Hosting a Meaningful Party after a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah
The most controversial aspect of Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies these days is the party that follows them. Jewish tradition states the family of the child who's having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah must host some sort of seudat mitzvah ("festive meal"). However, in recent decades this little party has too often grown into a grand affair (some would say of social one-upsmanship). These are the nights when folks remember the "Bar" more than the "Mitzvah."
You've probably heard stories of families spending a small fortune on an outrageous Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah celebration simply because it has to be "the best Bar/Bat Mitzvah party ever." Sure, both children and their parents have social pressures, but it's much more important to focus on the meaning of the day rather than how much you can spend on a party.
Here are a few ways that you can make the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration special without going overboard:
Choose a reasonable allowance for the celebration and then sit down with your son or daughter and work on the budget together. This is an excellent time for you to teach your child about being responsible with money by helping him choose where and how to spend it.
Consider asking your child to do some volunteer work before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and celebration. Some congregations require that the boy or girl complete some sort of community service before the big day, as a mitzvah project. Even if your congregation doesn't, you can suggest that your child take on some responsibilities for her community and the greater good.
Link the celebration to a charity. For example, many people commit three percent of the total cost of the celebration to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a non-profit organization that funds soup kitchens and other food programs for those in need.
Plan what your child does with any monetary gifts. He may decide to allot a percentage of the money to charity (you can even ask him to research and pick the charities). This strengthens the lesson that being Bar/Bat Mitzvah is not just about being responsible for oneself, but also for the rest of the world.
Make the event a family affair. Shop for a tallit (prayer shawl) with your child, or help your child make a bag to carry the tallit in. Let your son or daughter pick out books about Judaism and then read them together in preparation. Let your child add special readings, poems, prayers to the ceremony itself, or request special food or music for the party afterwards.
Find ways to give additional rights and responsibilities to your child. Perhaps raise your child's allowance and allow a later bedtime, but also ask her to perform more chores around the house.
Ultimately, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony and celebration offers an opportunity for the child to learn that he or she can work hard, complete a big task, and gain a better sense of self in the process. The party should honor that work and that person, not just be a flash in the pan. And when the community truly welcomes the Bar or Bat Mitzvah with added respect, as well as with deeper expectations, he or she can experience a true deepening of personal identity and responsibility.