You probably don't have to think too hard to recall a garish, over-the-top bar or bat mitzvah celebration that you've attended. But if that's not for you, and you want advice from people who have enjoyed themselves, grown spiritually and even helped others at the same time, you'll find it on the World Wide Web.
But first, the excess. If you really want to get an eyeful, check out the article "Bash Mitzvahs!" from New York Magazine at www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/urban/family/features/2343/index.html
The article was written in 1998 during the stock market boom, and it catalogues quarter-million-dollar, multimedia, themed extravaganzas that were held at such venues as the Radio City Music Hall, Ellis Island and the Tavern on the Green. Were you thinking of doing something different and booking Natalie Cole for your simcha? You'll have to be more original than that. Natalie has already done a bar mitzvah on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. Her fee: $150,000 for 30 minutes.
At the other end of the scale, there are many sites that emphasize how this coming-of-age ritual is a perfect time to remember others. In "Putting the Mitzvah Back in Bar/Bat Mitzvahs," several people tell of their genuine mitzvot. Alexandra Alper collected close to 900 toiletries from neighbors, dentists and supermarkets that she donated to a shelter for women. You can read Alexandra's and other b'nai mitzvah stories at SocialAction.com — www.socialaction.com/barmitsva.html
One of the best pages with ideas for kids about to become bar or bat mitzvah is on the Ziv Tzedakah Fund Web site — www.ziv.org/BarBat.htm Instead of telling kids how to make their celebrations meaningful, it starts by asking them to think about their own special talents, their interests, what would they want to change in the world, who can help get the job done, "And finally — Why not?"
The site then gives examples of previous successful projects, a healthy reading list of books on this subject and great suggestions for party centerpieces. If you're having traditional flower arrangements, when the party is over break them up and deliver them to hospitals or nursing homes. If you are going to have a sports-themed party, use a variety of sports equipment as centerpieces and then donate them to a local shelter where kids may not have their own equipment.
The author of the Mitzvah99 Web site — http://members.aol.com/mitzvah99/mypage — must be a very modest young man. He tells us that when he celebrated his bar mitzvah on March 6, 1999, he tried to have a fun and meaningful time. What he doesn't tell us is his name. However, he has put together a very helpful site with suggestions for mitzvot you can do before, during and after your celebration. Congratulations, whoever you are!
Here is another intriguing way to mark this important event. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous provides monthly financial support for more than 1,700 surviving Righteous Gentiles, people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The foundation's bar/bat mitzvah program — www.
bbprogram.html — matches a young person with a Christian rescuer. As the site explains, "The JFR Bar/Bat Mitzvah program has the power to connect this special event in the life of a family with Jewish history and values and provide the Bar/Bat Mitzvah with role models of human goodness and social responsibility."
Another popular way to celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah is through a family visit to Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports that prior to the year 2000, more than 2,000 pre-teens came to Israel to celebrate their special day — 94 percent of them from the United States or Canada. Travel planners are becoming quite sophisticated and
are offering extended trips through
the dried riverbeds of the Negev.
Go to http://makeashorterlink.com/?V4B823B63
However, the most popular spots for the actual bat or bar mitzvah ceremony remain quite traditional: Jerusalem and Masada. You can follow along a picture album of one bar mitzvah's trip to Israel and lovely shots of his ceremony at the Kotel (Western Wall) — www.chez.com/purplemike/jeudi1.htm
Emuna Braverman was in the throes of preparing her son's bar mitzvah ("attractive but not ostentatious, joyful but not wild, the food delicious but not extravagant") when she wrote about what she hopes her son will take away from the experience. Her story is at www.aish.com/family/heart/My_Sons_Bar_Mitzvah.asp
"Of course the bar mitzvah boy must give charity from his gifts…But more important than these grand gestures are the daily acts of caring and honor and respect for others…It's being patient in line, it's being respectful to teachers, it's sharing with sisters (yes, even sisters!) that truly make the man…But if he internalizes the teaching of the day, if he recognizes the joy of a relationship with the Almighty, if he understands his ability to express that recognition through all his actions, if he's able to communicate that pleasure to those around him, then it will be a great party!"