What to Expect at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Congratulations! You have been invited to the Bar or Bat mitzvah of a friend or family member. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah - literally "son (Bar)/daughter (Bat) of the commandments" takes place during our Saturday morning Shabbat services. A Bar Mitzvah marks the age at which Jewish children are held accountable for their own actions in observing our commandments. Most families mark this ocassion with a special service and celebration.

At Congregation Etz Chaim, our young people help to lead the service, read Torah, and deliver a message explaining the Torah portion and its relevance to their life. We are a small enough community that each child has their own special day.

The Bar Mitzvah will occur as part of our normal Saturday morning Shabbat service and is open to all members of the congregation as well as guests of the family.

Dress: Guests at a bar/bat mitzvah celebration generally wear dressy clothes — for men, either a suit or slacks, tie, and jacket, and for women, a dress or formal pantsuit.    

Arrival time: The time listed on the bar/bat mitzvah invitation is usually the official starting time for the weekly Shabbat, or Sabbath, service. Family and invited guests try to arrive at the beginning, even though the bar/bat mitzvah activities occur somewhat later in the service.

Prayer shawl: The tallit (tall­EET or TALL­is), or prayer shawl, is traditionally worn by Jewish males and, in our community, by Jewish women optionally. Because the braided fringes at the four corners of the tallit remind its wearer to observe the commandments of Judaism, wearing a tallit is reserved for Jews. If you are Jewish and are going up to lead a blessing before the Torah is read, we do ask that you wear a Tallit. You do not have to bring your own, we have some available for use.

Kippah, or yarmulke: A kippah (KEEP­ah) or head covering (called a yarmulke in Yiddish), is traditionally worn by males during the service and also by women in more liberal synagogues. Wearing a kippah is not a symbol of religious identification like the tallit, but is rather an act of respect to God and the sacredness of the worship space. Just as men and women may be asked to remove their hats in the church, or remove their shoes before entering a mosque, wearing a head covering is a non­denominational act of showing respect. In some synagogues, women may wear hats or a lace head covering. Most synagogues have a basket of kippahs (also called kippot) at the entry to the sanctuary, and bar/bat mitzvah hosts often provide custom­ made ones that you can keep as a memento. 

All guests and participants are expected to respect the sanctity of the prayer service and Shabbat by setting your cell phone or beeper to vibrate or turning it off. Please do not take flash photography.

Jewish worship services can be very athletic, filled with frequent directions to stand for particular prayers and sit for others. Take your cue from the other worshippers or the rabbi’s instructions. Unlike kneeling in a Catholic worship service–which is a unique prayer posture filled with religious significance–standing and sitting in a Jewish service does not constitute any affirmation of religious belief, it is merely a sign of respect. Congregants may bow at times during the prayers, as this is a religiously significant act, feel free to remain standing without bowing.

Try to follow the service in the siddur, or prayerbook, and the chumash, or Bible, both of which are printed in Hebrew and English. Guests and congregants are encouraged to hum along during congregational melodies and to participate in the service to the extent that they feel comfortable. If you lose the page, you may quietly ask a neighbor for help . During the Torah service (described below), the entire congregation is encouraged to follow the reading of the weekly Torah portion in English or Hebrew.