You’re very lucky if the bar mitzvah is a one-time event for you. In my case, when the child was 12-13 years old, and respectively his friends, many of whom were Jews also – we were visiting bar and bat mitzvah almost every month during the year if not once every few weeks. So, choosing good bar mitzvah presents for all this teen company ceased to be a challenge.
I ate a dog on it – so you wouldn’t go broke and please a birthday boy, and I made a little guide to the bar mitzvah gift etiquette.
Bar Mitzvah gift etiquette
If you are invited to a bar mitzvah, you should first familiarize yourself with this tradition as such and bar mitzvah gift etiquette. In Jewish society, a boy who has reached the age of 13 is considered an adult. From this age, a teenager can make deals, be a defendant in court, marry (such a desire is unlikely to arise in a thirteen-year-old boy, but, nevertheless), take a gift is not toys, as it was before, and more expensive things.
Bar Mitzvah is a special celebration, which is eagerly awaited not only by the party’s initiator but also by his parents and relatives. The fact is that in Jewish society religious majority is one of the most important milestones in human life (along with birth, circumcision ceremony, and marriage). They begin to prepare for the ceremony in advance because it is necessary to think over a lot of details: from the place of the celebration to gifts. In addition, the young man needs time to prepare for the key rites: aliyah to the Torah, when he will be called up to read a fragment of the Torah and the putting on the tefillin.
Bar Mitzvah gift amount
Money is a win-win situation. Often, the organization of the feast costs a tidy sum to parents. An envelope with cash or a check will be your contribution to the ceremony and will allow a young man to choose a gift for the soul.
It is customary to give sums in multiples of 18 – $18, $36, $54 and so on. 18 is the digital meaning of the word “chai”, the Hebrew translation of the word “life” (you might have heard greeting “lechaim” – it means “to life”)
If only a child is invited, the amount of the gift depends on how closely he communicates with the (young) man of the hour. Impressive sums are given by parents and grandparents. Classmates can donate a symbolic amount. Often children are invited for the record or for the company – for example, the whole class or friends of friends, even if in everyday life children do not communicate. In such cases, a minimum amount of money is sufficient – for example, $18. But I’ve never seen a sum less than $30, so you’d better give $36. Close friends give $54, $72 accordingly. Here are traditional bar mitzvah money increments. Usually, guests give a check.
If the whole family is invited to the bar mitzvah – a child with parents – in this case, it is desirable to give an amount of about $150-200, or a gift.
Gift cards are also handy, make sure that they are really useful for the teenager or his parents. For example, if the boy is fond of a sport, give him a gift certificate of a sports store.
Appropriate Bar Mitzvah gift
If you want to note a special attitude to the birthday boy and his family, to demonstrate your knowledge of Jewish culture, it makes sense to give a gift “with meaning”. It’s really great when bar mitzvah presents for boys have a cultural background or include something sacred. Such a gift plays an important role in such a significant event and will be kept in the family.
Here is a list of traditional Jewish gifts, that will be good bar mitzvah presents:
Tefillin, or phylacteries
These two special small boxes, an element of the Jewish prayer vestments, contain fragments (parashot) from the Torah written on parchment. Boys who have reached the age of bar mitzvah apply Tefillin during the morning prayers. They are available in special shops: you can ask the rabbi for advice. Tefillin is something that a bar mitzvah boy can use throughout his life, getting closer and closer to joining in prayers with the divine beginning.
Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible
TaNaKh is an abbreviation for Torah, Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings), the books that form the basis of Judaism. Every teenage-bar mitzvah should have access to search Tanakh for information, read stories, and receive an understanding of the Jewish tradition from the source.
Bar Mitzvah greeting cards
Just as we teach our children to say “thank you” for all that has benefited them, so the gifts we receive will encourage the younger generation to take action in response – always to congratulate friends and acquaintances who have given them gifts for the bar or bat mitzvah on holidays.
Bar Mitzvah presents for boys
In addition to the fact that it is appropriate to give money, sacred books are considered to be a traditional gift for the bar mitzvah. Not all who intend to celebrate the stage of entry into a new adult life are deeply religious. Of course, drasha (speech about Torah), putting on the tefillin and the call up to the Torah are integral parts and stages of the holiday, but do not forget that primarily this is the birthday of the boy. And what child does not want to get something unusual, desirable and necessary? Books are books, but it is much more pleasant to get nice gifts. Therefore, do not start from what is customary to give, but from what a surprise will be pleasant to a teenager.
What to wear to the Jewish Bar Mitzvah?
As such, there’s usually no dress code. If the family has any requirements, they are usually announced in advance.
Let’s say you or your child were just invited to a bar mitzvah. But the place was announced, right? As a rule, you already know the venue – synagogue, house, hotel, restaurant and so on.
Whatever the location, all male guests, even if they are not Jewish, wear a kippah. If you have one, take it with you just in case. But they are usually provided to guests.
It’s better for a regular synagogue to wear a business suit. For girls there are so-called rules of tzniut – it is desirable that elbows and knees were covered. Boys wear a shirt and trousers. For a reformist synagogue, it is quite enough slacks and monochrome polo, although the shirt looks better. For a party at a hotel or club, you should dress like for a standard teenage party.
Adults are usually not involved in children’s fun, so if not only children but also parents are invited, a business casual style, diluted with elegant accessories, will be most welcome (of course, women should wear a skirt).
According to the laws of Judaism, when a Jewish boy reaches the age of majority – 13 years and 1 day, he becomes responsible for his actions and becomes a bar mitzvah. According to bar mitzvah gift etiquette, it is customary to give religious or educational books, religious objects, money to use for further education. As in the case of charity, it becomes popular to give a sum multiple of 18 (gematria of the word “сhai” – “life”). It is customary for a bar mitzvah boy to make its first personal mitzvah – a donation for charitable purposes – out of money gifts. Here, a beautiful “Kupat Tzedakah” – a special piggy bank (oh, how awkward – the pig is forbidden animal for Jews ), in which Jews daily (except Saturdays and holidays) put coins for charitable purposes.
Jews are the people of the Book. The book is the best gift in my opinion, but it should be carefully selected. If you give a book, please note that the printing and decoration should be of high quality.