Bat Mitzvah questions

My son was invited to a Bat Mitzvah by a girl at his school. He has a history of emotional and peer group issues (he’s currently being evaluated to determine if he’s on the autism spectrum) and he doesn’t get invited to many events, so he’s excited to go to this, and we’re happy that he was invited.

But since we have very little knowledge of the etiquette of Mitzvahs in general, and because our son is not good in social situations, I have some questions and concerns:

[li]I plan to come along and “chaperone” a bit to make sure he’s doing OK in the unfamiliar social situation. I’m not sure what level of supervision, maybe waiting in my vehicle close by, maybe asking to stand somewhere unobtrusive but within view of him, depending on how comfortable he seems. Would this be unusual- what would parents of a 13 year old typically do for a bat mitzvah- just drop them off and pick them up later?[/li]
[li]I assume this is a fancy dress affair, similar to a wedding (the invite did not indicate how to dress). I plan to wear my best suit and have my son wear his wedding suit (hopefully it still fits). This would not be overdressing, would it?[/li]
[li]There is a religious ceremony and then a “party” event in two separate locations, similar I suppose to a wedding ceremony and reception. As non-family/non-Jewish participants, should we skip the religious ceremony and just go to the party event, or would that be considered rude? I’m concerned he’ll be uncomfortable and restless at the ceremony.[/li]
[li]Finally, what would be considered a reasonable range of money to give as a gift from a non-family member?[/li][/ul]
Thanks a lot!

If you were invited to the event, you are invited to the ceremony. It’s a significant event, serious but not particularly solemn. You will be welcome and expected to attend both.

A nice suit will fit in fine. Most folks will be dressed up, some younger kids won’t be. There’s typically lots of dancing at the reception, it’s not a stuffy affair at all.

Many kids will just be dropped off and picked up later.

L’Chaim in Hebrew also represents the number 18. Often Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts are multiples of 18, such as $54.

Yes, your son should definitely attend both the ceremony and the reception.

He won’t be expected to do anything during the ceremony except sit there and watch. (And maybe stand up and sit down at the same time as everyone else.) My daughter had several of her non-Jewish friends at her Bat Mitzvah. It’s not a very long ceremony, but if you’re concerned about his behavior you could attend with him and then drop him off at the reception. The ceremony isn’t paid for by the head, so an extra person shouldn’t be an imposition. I’d tell the girl’s parents of your plans in advance though so they don’t think you’re planning on going to the reception too.

The reception is party. There will probably be a DJ. There might be a few traditional activities (like dancing the hora) but no one is expected to participate if they don’t want to. Mostly it will just be eating and drinking and party games for the teens. Usually it degenerates to the adults sitting off to one side chatting while the teens act goofy. There’s not really any way for you to hang around unobtrusively without attending yourself. I’d recommend telling your son to call you whenever he’s had enough and wants you to come get him.

As **Telemark **said, it’s a serious occasion, not a solemn one. The general attitude is “Yay, you’re an adult!” with a bit of “Sigh, they grow up so fast.” thrown in.

Yes, it would very rude to skip the ceremony and then attend the party.

It’s like church. Dress nice, sit quietly. Stand when everyone stands, sit when everyone sits. Try not to fidget too much.

If the suit doesn’t fit, he can get away without the jacket. Dress shirt, slacks, and a tie will be fine.

It is polite to grab a yarmulke on the way in - there will be a basket by the front door.

You can drop him off, but you can also hang around. The kids are going to want to spend the majority of the party off by themselves, playing at being grownups.

Telemark is right about multiples of 18. Since you’re (presumably) not close to the family, I think a check for 36 or even 18 dollars would be a very reasonable gift. Bonus points if you add a “Mazel Tov!” to the memo line on the check.

Honestly, I wouldn’t go that far. My daughter had friends who had to miss the ceremony, but came to party, because of scheduling conflicts. We had guests with young children only come to the party.

The service can be very long (my daughter’s was over three hours), and if that is problematic for your child, it should not be an issue to slip in late or just come to party, if a long day seems overwhelming. For the kids, the party is the main deal. If a parent had reached out to us, I would have assured them that doing what was best for their child to maximize everyone’s chance at a good time, was the most important thing.

There are probably as many different types of bar/bat mitzvahs as there are families who organize them! Some are very fancy over-the-top affairs, some are very low key. I once attended a bat mitzvah that was IMO extraordinarily lavish. The girl’s mother then mentioned that they had offered her either an elaborate bat mitzvah party or a trip to Israel and the girl chose the trip to Israel. So the extremely fancy party was the toned down version for that family. Oy vey.

IME, most parents drop off their kids at the party unless the parents have also been invited. But I would imagine the hosts wouldn’t mind if you hung around discreetly, if you had a quiet word with them in advance.

Wearing a suit may or may not be typical. In more conservative (small c) areas, everyone would probably wear their best clothes. But in more casual environments, kids often wear something less formal. A boy might wear chinos and a nice shirt, for example. Again, it really depends on the community. Sometimes people wear more formal clothes to the synagogue and change for the party.

I think attending the religious ceremony would be expected.

