Mistakes people make at bar mitzvahs

Bat mitzvah blunders

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Your family can prepare for your kid’s bar mitzvah like it’s a triathlon, but you can never truly prepare for the unexpected. Even after you choose a caterer, order the cake, decide on a venue, design invitations, hire entertainment, pick out your decorations, and make sure that your son has his Torah portion down pat, an unpredicted bar mitzvah blunder can occur, throwing a huge, clunky wrench into the whole shebang.

Guests, hosts, and even rabbis can commit these blunders — but what exactly are they?

We spoke with several Jewish families who have hosted and attended their fair share of b’nei mitzvahs in order to gauge what guests, families, and yes, even religious professionals, can do wrong in order to help those groups avoid social missteps that can make this very special — but stressful — day a little less bumpy:

The family faux pas: Not giving thanks

The biggest mistake families hosting bar or bat mitzvahs tend to make is forgetting what is truly important.

“Not giving the appropriate family members or friends honors such as opening the ark and blessing over the Torah,” says Karen S., a Jewish mother from Florida who has attended and helped organize dozens of bar mitzvahs. “This is especially true if they’ve traveled from out of town to attend.”

This also includes honoring guests who are unable to attend.

“Forgetting to recognize family members that have passed away, such as the child’s grandparents is another faux pas,” says Karen.

Another tacky tendency? Families that forget to thank the people behind the scenes who helped their child accomplish a very significant goal.

“Not acknowledging and thanking the rabbi, cantor, and teachers that made the day possible is rude,” says Karen.

And don’t forget that a significant part of becoming a bar mitzvah is learning to become a responsible member of the Jewish community. Therefore, not giving back to the community during the process seems counter-intuitive.

“Not doing a mitzvah project to help the community is a no-no,” says Karen. “After all, that’s the point, isn’t it?

Guests’ slipups: Mind your C’s — ceremony, clothes, and children

One of the most common offenses committed by guests is skipping the ceremony but partaking in the festivities.

“It is beyond rude,” says Karen. “You can’t enjoy the party if you skip the ceremony. Period.”

If you are attending a bat mitzvah, it’s also helpful to find out what the lady of honor will be sporting, just out of respect.

“At one bat mitzvah, I wore the same dress as the bat mitzvah girl,” says Dana S., who has attended plenty of bar and bat mitzvahs, and looks forward to planning the bar mitzvahs of her two young sons. “What could I say? I’m sorry? She was understandably upset and it was embarrassing for both of us.”

This rule also applies to the bar or bat mitzvah’s mother.

“When I walked into the temple, I wanted to turn right around and walk back out. The mother was wearing the same exact dress that I was wearing!” says Linda R., the proclaimed “Bar Mitzvah Guru” of her family.

Yet, the biggest faux pas a guest can commit is not keeping any eye on their wily children.

“One of the worst things I’ve seen guests do though, was done by children,” adds Karen. “There was a major league food fight at the kids’ table and when the mother of the bat mitzvah girl went to break it up, the kids totally desecrated the mother’s dress and hair. The entire party she walked around with stains on her dress and gunk in her hair. It was horrible.”

Religious profession­als’ errors: Your rabbi is not all knowing

You don’t have to worry about the rabbi, do you? He’s a professional after all, with maybe hundreds of bar mitzvahs under his tallit.

Well, as they say — anyone can make mistakes.

“At a few bar mitzvahs I’ve attended, the rabbi called the child by the wrong name,” says Linda. “How embarrassing is that?”

Awkward! Especially the rabbi’s second in command is just as absent.

“Also, the cantor, the singer in the temple and the rabbi’s right hand man, fell asleep on the bema,” says Linda. “It was a real train wreck in an otherwise beautiful ceremony.”

And sometimes even the rabbi forgets to do his homework.

“Once the rabbi, thought the father [of the bar mitzvah] was an OBGYN,” recalls Dana. “He wasn’t. He was an ophthalmologist. And the rabbi selected a portion of the Torah that focused on gynecological issues. Everyone in the temple thought it was disgusting. It was talked about for years.”

The important thing to take away from this is don’t leave everything all up to the rabbi. It’s wise to consider everything else he has on his plate and take a moment to confirm important bits of information – like your child’s name … and your husband’s profession.

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