Bar & Bat Mitzvah Etiquette & Practices

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Shy mom's bar mitzvah speech, help!

July 2014

My son's bar mitzvah is next month and I'm having such a hard time coming up with a speech that feels authentic because I'm so shy and uncomfortable speaking in front of a group. I can verbalize what I love and appreciate about my son, I just have such a hard time formulating something heartfelt that conveys my true love and admiration for him, something that isn't cheesy or embarrassing to him, and something that won't make my face go red and my legs weak. Any advice?

I suggest that you view this as a blessing to your child and not a speech. Yes, there are parents who give speeches in which they talk about their child's resume of accomplishments and how hard the child worked to get to that day, but I suspect that part of why you are feeling uncomfortable is that those type of speeches feel inauthentic to you. Think of it as an opportunity to reach from your soul to your child, showing that you truly see the type of person your child is and what your hopes for the future are. Speak from your heart to your child. Don't worry about the rest of the room. ''May you ...'' Go for it. If you are happy with the result, it will be a blessing you will want to give your child at other times of transition like high school graduation. I hope that helps. Mazel Tov! Jewish Mother

On the practical side, I encourage you to find a friend who can help you write your speech so you're able to craft a message that you feel good about. I don't think this needs to take a long time. You might write a rough draft and then ask for help and get a round or two of revisions back. More than that is not necessary or useful, IMHO as a professional writer (and frequent friend helper).

On the emotional side, I would give yourself permission to have a red face and weak legs. The people who love you probably know you don't like public speaking. They know it will be hard for you to stand up and speak about your love for your son. So whatever you say will be appreciated. I have seen parents give speeches at their children's weddings that were very brief, emotional and awkward...and that made everyone tear up because the message was so heartfelt and real. Much better than those slick endless speeches from the suave best man.

On the worrying about your son's embarrassment side, I wouldn't stress about this. He'll be embarrassed no matter what. Sure, skip anecdotes about his diaper blow-out during his first trip to temple, or other things that would make most people cringe. But other than that, he'll know from your speech that you love him. That's what matters. you'll do fine

In all seriousness, you can google bar mitzvah speech just to get yourself started. And, once you know what you want to say, practice a lot to get comfortable. Mazel tov! It's gonna be great!

KEEP IT SHORT. You'll likely be all wrought up anyway. If you just take what you've expressed in your post, and re-work it as a speech, you'll be fine. 50 words or less. Jew-ish dad

I don't have words of wisdom for composing the speech, but I do have a suggestion for delivering it. When I'm in a situation that pushes my boundaries, I envision the person I want to be while doing the thing (confident, articulate, composed, charismatic even?), and my task becomes ''impersonating'' that person. I find that if I act like it, people buy it, and I even start to believe it myself. (In fact, maybe if you channel this amazing speaker when you are writing the speech, she may have some good ideas for you....) Good luck & have fun!!! You go, girl!!

I am a terrible public speaker. I go red, get sweaty, and shake. So, I feel your pain. Recently, I was asked to kick off the toasts to a friend at his 50th party. He had a lot of work friends there I didn't know, so it wasn't even like I was talking in front of people I knew. I did well by talking directly to my friend. It seemed to help the rest of the room fade away a little bit. I even got compliments after! If you speak from your heart and to your kid, you'll be okay. Keep it short. Maybe tell an anecdote from his younger years that exemplifies the kind of man he is turning into. Say what you love about him and how proud you are of him. It doesn't have to be long to be powerful.

Hi shy mom,

I know exactly how you feel. My Rabbi gave me some advice that helped me a lot and which I will pass on to you:

Your ''speech'' doesn't need to be a speech in the traditional sense and should be no more than 2 minutes (this was A HUGE relief to me). In fact, by the time it's your turn to speak, most people will be grateful for your brevity. While you might choose to praise your child (as most do), your words should also be be a wish or a prayer for him as you send him off into figurative adulthood. What do you hope for him? How would you like him to proceed into this amazing and complicated world and how would you like him to be received? See this as an opportunity to send him off with words of love and encouragement.

I hope this helps! Been there!

