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Advice for parents: tips on how to give a bar mitzvah speech

Give a peach of a speech

for The Brooklyn Paper

At your child’s bar mitzvah service, you might be given the opportunity to say a few words to him on the bimah.

What should you say?

Or to put it more ominously, what shouldn’t you say?

Luckily for you, I’m a cantor and I have more than 20-years worth of watching parents’ deliver every kind of speech you can imagine. Let me lay out the Dos and Don’ts to make your job much easier.

Do: Tell your kid how proud you are of him.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? In fact, this is probably the most profound emotion you will experience throughout the day. You’re bursting with pride because of your child’s accomplishment. Yet, I find that a lot of parents forget to include this simple statement while going on and on about so many other subjects.

Speaking of accomplishments …

Don’t: List ‘all’ of your kid’s accomplishments.

The congregation will zone out long before you mention how proud you are of your daughter becoming a bat mitzvah if you’ve also spouted off a laundry list of her undertakings that includes her making honor roll for the third time in a row and winning second place in the elementary school science fair. The congregation just got a chance to see the most relevant and important thing your child completed. Stay on topic.

Do: Slap some Jewish stuff in there.

This helps remind you and everyone else that the primary theme of the day is bigger than you or your family. It’s about the Jewish tradition and the role your child will now play. Take a look at that week’s Torah portion and see if you can draw a connection. Discuss how your family might include this freshly minted Jewish adult in holiday or other ritual observances.

Don’t: Get carried away and sound like a rabbi.

Sometimes parents cross the line and start quoting obscure Jewish sources and medieval commentaries in order to illustrate a single point about their child and the haftarah. I can’t help but imagine the rabbi sitting there listening and thinking, “Hey, I work this side of the block.”

Do: Time your speech at home and keep it short.

Length-wise, your speech should be around two to three minutes. Really.

You would be surprised how long that is when you’re talking. As they say in my line of work, always leave them wanting more. No one in history ever complained because a speech was too short.

Don’t: Speak off the cuff. Write it down.

Public speaking experts might disagree, but the best speech is completely written down beforehand. Otherwise, every word of your perfect composition will fly out of your head the minute you stand up there.

Do: Play it straight and keep it clean.

I’ve seen more than a few unfortunate examples of a father going for laughs. What looks really funny on paper tends to sound awkward or downright inappropriate when spoken in front of a congregation at a religious service.

Don’t: Run the congregation through your child’s entire life history.

Basically, don’t begin with toilet training.

Yes, that happens. No, it’s not pretty.

And the most important

Do: Be yourself.

This is the same kind of advice that I would give your kid. Try to deliver a speech that sounds like something you would say in your kitchen with your family sitting there. It’s unlikely that long after the bar mitzvah is over, many people will remember exactly what you said. But they’ll recall your emotion and manner, and admire the message that you wanted to pass along.

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Reader Feedback

Adrian F from Canada says:
Thank you for the very good advice. I very much appreciate it.
Aug. 31, 2015, 9:26 pm
Ean W. from Park City UT says:
Great advice! I am giving my daughter's Bas Mitzvah speech this Saturday and I'm pretty nervous it won't be long enough, thorough enough etc. I'm going to stick with what I wrote after reading your article. Thanks :)
Jan. 26, 2016, 7:22 pm
Brad Shuman from San Diego says:
Great advice and like the way you organized the Do's and Don'ts. I am using a conversation from the kitchen table to discuss my twin's in a speech on the Bema next month.
March 2, 2016, 2 am

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