Attending Your First Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah

Many people — Jewish and non-Jewish — get invited to a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremony sooner or later, making it one of the most visible Jewish rituals. Nonetheless, some folks turn down the invitation because they're not sure what is expected of them at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Here's all you need to know about attending a Bar/Bat Mitzvah:

  • Attendees are rarely expected to do anything at a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremony except look proud of and impressed by the boy or girl.

  • All men should wear a yarmulke (kippah), which is a skullcap worn by Jewish men and boys in the synagogue (and by Orthodox and Conservative Jewish men in the home) during the service. If you don't have a yarmulke, you can usually borrow one as you enter a synagogue.

  • Gifts are almost universally expected — unfortunately, for some kids this is the main reason to have the ceremony. Fountain pens were once the traditional gift (so much so that a Jewish child could get through college without ever buying a pen). The gift doesn't have to be big, and often family members and friends just give the boy or girl money.

    Traditionally, a monetary gift is given in multiples of 18. (In Hebrew numerology, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters that make up the word chai, or "life," is 18.) If the service is held on Shabbat (the Jewish day of rest), send the gift directly to the home rather than bring it to the ceremony. This is particularly true if the family is more traditional and refrains from carrying things on Shabbat.

  • When the ceremony is over, congratulate the Bar Mitzvah boy or Bat Mitzvah girl by saying "Mazel Tov!"

  • At the reception, you may want to wait to eat or drink until you know whether a blessing will be given first.

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