Gifts to Give Someone Having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah
Bar and Bat Mitzvah Gifts
So you are going to go to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Traditionally, you are going to want to bring a gift so I thought I would provide a guide for those who don't already have something in mind.
A little background on how I look at B'nai Mitvah. First, although people use the term Bar/Bat Mitzvah to mean some sort of ceremony or party, the word is actually a noun; it means son/daughter of the commandments. One actually becomes a Bar/Bat Mitvah the instant one turns a certain age (13, for all intents and purposes) - it means that you are now an adult when it comes to religious matters in the Jewish religion. Before you are "of age", you don't do full fasts, you don't lead religious services, etc. Please know, though, that I am leaving out a LOT of details.
In short, you don't have to "have" a Bar Mitzvah to "be" a Bar Mitzvah (or, colloquially, Bar Mitvahed).
The 2 Major Considerations
1. your relationship to the recipient
2. how much you want to spend
This is a funny age and it can be hard to know what to buy for someone. If you know any of the interests of the kid, you have a step up and if you know the kid really well, you want to give something particularly meaningful. This might mean a set of pearl earrings or it could be a day trip somewhere.
This page is mostly for people who do not have a very close relationship to the recipient and are at a complete loss as to what to do.
There are a lot of things to give the Bar Mitzvah kid that have a religious significance. I don't love actually love the idea of giving religious gifts, though.
First off, some of these are so significant that you really want to check with the parent(s) ahead of time to see if it is okay to give such a significant gift. For example, a tallis (prayer shawl) is a very personal item and as a general rule a person will only have one, so there might already be one in the works. My mom ordered the shawl part from Israel six months ahead of time and spent the next five months embroidering Hebrew lettering and symbols on it so had I gotten another one, it would have remained unused forever.
Second, a lot of these things cannot be used until much later in life. Since you don't know what anyone else will be giving the kid, s/he could end up with six kiddish cups. Once the kid strikes out on his or her own, s/he's may want/need extra kiddush cups for guests. As far as I'm concerned, that is just thinking ahead, but a lot of people want to give something that can be used immediately. The same thing goes for challah covers and mezuzahs. So it isn't a definite no, it's a yes with caveats. I love the idea of giving a tzedakah box, but you can't really use more than one unless you are using them for decoration.
Other religious items you don't really need more than one of: a shofar, an etrog box (although the probability that anyone is giving the recipient one of these is so small that you can probably go ahead and do it), a havdallah set. Also, a very popular gift seems to be a yad, which is a Torah pointer. I don't understand the reasoning behind this gift unless you are actually giving it to a synagogue.
What you can have a lot of are menorahs. It's the festival of lights so more than one is perfectly acceptable.
A Word About Money
So for the least amount of fuss and the most bang for your buck, you can give money. Cash, check, whatever. It might not have a lot of pizzazz, but it is perfectly appropriate and appreciated.
I used the savings bonds and money from my Bat Mitzvah (and being born, etc.) to use for my first, last and security deposit for my first apartment after I graduate college so I was sad to find out that one can no longer buy U.S. Savings Bonds without having the recipient's social security number. It's a hassle, but possible. Also, there are other ways to give money.
- Cash. Just...Money.
Our Cousin Bobbi spent the time to tape one hundred dollar bills together and put them in a big roll for my brother's Bar Mitzvah. It was a slightly more fun way of giving what is often considered a "boring" gift. Boring, but never unappreciated.
- Israel Savings Bonds
First off, you're helping Israel, something that is generally smiled upon. Second, they are super cool looking. Third, you can spend as little as $36 (they know their audience) for an eMitzvah bond.
- U.S. Savings Bonds
Help a family member or loved one achieve a financial goal by purchasing a savings bond as a gift.
It's more convoluted than cold, hard cash, but if you want to give money and also teach about the stock market, you can open up a custodial account for the kid. You'll need the social security number again
What's With the 18?
Traditionally, when cash is given, it is given in increments of 18. Without knowing the background, this seems like a ridiculously arbitrary number. Here's the background. In Jewish numerology, each Hebrew letter has a numerical equivalent. The word for life in Hebrew is "chai" and it's spelled with a chet and a yud. The chet equals 8 and the yud equals 10. Add them together and you get 18. So when you see checks for $18, $36, $72, etc., you now know why.
Here's What I Recommend Against
Anything with the words Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. It might just be my take on it, but it seems silly to have a perfectly nice gift of say, a paperweight, and then plaster the word Bat Mitzvah on it. I'm not going to use that when I'm twenty. A picture frame is nice, but if it says Bat Mitzvah on it, it severely limits what I can actually put in there.
Traditional Gifts that are Perfectly Fine - But No Great Shakes
If you can't think of anything else, these are fine, but know that there is a good chance that your gift will be one of many of the same. Well, similar things. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. I got three sets of book ends and still use all of them.
I actually very much liked all the picture frames I got.
A Gift Has Been Made in Your Honor
Tzedakah is a really big deal in the Jewish community. Although the direct meaning is "justice" the word is used interchangeably with "charity" and although I could probably debate the finer points of the difference between the two, let's just say that giving money in the Bat Mitvah's honor is a time-honored tradition. So, where do you give money?
- The Synagogue - the name of the synagogue will be on the invitation that was sent to you. They will always appreciate your money. You might be able to give online or you might have to contact the office, but pretty much everyone is set up so that you will be listed in their bulletin and the recipient will get a card saying that you made a gift in his/her honor.
- Israel - Giving trees in Israel is very popular and has been going on for decades. The Jewish National Fund has an entire website set up for it (http://www.jnf.org/) and they will send a certificate of your choice to the recipient.
- Bar/Bat Mitzvah Project. It is increasingly common for a child to have a project that he/she works on before his/her ceremony (in my case, I was raising money for Second Generation Holocaust Memorial Fund). If the child is raising money for a cause, this is a great place to donate to.
- There is a fairly good chance that your recipient has gone to Jewish Camp and if he/she has, it was probably a blast. Programming is excellent. Unfortunately, camp is expensive, so I think a meaningful gift would be to give money to a campership fund. It's like a scholarship but for camp. Here is one option: http://www.jewishcamp.org/camper-scholarships
Gifts from My Bat Mitzvah that I Loved
The problem with giving a thirteen year old girl what she wants is that she might want something stupid. For my Bat Mitvah, I wanted trinkets. I was thrilled to get music boxes and Norman Rockwell figurines but 25 years late, they are all gathering dust. So what turned out to be my favorite gifts? Behold.
The two piece luggage set that the Sacks' got me lasted me through middle school, high school, college, two cross country moves and two trips to Israel. I didn't get rid of it until the last wheel fell off. I really liked that while it was black, it had primary color piping along the edges.
I got a lot of jewelry for my Bat Mitzvah and three or four jewelry boxes. The only one that was of any use was one that big enough to hold more than six items. I still use it now. I couldn't find the exact one, but if you do buy one, I suggest one that has several layers and places for earrings, rings, bracelets and necklaces.
Places to Browse
Do you think that a gift for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah should be fun or practical?
You don't find a whole lot of Bar or Bat Mitzvahs in popular culture, but here is one I remember from when I was a kid. The nice thing about it is that it isn't used as a punchline.
The end of the episode with the ever present hora.