The Goyim’s Guide to Bar Mitzvahs

Rachel Baron


Mazel tov! You’re going to a Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah. Except, you’ve never been to one. The Bar Mitzvah is a party many Jewish families begin planning as soon as the child is born. (Guilty as charged over here.)

Oy! Don’t have a shvitz. I’m here to let you know what to expect.



In Judaism, this is a religious initiation ceremony - kinda like getting into a really cool club. When a boy or girl turns 13, he or she is regarded as ready to observe and take part in public worship.

Or, as most kids read into it: They’re becoming a man (or woman.)


Photo Credit: iStock



If you’re not a close friend or family member, don’t feel pressured to go. Usually it’s early in the morning at a shul (the Hebrew word for temple or synagogue)and requires a totally different outfit (suits for men, and dresses/skirts for women, with shoulders covered if anything other than reform.) Some denominations will ask men to sit on one side, and women on the other.

 If you want to see the child read from the Torah, the beautiful Jewish scroll of laws, then by all means, attend. Just know that it’s not usually mandatory. (There won’t be any of the famous Jewish guilt.)


Photo Credit: iStock  


I hate to say it, but girls will be in really short dresses, like, with no leftover material to tuck under when they sit. But who I am to judge? (Secretly judging.) Anyone over 70 will be in sequins or animal print or a top with a tiger made from sequins. So, if you’re between 16 and say, retirement age, try to keep in classy. Cocktail dresses, sport jackets, that sort of thing. No jeans. Sorry teenage boys - bust out those Dockers and your good shoes.


Look, it’s not a wedding. There’s no registry. And I can guarantee the kid doesn’t want Boggle. Back in the day, grannies would give savings bonds that upon maturity; you’d have no idea where your parents stashed them. Let’s keep this simple:

Cash is King David. 

To make the gift extra meaningful, make it a CHAI amount. Chai translates not only into good luck, but it’s also the number 18. So if it’s you and a guest - go for the $180. L’chaim! (to life.)


Hebrew Symbol for CHAI or Life



This is a traditional dance performed in a circle. You’ll hold hands and go round and round - don’t worry if you can’t figure out the crossing over steps. The big show starts when everyone stops and claps hands for the kid in the middle - hoisted high in a chair by the biggest dudes at the party. Yes. A boy or girl will be suspended in midair holding on to the arms of a chair for dear life. It’s a good time.


#5: FOOD

You’ll likely hear the kid’s nana say, “What a spread!”Bring your appetite. The first hour is usually passed hors d’oeuvres and a giant “smorgasbord” table filled with goodies. You won’t know where to begin. After the hour of eating, drinking and mingling, the sit down dinner or buffet will commence. Finally, there will be another a Vienese table - all dessert. Chocolate fountains! Cotton candy machine! Petit fours! Junk! Candy! Cookies! YAAASSS.



Just as wedding cakes have a spiel, so do Bar Mitzvah cakes. This ceremony invites 12 of the child’s closest friends and family to assist in lighting each candle. The 13th candle is for the newly minted man or woman. This will take some time, at least 45 minutes - as each person gets a special photo taken, and then someone has to remove grandma’s lipstick from his cheek.


Photo Credit: The Mitzvah Bowl


Don’t fret - you won’t leave either hungry - nor empty handed. At the end of the party, you’ll be gifted with likely an item of clothing emblazoned with the celebrant’s initials and the date of Bar Mitzvah. The next day, most of the kids will wear this to school. Go to enough of these parties and you’ll have a whole wardrobe of sweatshirts, tee shirts and sweatpants.


Photo Credits: Sweatshirt The Coolest Giveaways | Basketball: Pinterest | Laundry Bag: It's My Mitzvah | Shades: The Mitzvah Market



We’re not talking a Moses impersonator - although, you never know. There will likely be a DJ, because, well - KIDS. They don’t want a band to sound like Ri-Ri or Taylor Swift. The DJ usually is more of an emcee or host. You’ll see game playing with the awkward teens, requisite dances like “Hands Up”and “Electric Slide”and blow-up tchotchkes like plastic saxophones. There will likely be a photo booth, maybe a cotton candy machine. It really depends on the parents’ budget.


I have just six-and-a-half more years to go before my son’s big day, but I already have the whole thing planned out. I wonder if it’s too early to look for a sword eater