Despite the uncertainties of COVID-19 and its variants, many feel there’s no pressing pause when it comes to a child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. After all, this is more than a party: It’s a milestone that celebrates a boy or girl entering adulthood. What’s more, the date of the ceremony is often locked in years in advance and all the studying and training that goes into the ritual have been pegged to that date.
As one Washington Post writer said, “Everything about the event, from its religious significance to its social events, is time-stamped.”
Jewish families have wrestled with how to keep this sacred life-cycle event meaningful, safe, and celebratory over the past couple of years. Sanctuaries equipped with video technology have made Zoom ceremonies with a limited number of in-person guests nearly commonplace, at least in those congregations that allow using such equipment on Sabbath. And though the party afterward is secondary, it’s still important — and possible — to pull off with some common sense and creativity. Here are some trends I’m seeing.
· Flexibility is essential. Plan B? How about plans C, D, E, and beyond? Some families are making multiple guest lists so they can add more people as vaccination rates rise and case numbers decline. In addition to formal printed invitations, digital “back-ups” can be sent as capacity increases. Just make sure to explain the short notice, website Kveller suggests. The need for flexibility extends to your vendors, too: Ask your caterer, venue, photographer, and others how flexible they can be should you need to postpone your party. Understanding what the policies are from the start will help you deal with the unforeseen confidently and without conflict.
· Having the party on a weekday. There’s no rule that says the party has to be right after the service. Booking a venue for a weekday when there are fewer other events going on limits the number of people your guests will be exposed to.
· Alfresco is “in,” when weather permits. While this might not work for a December Bat Mitzvah in Minneapolis, families who live where the weather is nice year-round are increasingly taking their parties outside. A covered tent provides protection from sun, wind, or rain, and venues in beautiful surroundings — a garden or wooded area — require fewer decorations. Nature has done all the work!
· Customized food stations are a great alternative to sit-down, plated meals, or a long buffet line. No more one-brisket-fits-all menus! Food stations are an increasingly popular way to offer guests more options and accommodate various diets. A bonus: They encourage social distancing. There’s no clustering around a buffet, and people can space out while they dine.
· Themes built around outdoor activities make sense, too. Sports themes have been popular for years, and there’s no reason why that can’t continue if the party is outside. Families are amping up the fun with décor reminiscent of a football stadium, soccer field, or hockey arena, complete with ticket booths, programs, and contests for guests.
· Not into sports? How about a butterfly theme? Inspired by the idea of metamorphosis as their daughter became a young woman, one Miami-area family welcomed guests to an outdoor cocktail reception at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. Aerial cirque performers provided entertainment.
· Make an AV expert your new best friend. For one California family who organized a hybrid event — a small number of in-person guests plus more joining the festivities via Zoom — incorporating a two-way feed of video and audio required a lot of bandwidth and data and could not have been handled by a DJ alone.
· More families are getting their motors running, literally. Even if you’ve had to limit the number of guests who attend the service, a car parade from the synagogue to the party venue helps more people feel like they are active participants in the fun. Decorate the cars to match the party theme and make some noise as you go.
· Leave the date off the swag. Although it’s customary to include the date on party favors and gifts, with so much unknown right now, it’s safer to leave it off.
When your child has grown up anticipating their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, having to adjust due to COVID-19 can be frustrating and sad for them. But there are still ways to make the day memorable, and perhaps even more unique than it would have been in more normal times.
About the Author:
Roger Igo is the founder and CEO of special events venue, The Bell Tower on 34th, along with Excellent Events, and Venues in Houston. He is the author of “Keep On Going, The History of The Bell Tower on 34th,” a former radio host, a graduate of CEO Space International, and an alumnus of The Disney Institute.