What Happens at a Bat Mitzvah
Over the years I’v posted a lot of bar and Bat Mitzvahs on the site but I don’t know that I’ve ever really explained what happens at a typical Bat Mitzvah. So, if you’ve never been to one or are planning your first one, allow me to break down exactly what happens at a typical Bar or Bat Mitzvah using this one from Congregation Beth Am in Tampa.
Bar Mitzvah Temple Portraits Congregation Beth Am Tampa
The first step is the temple portraits. These are usually done a few days before the service, typically on Thursday or Friday. The Rabbi will have a meeting with the family to go over things one last time and make sure that the Bar Mitzvah boy or Bat Miyzvah girl is comfortable and ready for the big day. The immediate family will show up dressed for portraits and I’ll photograph them as well as the child and the clergy.
There are some temples that do this on Saturday, the day of the service, but most tend to do it in the week prior, like Congregation Beth Am in Tampa. Occasionally, I’m asked to come in the day of the service and do extended family portraits right before show time because that’s when everyone is there and dressed. Other times (most of the time) we do these portraits before the party that night. There is one temple in Tampa, Schaarai Zedek, that actually does a complete dress rehearsal right before the service and I get to photograph that as well as family portraits. Recently, someone told me that a lot of the Orlando temples do that as well. But in Tampa, most of the temples I work at don’t do a dress rehearsal on Saturday.
No temple allows you to photograph the service. It’s simply not allowed.
Bat Mitzvah Party Photography
The Bat Mitzvah party can be many things. Sometimes it’s a luncheon at the temple, sometimes it’s a giant party at a ballroom… I did a pool party one time. It all depends on what the family and celebrant want.
The parties usually have some sort of theme and the decorations and table centerpieces will reflect that.
Typically, the party is four hours long and there is a pattern to them.
First, there’s the cocktail hour. The parents are in one room and the kids are in the main ballroom. The parents eat Hors d’Ouevres and the kids play games. One of the most popular games is called “Coke/Pepsi” and involves splitting the kids into two groups on either side of the dance floor, each person across from their partner. Then the DJ calls out different words and you have to do a different action for each word. So, “Coke” means you sit on your partners knee, “Pepsi” means they sit on yours, “Dr. Pepper” means you meet in the middle and do something, etc… It’s chaotic with a lot of running back and forth and you get disqualified if you don’t do the right thing. It’s kinda “Simon Says” meets “Musical Chairs. “
Oh, and there’s socks. Because all those 13-year-old girls don’t want to wear heels all night so the family provides socks. It’s one of my favorite little things about Bat Mitzvahs.
After the cocktail hour, everyone comes into the room and gathers on the dance floor for the entrances. The family is introduced and then the guest of honor. Sometimes they go straight into some dancing, sometimes not… but either way it’s a short hop to Dad’s speech and the candle lighting.
The candle lighting is a little ceremony that the Bat Mitzvah girl does where she brings up people important to her and they light a candle together. The way she brings them up always rhymes. So, she might say something like:
You’ve always had my back
Even when we were bad
We used to play for hours
And hide from Mom and dad
You love to play on Xbox
And wrestle on the floor
Will my brother Bobby please come up
And light candle number four
There’s 13 of these usually. Parents, grandparents, uncle and aunts, friends, etc.
After the candle lighting it’s time for dinner. During dinner there will be a montage of pictures played on the big screens that the DJ provides. All the kids usually sit on the dance floor to watch it. Then, there might be a few more games to entertain the kids while the adults finish up their dinner. Scavenger hunts are popular.
After dinner is when they usually do the hora, which is the traditional dance where they put everyone in a chair and raise them up. Everyone in the immediate family goes in the chair. From here we go straight into dancing for the rest of the party (usually about an hour at this point).
There’s always a candy table with bags. The kids can load up with all they want. Sometimes there is a dessert bar as well with ice cream and cake.
There are usually other activities as well, I provide a photobooth that is always popular and because it’s big, you can get a lot of people in the picture. Sometimes there is someone airbrushing t-shirts or doing henna or the like.
All in all it’s a great event. People really have a blast at Bat Mitzvah parties.