We just received the notice this week. My brother’s son, the doctor, has announced his daughter’s bat mitzvah for a date in October. His family has barely recovered from the young lady’s brother’s bar mitzvah just a year ago. For the boy, they had somewhat the same needs for funding, scheduling and budgeting as they did for their daughter, except for her it will be considerably more expensive. Girls and gowns inevitably cost more.
Because my nephew’s family has a long-standing membership in a local synagogue, the initial planning for their events was fairly simple. They consulted with the rabbi, cantor, events planner, and other officials about all required religious segments of the event that take place inside the synagogue. At the same time, it wasn’t difficult to set up the social events, because my nephew is a member of a posh country club (well, he’s an internist) and all the necessary factors were planned with the help of the club’s very efficient staff.
It isn’t my intent to snoop, so I don’t know about the total costs of my well-to-do nephew’s events for his two children, but I know they’re substantial. I’m sure the upcoming bat mitzvah expenses will go skyward for the dresses on the honoree, her mother, other female relatives and her line-up of invited schoolgirl friends. For her brother’s event last year, his pals didn’t need to go out and buy single-event, high-priced clothing.
Start Bat Mitzvah Planning Early
If your family has a bat mitzvah approaching, start your planning early. Very early. First, there’s the necessity to nail down the date with the synagogue and facilities for the social events a year or more in advance. While Jewish religious tradition requires that the bat mitzvah girl celebrate the attainment of her 13th birthday at the appropriate synagogue ceremony. However, in American Jewish culture, and with the cooperation of synagogue officials, the actual date can be any time from her age 12 to 14. The same applies to boys.
For your family, you should use that pre-event time to consider all the elements. Speaking of elements, last year my nephew celebrated his son’s bar mitzvah in early March. The event was held in Florida, and many of the invitees lived in New York, Philadelphia and other Eastern seaboard cities. As luck would have it … bad luck … there was a major snowstorm in the Northeast and Central states less than 24 hours before the ceremony, causing massive airline cancellations, and about a quarter of the invitees never left their home cities. If you can plan the bat mitzvah, and expect to invite many people from faraway locations that have snowy long winters, try to make your event happen no earlier than mid- to late April.
Establish a Budget for Bat Mitzvah
Perhaps the most important part of your plan for the event is to establish a budget. There is considerable advice available to you, including the synagogue staff, members of your extended family and managers of the facility you’ll hire for the social events.
After you decide on the limits of your spending, unless you’re very wealthy, start your planning accordingly. Everyone will understand if you don’t make a big, expensive production out of what is basically a family religious occasion.
Recent news of a Hollywood mogul and his movie actress wife who spent half a million on their daughter’s bat mitzvah could help you keep your budget under control. Actually, the Hollywood event only cost a relatively modest quarter of a million, but the private planes and trip for all invitees to Las Vegas after the ceremony ran up the bill exponentially. Seriously, with people who have the resources, a bat mitzvah can have all the trappings and costs of a flashy, grossly overdone wedding.
Find Resources for Information
In your planning, there are many resources for information. If you are not a regular member of a synagogue, seek out officials at one you consider most appropriate for your religious practices. If you’re in a mixed marriage and/or have no religious preferences, but want your daughter to experience a meaningful bat mitzvah, choose a reform synagogue.
There you may find attitudes that are the most relaxed and liberal about Jewish traditions. Friends of ours, an Italian mother and Jewish father, chose to have their daughter’s ceremony in a local park. It was performed, totally in English, by a reform rabbi. If you decide to have a ceremony in a public place, be sure you have checked out the privacy situation, as well as all required permits.
After the ceremony, the next step is social events. If your budget is extra tight, you’re not obligated to have anything beyond the synagogue ceremony. However, if your budget allows more elements, you’ll have to do considerable planning in advance. First, after the dates are set, get the invitations printed and sent out. In this age of the internet, it’s possible to save several hundred dollars by emailing a cyberspace invitation you’ve designed or obtained from a free online greeting company. Remember, whether the invitations are printed or virtual, you’ll need responses as soon as possible, so you’ll know the expected attendance figures and your expenses obligations.
Look for a Place to Celebrate
You’ll need important discussions with the restaurant or club where the after-ceremony will be held. Among the many, many items of your discussion are the costs, menus, seating, center display with the cake, music, and liquor. Have I forgotten anything? Of course, and so will you, unless you check and double-check all of your plans and obligations, before, during and after the event.
In conclusion, probably the best advice is to consult early with friends and family members who’ve planned and produced recent bat mitzvahs for their daughters. Synagogue officials are also solid sources of information and suggestions. Whatever your plans, make sure your intent from planning to completion is to make the occasion a meaningful and enjoyable lifelong experience for the bat mitzvah girl.
Incidentally, our son and daughter had their bar and bat mitzvahs more than 25 years ago. I think we’re almost finished paying off the final installments. Just kidding. Have a happy, happy bat mitzvah, and mazel tov to your honoree!