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What not to bring to a bar mitzvah service in New York

What not to bring to a bar mitzvah

for The Brooklyn Paper

It can get really crazy in your house the morning of a bar mitzvah. Makeup, hair, dresses, suits, breakfast, books, folders … it is miracle within itself that you actually remember to bring your kid to the temple.

Instead of adding to your stress by making a day-of to-do list filled with things you think you need to bring to the service, I’m going to do the opposite: I’m going to tell you what not to bring. And I can. I’m a cantor. I’ve seen more than 20-years-worth of bar mitzvah services. So do listen to me and do not bring the following items:

1) Water

Each week, every bar mitzvah family comes to the temple loaded with bottles and bottles of water. I never knew that kids could be so thirsty. Parents think their children cannot get through 10 minutes, let alone a two-hour service, without drinking from a water bottle. They like to put one on the bimah, and have a couple spares next to their seats, in case Uncle Ed swallows wrong and begins to cough up a lung.

I go back on the bimah and remove the untouched and unopened water bottles after almost every bar mitzvah.

And it’s fine. But your kid won’t choke, literally or metaphorically. If he can get through an entire school day without making repeated trips to the water fountain, then he won’t collapse from thirst in temple. (Exception to the rule: Asthma, cold, allergies, or other conditions? Hydrate away!)

2) Tissue packs

I have two sons, and I have noticed something interesting about kids: they don’t blow their noses. They will make that sniffling noise all day long, but it doesn’t occur to them to actually try using a tissue. Then they act all indignant when you tell them to use one. Unless your child is having terrible allergies, don’t bother putting tissues on the bimah. They are just going to end up in my office next to my mini-bar full of your untouched water bottles.

3) Bacon

Well, that’s a given.

4) Cellphone

I know there is no way you are leaving the house without your cellphone. But when you get to temple, leave it in the car. I’m not saying this as a religious leader because some temples forbid the use of cellphones and other electronics during the Sabbath. Rather, it’s just one more thing to worry about during the service. There is a lot going on during a bar mitzvah and it’s too easy to forget to have it turned off or silenced (and yes, people forgetting to put their phone on silent happens all the time). Plus, you might be tempted to sneak a peek and check for texts from guests en route. You’re better off without it. Which leads me directly to the next item …

5) Control

This is more of a Zen thing. You need to leave your control at home. Week after week, I watch the bar mitzvah families sitting in their seats, spending the entire service looking around. They are watching who is coming in and becoming increasingly aggravated about who has not arrived yet. And by doing this, they are missing what is going on right in front of them. Instead of fuming that your sister and brother-in-law are late, just forget about it. (My guess is they are always late to everything. Why did you expect they would be on time today?) People know where the service is and what time it starts. The rest is up to them. Sit back and enjoy watching your kid on the bimah.

And if you start crying, I keep extra tissues in my office.

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