I'm a former standup comic, so I know not of what you speak -- but I think it is very disarming and endearing when someone begins a speech by owning her fear. ''I am petrified to be up here, and I hope I can give a good speech,'' will get everyone behind you. But don't overplay your hand by adding in ''Only for my son would I submit to this torture!'' or other guilt-inducing tactics because then you'll lose them.

Got it? Hope it makes sense. Just start by being honest about your fear and you'll feel all those good vibes rising from your audience.

Hi Missed the original post, so I might be a bit off, but here's my $.02. First, it is NOT YOUR DAY!! It is your son's day, so the spotlight is not on you!!! YEAH!! Second, here is a general outline of the speech I will give for my coming event.

Good Afternoon I want to take a few moments to say a few words on this special day. First, I want to give deep and genuine thanks for joining us here today. Thank you for joining in this joyous and happy celebration, in this ancient rite of passage for our religion, our culture, our people and our generations.

Today ____ will become (or became) a ''Son of Commandment,'' now an adult in Judaism and expected to uphold all the laws and commandments, all the responsibilities of Jewish law. It was a many year process of study - learning Hebrew, studying Jewish texts, learning and memorizing a Torah portion, learning to chant in Trope, participating in community service projects, writing a D'rash (teaching), learning the Haftarah portion. I am unbelievably proud of your accomplishments and your dedication to learning and study.

I give great appreciation to all the teachers and tutors that worked with you so patiently and with such dedication.

Finally, we remember with joy and sadness all of those that have passed and are not here with us now. Know that they are watching you and are proud of you today. We miss them greatly.

Please enjoy this day.

Hey, that's pretty good. I'm going to use that! -Mazel Tov! You'll do fine!

Bat mitzvah party for kids - don't want to serve dinner

Nov 2012

Hi. We are planning our daugther's Bat Mitvah for the spring. We are doing a small Kiddush after the service as we are going to go to Israel Summer 2014. The night after the Bat Mitzvah though we want to let our daughter celebrate with her friends (family and very close adult friends) at a hall and a dj and basically serving hor dourves only keeping costs down as much as possible for a few hours. I am looking for suggestions on way to word the night invitation (inserting in the pocket of service one) for the night party so invitees know we aren't serving an actual meal but also a fun way to word it basically people knowing it is a kid party.... Any suggestions would be welcomed! Thanks. J.

Hi Julie, Mazl Tov! Having played (music) at over 1000 weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, I can tell you that its very easy to let the party get out of control expense-wise. That being said, unless you are starting after 8PM, I would strongly suggest that you feed your guests. There are many ways to feed well and inexpensively: Costco, Pizza, and many local restaurants have nice trays you can buy. But the fact is, when guests write a check for a gift, they expect to be fed. When only hors d'ouerves are served, people grumble, '' I gave cash and I got a cocktail weenie?'' Since you don't want a plated (sit down) dinner, you can say, ''Light buffet provided'' or something. Paper plates are fine. And as far as the kids, they hardly eat much, they just dance, play, go to the caricaturist, etc. But grownups don't want to leave hungry. Cookie S

My daughter attended a Hebrew day school, and thus has been to literally dozens of bar/bnai mitzvot. One thing that genuinely irritated people- and that people did remember later on- was the hosts serving snacks rather than a meal during a long party at dinnertime. My kid and her friends would complain that the parents paid for a venue and a DJ, so why did the guests have to come home hungry ? I strongly suggest you prepare some entree's, or have catering done in some form, and not just bagels and pastry. Your guests will remember! 

If you make the party at dinner time you have to serve dinner. if you make the party after dinner hours say, perhaps from 8- 10 pm then hors d'oeuvres is fine. You don't need to write something special on the invitation, the time of the party will say it all.

Why don't you say light refreshments/appetizers will be served. that's pretty direct and simple. Bubbe Marcia

Do we feed photographer, DJ, etc. at bat mitzvah?

