The Ultimate Guide For Surviving Bat Mitzvah Weekend

Last week my oldest child became a Bat Mitzvah during a weekend of celebration and ritual that more than lived up to all the hype. Now, just a few days removed from the event, I offer a few pieces of advice to those getting ready to take the same journey:
Worried about inviting more guests? Do the cost benefit analysis.
You already know most of the people that you need to invite, those family and friends who are at least some part of your child’s life. But then there are all those on the bubble. For example, should you invite that friend of your mom’s who invited your mom to their grandchild’s Bat Mitzvah? Your first reaction may be to exclude them, because they don’t even know your child, and it will just increase the catering bill for the luncheon. But let’s do the math. The extra cost of roughly $10 (or $20 for a couple) will likely result in a gift of $36-$100 toward your child’s future college education. With a decent rate of return—even subtracting the opportunity cost of the original $10 or $20 investment—that one gift could pay for a textbook or two during freshman year of college (though I’m not sure if they will even have printed text books anymore by then). There are very generous people out there, and they feel honored to be a part of your family’s special day. And besides, a more full sanctuary just makes your child feel more special and more loved. So I say let your parents invite their friends! The more the merrier! It’s a win-win. (Speaking of win-win, would it be too crass to remind you of all the people who are invited, can’t come, but still send a generous gift? That’s a win-win-win! And a higher ROI.)
Spend time on your speech.
This weekend is all about your child. They are the center of attention, blah, blah, blah, we get it. But, there is one moment when you are in the spotlight. And while the focus of that moment may be on the message you want to give your child, human behavior still dictates that we want to put on a good show, for its own sake, and maybe elicit the shedding of a tear or two from the congregation.
Here are some of the things I did:
After thinking about the speech for a while, I started to write it, using any writing trick I could think of (rules of three, tell a story, etc.). I decided I wanted to memorize the speech, despite my famously terrible memory. Every time I was alone in the car I would recite it (first using my written page, then gradually without). I recited it probably a hundred times. Then I practiced some more. Finally, in the hours leading up to the big moment, I kept reciting just the first three sentences in my head, figuring that if I could get through those everything else would fall into place. We’ll also pretend that I stopped practicing once the service began. Either way, memorizing the speech (with some bullet points in your pocket for backup) makes for a far more convincing presentation than reading off a page; I promise it’s well worth the effort.
And here’s one more tip. The rabbi gave a short speech on the torah portion just prior to the Torah service. I recited my speech basically word for word how I wrote it, but in the middle I spontaneously made reference to a part of the rabbi’s speech. Hopefully that made it appear that I was speaking more off the cuff and lively.
Oh, and if you forget your line, pretend to get choked up with emotion for a second; it should buy you enough time to locate the word or phrase in your head, and it makes for a more dramatic performance. And before I get any hate comments for making it sound like I’m turning a special moment into an acting performance, believe me, the words I spoke to her on the bimah that day were the most genuine and heartfelt words I have ever spoken in my life. I am so ridiculously proud of my daughter.
Take at least three days off work before the event, and at least one day after.
I happened to have a lot of vacation time to use up, so I took Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday off work. Wednesday was good for getting a few errands done, as well as taking a little bit of downtime for myself. Little did I know that I was actually storing up my energy for the days to follow.
On Thursday I started the day with a small shopping a list, and seven hours later I had crisscrossed the city, visiting what seemed like every store in town. Grocery stores, liquor stores, party supply stores, it didn’t end. It’s exhausting; I don’t know why, but it is. By the way, bring a stack of cash; I still don’t know how Party City got $95 of my money.
Friday, along with the dress rehearsal, was crunch time for shopping. For us, it was the last opportunity to go to stores before the weekend’s back-to-back events got under way. I started the day around 7:00 am, and finished at 2:15 am when I finished decorating the room for the kid party. I don’t think I had a moment to myself during those 19 plus hours.
Monday is simply a recovery day. A few errands to run, some things to wrap up, but hopefully it’s a day to send the kids off to school (don’t give them the day off, this day is for you) and get at least a little bit of quiet relaxing time.
Have a mom who is an experienced caterer.
This one may be a harder to pull off for some of you, but I’d highly recommend having a mother who spent at least ten years as a catering manager at hotels. This is a skillset that really comes in handy as you plan multiple meals for large numbers of people. I also recommend a mother that, a) doesn’t drive you crazy, b) is retired and has more time, c) knows how clueless you are about fashion and hairstyles of 13 year old girls, and d) knows people that will help bake for the oneg. My good fortune of having a mother who is all of the above (though she does sometimes drive me crazy) saved me countless hours and dollars in the lead-up to the event.
Last weekend was a wonderful weekend for the entire family, for so many reasons. By every measure it is worth the stress and effort leading up to the event. And I want to say, publically, that my daughter did an unbelievably amazing job. Granted I haven’t seen Yentl in years, but thanks to a Wikipedia refresher, I can, with all sincerity, tell you my daughter reads Torah like Rebbe Mendel and has the singing voice of “Babs” Yentl. Papa can you hear me? Yes I can, and you totally nailed it, baby.