Mazel tov! The custom of the bar/bat mitzvah

Imagine an event for children that is years in the planning, involves the whole family, includes a religious ceremony and a memorable celebration!

It’s the Jewish Bar Mitzvah (for boys) and Bat Mitzvah (for girls) that celebrates the transition from childhood to adulthood, when a Jewish boy becomes 13 years old and a Jewish girl aged 12 or 13. According to Jewish law, this significant occasion marks the time when children become accountable for their actions.

From the time the child is born, a Jewish family knows their son or daughter will mark their bar/bat mitzvah at the synagogue during Shabbat prayer services on a Saturday, soon after the child’s 13th birthday (or 12 for girls).

The real planning starts two or three years before the event, and in the year prior to the big day, the child will be expected to regularly attend the synagogue or temple for formal bar/bat mitzvah lessons.

On the day, the child will be called up to the Torah for the first time to recite a blessing over the Parshat HaShavua (weekly reading).

As well as the religious ceremony, he or she will be involved in planning a community service or bar/bat mitzvah project.

And to mark the occasion, families traditionally celebrate with a memorable party that can be as elaborate as a wedding.

Detailed arrangements for the celebration can include special features for designed for the young adults, including:

  • Candle lighting ceremony when the bar/bat mitzvah lights a candle for the important people in their life, or for those who have passed away.
  • Themed decorations that can reflect the child’s interests, activities or community service such as a specific charity.
  • Special activities for the range of age groups at the function, such as a DJ, a caricaturist to capture personalised drawings of the guests, a photo station, karaoke, TV screens with live video of the event.
  • A commemorative guest book or poster for each guest to sign as a lasting memento of the occasion.

It is customary to give money to mark the occasion, with the traditional amount in multiples of $18, the number being symbolic of giving ‘chai’ or life. The word for ‘life’ in Hebrew is ‘chai’. The two Hebrew letters that make up the word ‘chai’ are ‘chet’ and ‘yud’. Chet is equivalent to 8 and yud is equivalent to 10. So ‘chai’ equals 18.

Giving money in multiples of $18 is symbolic of giving ‘chai’ or life. So, a gift of triple ‘chai’ would be $54 to wish the child a wonderful future.

Parents planning a bar/bat mitzvah event can arrange a Gift Card Registry for family and friends to contribute their ‘chai’ in a convenient and secure environment. Guests can leave their messages of goodwill to the child on the website and after the event Gift Card Registry will send the recipient the prepaid Mastercard loaded with the contributions.

Ideal for bar/bat mitzvah occasions, the prepaid gift card can be used to pay for significant needs for the child’s future such as education or travel.

Mazel tov! Happy bar/bat mitzvah!