Meaningful Bar/Bat Mitzvah Themes B Mitzvah! The Bar and Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution continues

We’re not talking about the fabled (we hope) family who had each table and food station designated as a different department store chain as though a B-Mitzvah were some kind of celebration of North American retail business. There’s a powerful world of stimulating themes right inside of your planning, self-assessment and d’var Torah preparation processes. Your selection of themes necessarily precedes the ordering of invitations, selection of music, design for centerpieces and the like. Here are some examples:

1. Talent. Seth is passionately involved in tennis, playing it and watching it. At first he wanted a tennis theme but realized that was more appropriate for a birthday party of his youth than celebration of his Jewishness. His tutor introduced him to the Macabbiah Games, world-class, Olympic style games engaged in by Jewish athletes from all over the world and held every four years in Israel. Seth found the concept fascinating and wove the theme throughout his B-Mitzvah.

Invitations were crafted from a Maccabiah awards ceremony photo with Seth’s face placed among those in the crowd chanting “Torah! Torah! Torah!”

· Each centerpiece at the reception was a cake which served as a base to hold a blown up an expanded photo of a Maccabiah award winner and an inspirational quote from the person.

· Seth’s Torah portion was about the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites after leaving Egypt. Seth reflected on how the slaves developed an identity during their period of re-training for freedom and became able to function as a team, to become a disciplined, principled people.

He then spoke about effect of sports on his character formation, how much the discipline of sports helped him to know how to focus on preparing B-Mitzvah and how he sees the Jewish people as needing to view themselves as a team.

Seth spoke about his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, who would often come out for Seth's games.

Seth spoke of how important it was for him to learn about the Maccabiah Games, to discover there are many sports-minded Jews who take seriously the need to be strong, healthy and a source of proud for our people.

Seth declared his intention to attend the next Maccabiah games and began to learn about how he could prepare and enter a season of Maccabiah Games himself.

· Seth’s family quietly informed those on the guest list of a plan to create a group gift, a fully-paid Israel trip for Seth to the next Maccabiah Games. Everyone supported the idea so strongly that he was also able to help sponsor a player.

2. Metaphor. Melanie’s B-Mitzvah theme came from the prayer: Or chadash al tzion ta-ir, “A new light will shine over Zion.” Melanie conceived of each bar and bat mitzvah student as a “new light” and also became interested in the rebirth of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union as “new light.” Here’s how this theme appeared throughout her bat mitzvah:

Her invitations showed Melanie as an Or Chadash, a “New Light” by having a menorah upon them with all the candles lit except for one where her smiling face had been set into the shape of the flame.

For centerpieces the family placed a mirror in the center of each table and a beautiful, metallic candle-lit menorah upon it.

Melanie’s mother is active in Project Kesher, an organization that has helped Jewish women throughout the former Soviet Union who are interested in reclaiming Judaism. Women in the program are helped to avert poverty through developing computer skills centers in cooperation with ORT, and also work on issues of the trafficking of women for prostitution and domestic violence awareness. Each menorah, something too costly for women in the groups to acquire themselves, was sent as a gift to a Project Kesher community after the Bat Mitzvah.

Melanie started her party with Havdallah, the closing ceremony for Shabbat that involves a beautiful braided candle, cup of wine and fragrant spices as symbols.

She spoke by name of those who helped her through the B-Mitzvah process and how they have brought the light of Torah into her life.

And then invited her teachers and mentors to stand at place honor to her right in the circle.

She then spoke of key family members who have helped her light to shine brighter during this period of intensive preparation, and invited them to stand in a place of honor to her left.

Melanie looked at everyone in the circle and declared them the braids in her Havdalah candle, no longer so separate as when they arrived, and soon to be braided in celebration at the party.

She then held the Kiddush cup of joy aloft and completed the beautiful ceremony of wine, spices and light.

At the party Melanie’s father took the microphone to speak about her special light and soon many family members came up to express similar sentiments illustrated by memorable vignettes and recollections of family members long gone also blessed with a special light of their own.

Melanie’s invitation included a card asking for donations to several organizations and she sent notes of appreciation with a candle flame on each one and a line of appreciation for the increase in light in the lives of so many people they have made possible.

3. Sacred Phrase. Adam’s Torah portion, Terumah, has the phrase nedivat lev, “generosity of heart” in Exodus 25:2. The context is that the vessels for the tabernacle must come from voluntary donations of the people. Adam took this to mean that the sanctuary within each person is created by one’s generosity of heart. Adam worked with this theme by:

Calling everyone to the Torah who had signed their organ donor cards and at the same time inviting everyone to come up for the aliyah who had not yet done so and wants to find the courage to do so. He blessed them for their courage to give others life.

At the reception all of the coffee cups were mugs from the regional organ donation center bearing cutely meaningful slogans and graphics.

His invitation and party had heart motifs and includes a donation card for the regional organ donation center with a request that this be done in lieu of gifts.

Adam’s family had difficulty with a synagogue policy requiring that all religious school classmates be invited to B-Mitzvah parties. This policy worked well, when the temple was smaller, to ensure that some students wouldn’t feel left out. But this year’s B-Mitzvah cohort of fifty-three students would overwhelm the family-centered vision for his B-Mitzvah party. The situation was elegantly dealt with by the family. In honor of Adam’s B-Mitzvah, they hosted a class trip to the regional organ donation center, paid the honorarium for a local Jewish expert to teach the class about the mitzvah of organ donation (Judaism greatly encourages saving a life so long the gift doesn’t compromise the donor’s health), and took the class out to dinner afterward.

For his mitzvah project Adam volunteered to run an email campaign to help find a bone marrow donor for a local youth. And he succeeded!

His thank-you cards were donor appreciation cards from the organ donation center with personalized messages written by Adam.

A few more quick examples would be:

Symbol. Kaely has Noah as her portion and selected the rainbow as her theme. She loved her rabbi’s interpretation of the rainbow that appears in Genesis, that it is composed of G*d light passing through G*d tears.

Israel. Matt, a budding scientist with a large part of his family that were displaced persons after World War II who made it to Israel and had many losses in its wars for survival, decided to take the idea of the “spies” who brought back examples of the good things in the land. Matt’s party was filled with every good Israel-made food and object, poster and invention that one could possibly obtain to reveal the ingenuity of the people of Israel in a party-setting.

Geneology. The “begats” were all over David’s Torah portion. He decided the message embedded there for him was to learn help his family reclaim their own genealogy as a theme throughout the B-Mitzvah process. is an excellent research site for this work as is From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Geneology and Family History by Arthur Kurzweil.

Sacrificial System. Ha! Thought you had us with this one. The trick with such portions is to look at what aspect of human life is being attended to by a given sacrifice. Some sacrifices and offers are to help us in dealing with critical issues of guilt, error, and broken promises or errors regarding the mitzvot. Many part of this system emphasize gratitude for the harvest. Cheryl seized on the image of the waving of the wheat as a portion of it (omer) is delivered to the priesthood to support them with food. Cheryl came up with a cornucopia to reflect this part of her parsha. is one of many Jewish initiatives to help those who are hungry and Cheryl organized for her family to give 3% of the food cost at the party to help feed others.