Bar & Bat Mitzvah's bring so many happy memories for years afterwards, but yes, they can be hard work too! You needn’t dread planning them though, even if you’re not organised by nature it should be enjoyable, so long as you plan ahead and let your creative side come to life. After all the planning stage should be fun, try not to get too stressed. When else do you get to spend so much money in one go? My Husband and I did 3 Bar Mitzvahs in the space of 5 years and it was such a brilliant time, not for the bank balance but definitely for the memories it has left us all with.
WHEN PLANNING YOUR BAR/BAT MITZVAH THERE IS ONE QUESTION YOU MUST ANSWER FIRST.
MONEY MONEY MONEY
Before you go off day dreaming you need to chat to your Husband/Wife or significant other to set a realistic budget for your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. By realistic I mean something that’s realistic to both of you! Remember expensive is not always best and cheap is not always tacky but you have to set a budget to work with in order to start planning. My best advice – add in some contingency funds right now!
By all means you can whack on the mascara right now and flutter those lids. It is time for negotiation but don’t stretch yourself further than you should. The best Bar & Bat Mitzvah celebrations rely on the atmosphere and the good feeling guests bring, not if you served caviar at the dinner table.
Let’s take a closer look at the planning stages. We’re starting 18 months in my schedule but if you’re super organised or just a little over excited then you might be planning from 2 years prior already.
18 MONTHS TO GO
Decide if you’re going to hire an Event Planner. I didn’t use an Event planner because my background is in events, but what I did do is get help running everything on the day so I could relax and enjoy the celebrations, mingle with my guests and drink a Whiskey or two.
Now is the perfect time to start creating a mood board (picture board) with all your ideas on. This is such a fun bit, not only for a little son or daughter bonding time but it will also help you focus on your end goal. Pinterest is superb for creating boards – just PIN away.
Work out how many guests you’re inviting. This is the hard part because there has to be a cut-off point eventually or you won’t find a room big enough. It can be tough not wanting to offend anyone but sometimes needs must.
Once you have an idea of guest numbers and theming ideas, you need to search for venues to match your budget. Don’t be afraid to get a little creative here – after all, each child is unique. I have been to Bar Mitzvahs at The Savoy and at the local Skate Park and each one had its own merits.
Aim to book your Photographer, Band, Entertainment or DJ around this time – Some of the good ones get booked up very quickly.
Give your preferred Caterer the heads up now too so you can start to embark on discussions in the coming months, but ideally you want them pencilled in now so you have the slot booked for when you start discussing menu choices.
In the coming months keep your eyes peeled for ideas and inspiration in Bar & Bat Mitzvah blogs… check Instagram for pictures and pin everything to your board.
12 MONTHS TO GO
By now you should have your theme water tight (that’s if you’re having a dedicated theme) It’s now time to start looking at;
Bar Mitzvah / Bat Mitzvah Invitations. Ask for recommendations from friends and family and ask around on social media in your area too. Hopefully you will have already pinned some ideas to your Pinterest board but always show your Graphic Designer ideas of the styles you like upfront. There is no point wasting their time designing things that ultimately you and your child won’t like.
Venue and table decor. Work out how you want to decorate your venue. You can work together with your caterer to plan the tables and start deciding on centrepieces. This is a brilliant opportunity to think outside the box and really bring your childs personality into the event. One of my step sons is crazy about football, so I chose light unbleached linens and then bought lots of Astro Turf and turned it into table runners, centre pieces and a seating plan.
You can also use the 12 month marker to send out a SAVE THE DATE. You’d be surprised how organised some people are with booking holidays!
6 MONTHS TO GO
Okay, so we’re not too far away from the day itself. You could start a diet if you wanted to but I will recommend some other more important things;
Design and order Kippot. You will most likely need some Kippot for Shul and some for the Bar / Bat Mitzvah party. You can get some brilliant deals bringing them in from the US. I can highly recommend A1 Skullcap for a good deal. I have used them 3 times and they always deliver on time and they do the job just perfectly.
Keeping people entertained is one of the biggest challenges. I mean how many Bar and Bat Mitzvah speeches can one really listen to before the novelty starts wearing off? We bought vintage football magazines and match guides dating back to the 1960's for people to enjoy. We strategically placed them at particular guest tables where the football enthusiasts were and we matched the vintage programme specifically for their teams.
Order your invitations. Whilst six months still feels quite a while away, you need time to go back and forth with your designs until you have the finished product that you are all happy with. You would be amazed at how long it takes to get the invitation wording just right! Are you having Benchers also? If so now you need to decide how you want them.
Start gathering guests contact details and make sure all contact details you do have are up to date, like the cousin you only speak to every few years who might have moved twice since you last saw them.
Yes, you can start thinking about outfits now…. Roll on the internet surfing. I can almost guarantee you though that your childs taste will change in the lead up to their Simcha, so you may want to leave any actual shopping until nearer the time. Don’t forget about growth spurts too! Your childs hopefully, not yours.
3 MONTHS TO GO
Start hunting down the embarrassing baby photos now. One thing I always do at family events is put photographs up on the mirror in the male and female toilets. It has always served as a fun talking point and people tend to linger in the bathrooms chatting so it’s a nice added extra.