July 2012

Hello - Our kid is about to have her bat mitzvah celebration - yay! Do folks generally include the photographer, dj, etc. in the count one gives to the caterer for meals? mike

As a professional event planner I can advise that it is usual event protocol/courtesy to provide a meal for your vendors who stay during your event. This meal doesn't have to be one of the expensive ones you are providing your guests. You can arrange in advance with the caterer to have a more financially friendly meal or even sandwiches provided for your vendors.

With that said... this is your event and you can do whatever you want. I would just be clear about your event timeline regarding breaks with them - so you can accommodate their needs to eat while not compromising yours. A lot of times this is indicated in your contracts.

Good luck and Mazel Tov! RT

I believe that it is standard to feed anyone who will be there for the whole reception (photographer and DJ). At my wedding the caterer said we could give them the same meal as the guests or the vendor meal (the vendor meal was less expensive, but something easier to eat while on the go). I asked each vendor their preference (DJ wanted the regular meal and photographer wanted the vendor meal since he needed to be on his feet). I would ask your caterer if there are options. At my Bat Mitzvah (way back when) my mom included the vendors for the meal (it was a buffet). Jewish Mama (eat! eat!)

Yes. In my youth I spent many a weekend working for a caterer at weddings, bar and bat mitzvas, etc. Our clients ALWAYS fed the photographer, music professionals, etc. We were also always told to put together a plate for the janitor too. Tim Mc.

Yes is the short answer. Not only is it greatly appreciated by the d.j. and photographer and their assistants, but it helps with the timing of the evening. They can eat in shifts to keep the event moving. Otherwise, they have to leave for an hour or so to find something to eat. Or they pull out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at your event which makes you look really cheap. I would suggest contacting them ahead of time. ''We would like to provide you with dinner. Would you prefer the chicken or the beef? We are asking the caterers to feed you first so that you will be ready for the after dinner events.'' A fed D.J. is a happy D.J. former photo & dj's assistant

The short answer is: yes. But this should also be clarified in whatever contract you sign with the individial/company providing those services. Have fun - congrats to your daughter! x

Yes, you feed them. They will be grateful and it's not that much more money...if you're having a buffet don't even count them. anon

Mazzeltov! As a professional photographer who does about 6 weddings/celebrations a year, I have to say ''Feed the help''. Having put on our own wedding I also know that the cost per guest can be a real factor particularly since you may have made hard decisions about how many people to invite simply because of budget constraints. A worker at a bat mitzvah or other long event really doesn't have much choice to run out and grab a bite and a sack lunch along with all the other things to remember, prepare and carry has never really worked for me(nor has just not eating). You want everyone to give his/her very best and thinking of their basic needs is a kindness that I know will be repaid in an additional measure of enthusiasm. Have fun! Dana D

You not only feed your DJ and photographer but also your videographer, Emcee, any ''motivators'' (staff) your DJ brings along, and any vendors from caricaturists to photo booth operators to spray t-shirt staff. Besides being the right thing to do, you may have less than stellar performances from the people you hire, if they're hungry and neglected.

It is quite acceptable to have your hired people eat from the kids' buffet instead of the more expensive adult entree choice. Just make sure to factor the additional people into the head count. You wouldn't want to run out of food.

Sign me,
3rd and last b'mitzvah
Been dere, done 'dat

Yes, we like to eat, but some of us don't like to ask.

You don't need to pay for a regular meal for us vendors.

The best way to handle this is to ask the caterer to prepare some sandwiches (sometimes called ''bandwiches''), or in the case of a bar mitzvah, let us eat from the buffet. Sometimes the hall will reserve a table near the back for the vendors. Try to avoid seating in a different room. If there is action going on during the time the photographer or videographer is eating, we may miss it.

I'm a videographer, and I sometimes need to eat early so I don't miss the first dance or a speech. Caterers don't understand this, and want to serve us last.

