Are you one of those lucky parents with an 11-year-old at home? If so, you are in the enviable position of having your child’s B’nai Mitzvah experience completely ahead of you — the tutoring sessions, the time spent imagining what the event will look like and where it will take place, and all the planning details and decisions that will ultimately bring you to one of the most memorable days of your child’s life — and yours.
If this is your oldest child and you have yet to “get your feet wet” in the B’nai Mitzvah pool, you might be wondering: When do I get started — and how? The answers are: right now — and by following this handy timeline that can be adapted as you see fit.
Two Years Ahead
While it is true that most of the work in planning a B’nai Mitzvah will take place about a year away from the event, the “big picture” details can — and should — be worked out earlier. For example, once your synagogue has provided you with a date, you can begin thinking about the ceremony and its attendant celebration. Some steps to take now include:
• Make it a family habit to attend Shabbat services and B’nai Mitzvah services.
• Evaluate your child’s Hebrew. If he or she could do with some help, hiring a tutor now could lower stress levels later.
• Take mental notes from the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs you attend. What did you like? What would you do differently?
• Begin talking about the party you’d like to have. Whom would you like to invite? How many people might attend? Will there be a separate party for children? Do you need to encourage your child to make more friends?
• Establish a budget range and decide if you need to save more.
• Talk to your child about what the B’nai Mitzvah process means to you. Discuss your expectations: Will the B’nai Mitzvah mark the end of your child’s formal Jewish education or do you expect your child to continue on to Confirmation? Consider taking some adult education courses to set an example.
• If you have your heart set on having a party at what you suspect is a popular location, avoid disappointment by phoning ahead to ask how far out they are booking.
One Year Ahead
• Help your child find a mitzvah project he or she will enjoy doing. A good place to start is at www.themitzvahbowl.com.
• If you want a pro’s expertise in handling all the details, now is the time to hire a party planner.
• Visit catering halls and restaurants to select your venue. Interview photographers, videographers and florists. Listen to DJs and orchestras. Lock in your choices by signing contracts and providing deposits.
• Determine the party’s theme so that other choices can support it such as sign-in boards, table names and party favors.
• Make it a practice to check in with your child to see how their studies are going. Encourage them to share any problems and, if they have no objection, listen to them read. Ask your child’s tutor if you can sit in on some training sessions.
Six Months Ahead
• Create and check your guest list for accuracy.
• Think about out-of-towners. Do you need to book a block of rooms? Do you plan to entertain them with meals or sightseeing? Get the ball rolling.
• Select and order invitations and thank-you cards. Order extras to allow for addressing mistakes and last-minute additions.
• Select and send save-the-date cards to make sure everyone important to you can be there.
• Explore party favors with your child. Decide on something cool (and, hopefully, useful) and place your order.
Three Months Ahead
• Book hair appointments for the female members of your family.
• Purchase a tallit and yarmulke for your child. If desired, order custom-printed yarmulkes to be given out at the ceremony.
• Decide how children will get to the party if their parents won’t be coming. Rent a bus or van or ask friends and relatives to provide rides.
• Shop for shoes, suits and dresses, including what to wear to Friday night services.
• Hire a calligrapher if you need one. They may require several weeks to address the invitations.
Two Months Ahead
• Get address information and confirm postage at the post office before mailing anything. Circle the RSVP date on your calendar.
• Finalize menu choices, music selections and flower arrangements. Order Torah cake.
• Work out the order of events for the party so you know what to expect.
• Put together a program to help non-Jews understand the service.
One Month Ahead
• Select family members to receive aliyot. Record their Hebrew names to pass on to the rabbi and provide copies of the blessings to people who may not be familiar with them. You might also record the blessing in an MP3 file. Also decide on ark openers, Torah holders and Torah dressers, and find out their Hebrew names as well.
• Attend dress rehearsals at the synagogue.
• After the RSVP date passes, follow up with invitees who have yet to respond.
• Write and refine what you will say about your child during the ceremony and at the party.
• Work on the candle-lighting ceremony. Who will be honored? In what order? What will your child say about them? Purchase at least 14 candles for the cake.
• Decide who will say blessings over the bread and wine at the reception.
• Contact vendors to firm up loose ends.
• Order flowers for bimah or a gift basket to be donated to a local food bank.
• Create seating plan and place cards.
One Week Ahead
• Give final count to caterer. Re-check seating plan (don’t forget to include your family).
• Purchase toiletries for rest rooms at synagogue and reception site.
• Purchase socks for kids to wear while dancing.
B’nai Mitzvah Weekend
• Attend Friday night service with family.
• Carry tissues.
• Make sure Bar or Bat Mitzvah child brings D’var Torah speech, prayer book and all related materials to service. Bring tallit, yarmulkes, programs to synagogue.
• Bring checkbook or credit card to settle remaining accounts.
• Donate leftover flower arrangements to local senior center.
• For now, refrain from bugging B’nai Mitzvah about writing thank-you notes.
Now, wasn’t that easy?
Gail Snyder wishes to thank Janet Silver of Carl Alan Event Creations and Steve Weintraub, religious school director of Temple Judea of Bucks County, for their assistance with this story. This article originally appeared in a special "Mazel Tov" supplement to the Exponent.