It’s time to finalize your guest list. The word Broiges comes to mind here, hopefully you have it all planned to a tee so you don’t have to offend anyone. Send your completed list to your Graphic Designer and go and buy enough stamps for when the invitations arrive at your house. Make sure you know the weight of the invitation and the correct postage it needs.
What are you doing for Friday Night Dinner before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah? If you need to book in a caterer to deliver food to you, now is the time. Do you really want to be rushing around cooking the night before? I didn’t think so either. Same applies to the Kiddush in Shul, now is the time to get it booked.
If you are having out of towners, it’s time to start preparing Maps and Directions for them so they feel comfortable knowing where they are going and can plan their visit accordingly.
It’s time to buy or order your centrepieces so they arrive in enough time for you to have a practise run setting them up. Obviously this doesn’t apply if you are hiring them in.
If you’re considering a signing-in board, now is the time to order it with your Graphic Designer. There are also some great companies out there that make really funky bespoke party boards too. You can get them to match an invitation or a theme and they are a brilliant momento for your child to put up as art on their wall after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This is one I made for one of my step sons.
Start having a think about gifts. I know it’s not PC but people will ask what your child wants as a gift and better that they get something useful or futureproof, no?
Non Jewish Guests – You want to give them an experience to remember, a positive one that is! If it’s their first time in Shul then you should plan to have someone meet them, either a friend or a committee member. We made these booklets to explain the Bar Mitzvah service to non-Jewish guests. We had some great feedback on them.
You need to refine your menu with your caterer and agree on a final menu. Perhaps you can go for a tasting session, this will also give you time to go through wine pairing for the meal. Decide before you go on who’s driving back!
DON'T FORGET TO KEEP LITTLE PEOPLE ENTERTAINED
6 WEEKS TO GO
Now is the time to start finalising your running order for the event. There’s lots of people who need to know what’s going on during the event including your caterer, photographer, band, DJ, entertainers and so on. Sorry it’s so cliché but failing to plan is planning to fail and to some degree it’s true. Yes, you can wing it on the day but it will create untold stress. I promise you… just make the running order.
Speeches are a key part of any Bar & Bat Mitzvah. Ensure (not under duress of course) that people have written theirs. You might also want to double check the content further down the line to save any embarrassing moments. If you are speaking, although you’re busy, don’t leave it to the last minute. You’ll regret it if you do, take it from me, I have seen it enough times. The best speeches are normally rehearsed and are delivered without too many sweaty palms on the day.
Decide if you are going to need a make-up artist or hair stylist to help you get ready for the day and book all your appointments. Now is the time to go shopping and buy your outfits. It’s a costly part of any celebration because it’s not only the Bar Mitzvah boy or Bat Mitzvah girl that needs to look good for the weekend.
4 WEEKS TO GO
Have you started your speech yet? Hmmm.
By now you will have probably received many responses from your invitations and it’s time to start organising your table plan. I think this is possibly one of the hardest parts of any celebration. Does it really show how much you value your friendship with someone the closer you sit them to the head table? And the fact that this one doesn’t want to sit with that one…. Is this really your problem?!
If you are making toasts to the State of Israel (or other) you need to nominate your guests now and ask them if they’d accept the honour. There’s also leading the benching too but you might ask the Rabbi to do that if he’s there. Check if you want any background music and be sure to let your DJ or venue host know.
If you have pets, then you should work out now who is feeding them whilst you are out for most of the weekend. It might be you decide to send them on a small holiday whilst your house is full of people.
2 WEEKS TO GO
Although you are still quite stressed right now, you should be incredibly excited. Just a couple more weeks until the big day!
It’s time to get prepared for Shul. You need to work out who is getting Aliyot or Honours. This is another stressful element to your planning, so as not to offend anyone. Let your Husband/Wife or significant other/family member take the lead on this one maybe?
It’s time to finalise your table plan and send it to your designer. If you think there is going to be any major issues on the day it might be worth double checking with a sensible friend!
Make sure venue arrangements are complete with centerpieces, balloons, sign-in board, table plans etc. You can also drop things down at your venue early for them to store.
Give final instructions to your photographer/videographer.
1 WEEK TO GO
Arrange your family to get together for formal pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah photos if that’s your kind of thing.
If there are any changes to your guest list make sure you tell the Caterer, Venue Host and Table plan designer. If you want to sneak in any extra guests, now is the time.
Check you have everything you need for the family… and a spare pair of tights just in case!
Try and get a good nights sleep this week. I’m not kidding here… You have put in so much hard work, you really want to enjoy this special weekend.
A QUICK BAR MITZVAH AND BAT MITZVAH CHECKLIST TO GET YOU STARTED
Graphic Designer (Invitations/Signing In Board/ Seating Plan/Benchers)
Venue Décor/ Centrepieces
Entertainment for Adults/Kids
Catering (Friday Night Dinner/Kiddush at Shul/Party)
DJ/Band (Playlist and any music for Prayers)
Extras to buy in such as Kippot and going home gifts
Oh and a Rabbi – that would be useful too