Thanks for asking, BTW! Stu

Some girls from religious school class were invited, some not

March 2007

We are very saddened by recent events. In my child's religious school 3 girls were recently invited to a Bat Mitzvah and 4 were not. Apparently the child said that they had invited too many friends from school and didn't have room for the other 4 girls from their religious school class. The 4 girls not invited have had very hurt feelings and have cried over being left out when they thought this girl was their friend. Many ''friends'' have been left out from our congregation. These kids that have been left out are good kind kids and to me the situation is absolutely appalling! We have let the teacher and the rabbi know. They are trying to encourage the students and their families to invite all especially in their classes. At a time that is supposed to be so joyous, we are wondering what really is up with this? Bat/Bar Mitzvah mom

I believe that any member of the congregation is invited to teh Bar/Bat MItzvah. This is true at our temple (Beth Hillel)and was true at the temple I grew up in.

Sometimes invitations are sent to certain people(esp. if there is an after party invite included) but a general invitation to the congregation to come to the service and kiddush/luncheon is printed in our monthly newsletter. Being invited to the evening party is a different matter. That's a private party and not a public invite.

I agree it's pretty tacky and hurtful to invite some kids from the same class and not others. There should be an ''everyone is included'' policy and I''m surprised that this one got by the religious school teachers. My 2 cents. anon

At our synagogue the standard, which the parents are told ahead of time, is that the child invites everyone in the religious school class to the Bar/Bat Mizvah. Mostly, they don't have a luncheon at a restaurant component (usually a kiddush, and a kid party in the evening), so the finances aren't going to be very different for 8 kids or 15 kids.

I think you should work with your rabbi/education director to come up with an inclusive policy -- the point of the Bar/Bat Mizvah is joining the Jewish Community, and the child's religious school friends are certainly a major part of their Jewish community. carol

Ask your religious school to set down the law: Everyone in the class gets invited to the service and the party! If it's a big class, then everyone in the section gets invited.

At Tehiyah, I understand, a b'nai mitzvah invitation must go to every child in the class.

It is so distressing when the 13-year-old friendship dramas are allowed to play out at b'nai mitzvah time, and some kids get left out. (I still remember the sting of hearing a neighbor child's loud party when I was in my early teens, and feeling terrible that I wasn't included, even though I didn't like the girl next door at all.) former Bat Mitzvah Mom

I'm not sure what nsight we can give you on this very specific issue. In general, I don't know what Miss manners would say, but probably that it is up to the family (mostly the adults) hosting the party to determine who they invite. She would probably say we should be gracious in this situation, even in the midst of our dissapointment.

Those not invited should not take it personally (just cuz they weren't invited doe not mean they aren't friends). No one but the family knows why some were invited and some weren't. Perhaps they have a lot of family obligations and can't fit everyone at school into the hall or can't afford to feed everyone. For big or small parities there is often some limiting factor (space, money, comfort level). One opinion i do have, is that I do not think it is fair to quiz the child going through the ceremony about why her friends weren't invited. The guest list was likely the parent's product. Anon Mom

Really, I don't see the problem. If she had invited all the girls but one, that would seem mean or rude. Inviting half the kids is just that -- inviting half the kids. Help your child learn to manage their feelings and see it as a normal part of life that sometimes you get invited to things and sometimes you don't. anonymous

We were not people who invited the whole class to our kids' birthday parties when they were little, and felt very strongly about keeping those occasions limited to the kids our own kids actually played with.

We didn't, howver, feel that way about their Bar Mitzvahs. We really felt that there was an enormous benfit in having the whole Hebrew School class attend; the kids were all so supportive of one another and even those who were not very intimate to start with did develop a sort of unity or class feeling because of it. I think my own son went to over a dozen Bar Mitzvahs, which seemed a bit excessive at the time, but helped him in his own attitude about studying... From my perspective as a parent, the group feeling made the challenging process of becoming Bar Mitzvahed for our own kids a lot more bearable ( and dare we say valuable).

To be honest, I'm not sure I would have thought of this on my own; one of the very first of the class to be Bat Mitzvahed set the tone for everyone else when she invited the rest of the class. Maybe those hwo have had their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs in your child's class were a bit early int he year and didn't understand the larger benefits of the group participation. I do understand that cost is a factor, and I don't discount it. But, I would encourage others to think about other benefits to inviting a larger range of kids... Mazel Tov

We went through this last year. I don't know about your Temple, but the most common form of bar/bat mitzvah is the one which has the service, the luncheon, and an evening party with a DJ and various levels of frills and fun. They are a long way from the family event with bagels and lox at home. They can be extremely expensive. The parents may have financial limits, large lists of relatives and close friends to invite, limitatiosn on the number of people their party site can hold, etc. etc. It can easily get out of hand. Sometimes parents give their children limits and they do need to draw the line.

