a good spot for a party, or Expressions New Media in Emeryville. Call them and ask if they have any innovative party ideas. Tech Kid Mom

Laurence Hall of Science hosts parties where they open one or more of the labs. If your son likes the technology and science that might be a place to have his party.
mom of a science lover

I highly recommend O-Ollie Entertainment. They specialize in unique, one-of-a-kind parties. Check out their website at Or, email them at brian AT, or call 510-558-8611.
Richard E

Special Touches at Bat Mitzvah

Nov 2005

Our daughter's 13th birthday is on the horizon and we're beginning preparations for her Bat Mitzvah next fall. We'd like to fill this day with a real sense of spirituality and symbolism. We'll have family coming in from far and wide, who haven't all been together since our wedding a hundred years ago. So I'm wondering about, and would really appreciate, any musings that you might have on special touches to make this day memorable. If you've been to a comparable event, what made it stand out, what was especially moving, what gave the event its special feeling(s)? We'll be holding a Friday night dinner and then a Saturday afternoon service with dinner immediately afterward. We'll be in a lovely community center rather than synagogue, and therefore will have no constraints about levels of observance in a sanctuary (we are a very reform but deeply culturally Jewish family.) Any ideas would be gratefully received. Have checked the archives and no word on this. Planning ahead for a special day

Hello and mazel tov on your daughter's impending Bat Mitzvah!

I want to tell you, for their daughter's Bat Mitzvah, very dear friends of ours put together a photo montage of their daughter's life from birth to present and set it all to beautiful music that still brings tears to my eyes. The Beatles' ''Black Bird'' will now always remind me of Jessica.

If you are not technically inclined, I am sure there are services out there that will put a photo montage together for you. I am already listing songs that we will use for a photo montage when our sons are ready for their Bar Mitzvahs.

I have been disappointed with how commercial B'nai Mitzvahs have become. Having something so intimate, sweet and innocent to share with the guests really brought the focus back to what was important.

I guarantee you, people won't stop talking about your slide show and feeling a connection to you daughter.

Oh, I have one other idea to share with you. When my nephew was bar mitvah'd his parents had a professional photo taken of him. They matted an 11x14 or so and had all the guest sign the matte board. They then framed it and have it in their home. All the beautful wishes and sentiments of the guests will be with my nephew throughout his life.

Good luck and have a beautiful celebration!! Karen

Bar Mitzva party ideas for boy who isn't into dancing

October 2002

Does amyone have ideas for a Bar Mitzva evening celebration for a 12 yo boy who isn't into dancing. I'm looking for fun, enjoyable, maybe a little grown-up, but fun for this age.(and it takes place in late January)

Our son did not like to dance either, so for his Bar Mitzvah we had a guitarist playing music, not necessarily for dancing but beautiful in the background. We made the party to suit his personality, which is kind of shy and reserved. Lots of excellent food of course. Some kids have rented a pinball machine for their party. Some parties have a magician or even a belly dancer. Let the celebration reflect who your child truly is, and let him know how wonderful he is right now. It is his day to shine. Mazel Tov, Patti

It sounds like you want ideas for an evening party for the Bar Mitzvah boy and his friends. Make sure you ASK him if he even wants one, and then, if he does, he'll probably have some preferences. I wouldn't assume that he wants a party, and if it's YOU that wants the party, do it your way but don't force things on your son. Our son had been to Bar Mitzvah teen parties and enjoyed them, but really didn't want one of his own. His friends came to the Bar Mitzvah and the lunch that followed, and one came along to the restaurant where we had dinner that night with the out- of- town guests, and that was really fine. Remember the focus of the day. Simple works, too

My son was not interested in a ''standard'' celebration for his bar mitzvah so we took his friends to the Sunday matinee at Yoshi's for jazz. The admission was remarkably cheap for kids (I believe it was $5) so we looked like big sports when we allowed kids to have all the sodas they wanted. Patty