What To Expect At A Bar or Bat Mitzvah

So you got invited to a bar or bat mitzvah, but maybe you aren’t Jewish or you have never been to one before. Here is what you can expect!

Before the party: Check with the host on the dress code and if there are any rules at the temple. At some conservative temples, they require shoulders and knees to be covered. Generally speaking, it is not polite to wear jeans, baseball caps, tshirts, torn clothing, etc. In some cases, a suit is most appropriate for men, and a suit or dress for women.

When you arrive: When you arrive at the temple or place for services, most of the time there will be a tray of yamukas or kippot – this is a head covering for the men. You place this on the top of your head and you can secure with a clip (if they are provided). Otherwise, it will just sit on top of your head. Women typically are not required to cover their hair. There is sometimes a card box for you to drop your gift (which is most typically cash or a check) or a program for you to follow along. From there, head into the temple and find a seat. Typically, the family sits in the front row. Don’t forget to turn off your cell phone!

The service: The services can take many different forms depending on the type of temple and the Rabbi. If you have any questions, there is usually a host from the temple to greet you that can answer questions. During the service, you will hear prayers, people speaking in Hebrew, songs, and speeches. Feel free to join in where you feel comfortable. The service typically can last anywhere from 1-2 hours. If only your child was invited to the service, you can easily walk them into the temple and then pick up at the end.

After the service: If it is a daytime service, sometimes there is a reception right afterwards with coffee, cookies, bagels, or sometimes even a catered lunch. If there is a formal luncheon, this is likely indicated on your invitation.

The reception: Sometimes you are invited to a reception later in the evening or right after the bar/bat mitzvah service (this would be indicated on the invitation). Check with your host or the invitation regarding dress code. Sometimes the dress code can be much more casual than the service, so it’s important to have an understanding. If only your child is invited, it’s typical for parents to walk their kids into the venue or drop them off at the valet (if the entrance is straight forward).

The reception typically starts with a cocktail hour with appetizers, beverages, and games for the kids (such as a photobooth, video games, etc.). Sometimes the bar may be a cash bar, so bring some just in case.

After cocktail hour (which usually lasts the full hour), the guests will be ushered into the main ballroom. Much like a wedding, there is usually assigned seats for adults; there may or may not be assigned seats for kids. Usually kid and adult seats are separated. If there is a DJ or band, there will usually be a grand entrance (where the kid is introduced from the MC), the hora, and some dancing.

During the hora, you grab hands and form a couple circles – dancing from left to right. All are welcome. Partway into the dancing, the bar/bat mitzvah kid will be lifted into a chair. If you are a strong man, your assistance with this is very helpful! Sometimes the siblings and parents will also go up in the chair.

Before dinner, sometimes there is a “motzi” which is a blessing over the bread and wine.

Dinner is typically served similarly to a wedding – it may be plated at your table or at a buffet.

Later into the night there may be a service called a “candle lighting”. This is when the bar/bat mitzvah kid honors certain family members or friends who have made an impact in their life. For each person or group of people, a candle is lit. If you are called/being honored, the child will read the poem or passage they wrote about you, and then you walk up to the table and light the candle with them. After you light the candle, typically you will pose for a photo.

There may also be a montage shown at some point in the evening. This is usually a compilation of photos and videos of the child, friends, and family, set to music.

Other things that may happen during the evening include speeches from friends and family, toasts, or games that the kids play with the DJ.

Dinner and dancing typically lasts 3-4 hours. There is usually a teen pick up time on the invitation, otherwise, you can ask the host when it is appropriate to pick up your child, if you are not invited.

Enjoy, have fun, and make sure you bring your dancing shoes!