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Every parent and every child come to bar/bat mitzvah planning with some vision of what the event will be, both as religious rite and as celebration. This vision is refined through a process of exploration and decision-making that will shape the spiritual impact of the experience on child, family, and guests. All of the smaller decisions that follow–where, when, what, how, and even who–flow out of this developing consensus on what this bar/bat mitzvah means to this family.
Meaning is in the Details
Because the spiritual essence flows out of the pragmatic details, a timeline can help organize the huge list of tasks. These tasks, which will vary with the personal predilections and values of the bar/bat mitzvah family, can range from selecting a synagogue or a rabbi to booking a particular band to selecting kippot (ritual head coverings) crocheted by people from developing nations or Israel.
To prepare for a typical bar/bat mitzvah, the child studies Hebrew, Bible, Jewish history, and holidays for several years in religious school. In the year before the ceremony, the child learns the trop (the cantillation for Torah and haftarah, the reading from the Prophets) and then learns to chant the specific Torah and haftarah portions for the week of his or her bar/bat mitzvah.
In the “bar mitzvah factory” atmosphere of many synagogues, choosing a date is often constrained by the availability of Shabbat (Sabbath) mornings. This limitation ironically can free families to choose a date and time that serves familial needs and considers the personality and capabilities of the child. For example, some families will hold the ceremony at another time, aside from Shabbat, that the Torah is read, so that their Orthodox relatives can drive to the synagogue. If the bar/bat mitzvah child is extremely shy, has severe learning problems, or has a spotty Jewish education, families may choose the shorter Shabbat afternoon service to decrease stress on the child. Traditional Jews, on the other hand, usually aim for the first Shabbat after the child’s birthday.
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