It needs to be put in a context for your child.

My daughter's bat mitzvah grade had probably 40 kids in it. She got invited to a fair number but not all. She didn't invite her entire bat mizvah group, nor her entire set of school friends. Nevertheless, between two soccer teams, half of her school and various and other friends, there were over 70 kids invited, not to mention friends. We were about 120 people.

Our rule was that if you invited most of a group, like 12 of the 16 girls on one team, then you really needed to invite the whole group. There's not a perfect ratio, but you have to apply common sense. You don't want to hurt feelings.

After much pain, we compromised and had a daytime party, but no evening party, but I did allow my daughter to invite 10 friends to dinner. There was definitely a cutoff; one girl was so annoyed that she took her present with her and stalked the restaurant. She was close enough to be invited to the bat mitzvah, butnot close enough (among the 70 kids) to be invited to the intimate dinner.

The rabbis can do nothing about it, as it isn't their budget! I'm sure they wish people would go back to bagels and lox at home. Anonymous

I'm not jewish, but I can speak to invitations. Frankly it really isn't always possible to include ''all kids'' in a class.

I've wrestled with this situation for birthday parties and each time have only been able to invite some of the class. To start with my child doesn't like a couple of kids and she should absolutely not have to be with them at HER party. Then we like to include siblings when possible (especially if we know them) which always bumps up the number. Also, we have many non-school friends to consider as well (neighborhood pals, playgroup buddies). With all those possible ''choices'' we couldn't possibly accommodate everyone unless we were prepared to have birthday parties of 50-75 people! So we make choices. Who are we closer to? Who to we know and see socially outside of school? How many people can we have total? Do we invite just the girls? Does our venue have a limit on how many people can be included? How expensive is it to accommodate a larger group vs a smaller group? These are hard decisions for sure but we need to ''draw the line'' somewhere. I have occasionally been a bit hurt when my daughter isn't invited to something, but I try to keep it all in perspective and realize that those families are making the kinds of choices that we have had to make too. Can't alway include everyone

We go to a fairly large synagogue, and both of our daughters' bat mitzvah classes were divided into smaller sections. The Rabbis and the head of the binai mitzvah program advised parents that it was a requirement of the program that all students in their child's small section had to be invited to their bar/bat mitzvah - the requirement could not have been clearer. Notwithstanding that, each of my daughters were not invited to the all of the bar/bat mitzvahs from their small sections. When it came their turn, I did the right thing - I invited each of the kids in each of my daughters' small sections. I wanted my daughters to know that even though we can't control other people's insensitivity or meanness - that we need to do what we think is right, and do the right thing - which is to invite everyone - with one exception. I did draw the line at one child who had bullied my daughter, and made my child's life miserable. My daughter said that the child never said a nice word to her and that she did not want her at her bat mitzvah and I felt in those circumstances, I had to respect my daughter's wishes. As to the general invitations, I found that the religious school had very little control over the other students or the actions of the parents. Anon

I think people have the right to invite whomever they wish to their private parties. Perhaps the hosts have several things they're trying to consider (finances, space in a venue, etc.).

Celebrations such as bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings can be expensive and are often priced per person for catering/site charges. Adding a few extra people can add up to an extra several hundred dollars. Don't Have to Invite Everyone

I empathize with the hurt feelings any kid might have - very real and worth reflecting and helping the child find a good internal response to.

But, to be honest with you, it sounds a lot like whining and guilt-making on your part. Help your child find a more empowered response to things like this or she might end up feeling ''victimized''. You might try a different internal response for yourself like, ''That's okay, not everyone can like everyone'' or ''I'm sure we would have been invited if there was enough space''.

Please let schools be about the kids and not about the parents! Sue