Not very rude but he’ll probably actually find it interesting. Most of these events include some explanations of what is going on for the non-Jewish attendees.

The party is the bit more likely to get overwhelming. Often DJs play awfully loud and it can be chaotic.

If the invitation just reads his name you are very welcome to attend the service and the family sponsored probable small social bit with wine and bread blessing and small snacks immediately after (referred to as the Oneg) but likely not to join for the bigger party. How often parents discretely hang around (in the lobby say) varies often on where the party is. A longish drive? More stick around. The party itself often has assigned seating for adults and I agree that if you feel the need the be in eyesight I would first communicate your intent to the parents so they don’t notice you and worry about finding you a seat and an unplanned-for meal. $54 would be high end generous for a not family kid-only invite … $36 or even $18 more standard around my parts in general. The 18 multiple is always a nice touch though especially coming from a non-Jew.

Can we discuss this for a minute? I thought the basket of yamulkes were there as courtesy for those who wanted one, not as a suggestion that every male should put one on. I went to a Jewish wedding last year and declined to wear one, was I being rude?

If I’m not a practicing member of the Jewish religion, am I expected to wear one? Does anyone care?

If you’re Jewish, it’s expected that you’ll take one if you don’t have your own. If you’re not Jewish, it’s polite to take one. Depending on the congregation, you may be asked to wear one if you don’t gran from the basket.

So does this basket of yarmulkes get sprayed down between events like bowling shoes?

In a more conservative congregation you may not be allowed in without one. In a reform congregation many folks won’t be wearing them. You can ask an usher if there’s any doubt, but I suspect not wearing one will be fine.

Thanks everyone. I thought it was like eating Shrimp; they can’t do it but don’t care if we do.

Thanks for all the great replies so far! Especially doing the gift in multiples of 18, nice tip.

So, it would be perfectly fine for me to attend the service, even if not invited myself, but not so much the party after? OK, I will play it by ear, and try to let the parents know beforehand on the issue. If I was nearby at the party I would certainly not expect to have a seat found for me at the tables, and especially not to eat or drink anything. I’m just concerned that he may have a meltdown or get into a fight with one of a couple classmates who will be there, who he has problems with at school. So I want to be nearby to intervene and calm him down (or quietly escort him out, if needed).

I found an interesting paper (.pdf warning).

The gist is at the end:

“There is no reference whatsoever in the halakhic literature to a requirement that gentiles wear head coverings, and therefore there is no halakhic reason to compel a non-Jew to don a head covering in a synagogue. This, however, does not preclude requesting non Jews to put on a head covering as a matter of custom; indeed, congregations may establish this custom as an obligation. Indeed, this expresses respect for the non-Jew, for it includes him in our custom.”

Mine was 50 years ago. Find out what kind of congregation it is. A lot of Reform services are mostly in English. Mine was Conservative mostly in Hebrew, as is Orthodox. The kids sings or reads part of the Bible, which is the interesting part. I doubt any Reform or Conservative service is too long. And anyone is welcome to the service part.

For the party, talk to the parents. if your kid might be a problem they would probably be happy to invite you. The party is going to be a lot longer than the service, and you’d be bored in the car.
The parents of my friends did not come to mine and my parents didn’t come to my friends parties. 50 years ago the way it was done was that the kids were on a dais and all the adults were at regular tables. That way we could socialize.

Yes, but you wouldn’t eat shrimp in a synagogue. It’s the appropriate accessory :slight_smile: in a Conservative synagogue. Honestly, at a Bat Mitzvah no one is going to throw dirty looks if an obvious guest makes some small misstep.

The service is not a party–it’s a religious ceremony. Everybody is always welcome, and there’s no such thing as an invitation. Just like the religious services at any typical church every Sunday.
So yes, feel free to attend .
During the service, the bat mitzvah girl will read take a special role, for the first time in her life-- leading a few prayers and reading from the bible, so naturally a lot of the people attending will be there specifically to participate in the joy of her special day. But there will also be other people there who don’t even know the girl.

You will see some strange rituals , and hear a strange language called Hebrew. But don’t worry–you can’t do anything that will insult or offend the rest of the congregation. Just dress nicely (no need for anything fancy: a regular dress for you and a tie for the kid) . Stand up when everybody else does, sit down when everybody else does.
If you sit in a row near the front of the room, you’ll make yourself feel uncomfortable, imagining that everybody behind you is staring at you. So take a seat in one of the rows near the back of the room–that way, when you get bored, you can see look around at the rest of the people in the congregation and notice that they are homo sapiens just like you. Some of them are bored, too–and just as confused as you are by the language and the rituals. And also, if you want to step out and go to the bathroom, you can come back in and take your seat again without feeling like you’re disturbing other people. :slight_smile:

Back of the room is good for color categorizing the yarmulkes people are wearing when you get bored.

15 black ones
3 purple
2 silver…


My asking if it would be “a fancy dress affair” probably threw you off, but since I’m a guy, I think wearing a dress might draw too much attention to myself :smiley:

Are the different colors religiously significant in some way, or is it just a variety thing?