B'nai Mitzvah: Preparation and Celebration
The transition from childhood toward adulthood is an important time when a young person begins to take on more of the responsibilities associated with adulthood. This transition is one that Judaism marks through the celebration of bar or bat mitzvah, which at Beth Israel can happen on or after your child's 13th Hebrew birthday. As Beth Israel Center is defined by the participation of its members both inside and outside of our sanctuary, when our young adults are ready to begin being a part of the greater community, we think it important to recognize this both inside and outside the sanctuary. We take this opportunity to equip them with the tools they will need to begin to function as active, spiritually-engaged Jews and human beings throughout their lives.
Our goal is for our children to have a joyful connection to their tradition. Our Talmud Torah gives our children the proper foundation in Jewish tradition and ritual to participate as active and engaged Jews. As they approach their thirteenth year, our Educator and Rabbi oversee programs that prepare our children and parents for their upcoming simcha through family education programs, overseeing our tutoring process and individual meetings and study sessions.
We look forward to celebrating this special occasion with you and hope that this online handbook is helpful. It explains how Beth Israel Center will help to prepare you and your child, ease your planning for the day, and make your family's and our entire congregation's experience of the day as meaningful as possible.
Continue reading or jump to:
Your Child's Education
The celebration of a bar or bat mitzvah marks the time when a person becomes responsible for taking on mitzvot, observing commandments, and participating as a full member of klal Yisrael, the people of Israel. Meaningful observance of this milestone cannot occur in a vacuum. We recognize that a bar/bat mitzvah needs to have a deep understanding of Judaism and facility with the Hebrew language, as well as an enduring connection to the Jewish people. Our community expects your child to demonstrate a continuing commitment to Jewish life, Jewish learning and mitzvot.
At Beth Israel Center, every person preparing for a bar/bat mitzvah must be engaged in a sustained program of Jewish study separate from the preparation needed for the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony itself. There are currently two ways to fulfill this communal expectation. The first is by successful advancement through five consecutive years of learning in our Talmud Torah, completing kitot gimel through zayin (3rd through 7th grade). The second is to attend a recognized Jewish day school and, when not enrolled in a Jewish day school, be enrolled and engaged in the BIC Talmud Torah through seventh grade. The Beth Israel community respects the talents and abilities of every child in our congregation. If your child has exceptional educational needs, an individualized educational plan will be developed.
All children — whether they attend the Beth Israel Center Talmud Torah or are enrolled in day school — must also regularly attend and participate in our Shabbat morning classes in 6th and 7th grade. This program’s goal is unique from the above learning options: to teach our children about Shabbat morning within the context of regular experience with a prayer service.
Beth Israel offers Shabbat morning programs for all children, babies/toddlers through seventh grade. Each age-appropriate experience builds on the earlier program. In third grade, children begin attending the service led by our 6th and 7th graders. This multi-age participation builds familiarity with the Shabbat morning liturgy and service choreography. By attending Talmud Torah on Shabbat, children learn how to actively participate in, and eventually lead, a Shabbat morning service.
Regular attendance on Shabbat morning, beginning as young as possible, helps children feel comfortable in our Shabbat morning worship. Our tradition is deep; it takes effort and exposure over time to make it accessible and meaningful.
Around 10 months before your simcha, the Education Director and Rabbi, in consultation with you and our group of tutors, will recommend a tutor for your child. Our goal is to match learning styles and personalities and assure the best possible experience. Tutoring will begin approximately nine months before the simcha. The tutor will teach your child how to chant a Haftarah using the trope system, the blessings before and after the Haftarah, the blessings recited before and after an Aliyah to the Torah, the Maftir portion, and any additional Torah reading. The tutor will also help their tutee brush up on the Torah service, which will already be familiar from attendance on Shabbat morning, as well as the blessings for Kiddush for Shabbat morning, handwashing and Motzi. Celebrants typically lead these three blessings from the bima at the conclusion of services.
Tutoring sessions are typically 45 minutes long. For consistency and fairness, we have standardized the payments for our tutors at $40 per hour, which works out to $30 per 45 minute session. Our tutors bill the hours through the BIC office as they report in monthly on your child's progress. The office posts the charges to your account. All children are different; depending upon their skills, commitment, goals and practicing outside of lessons, most children have between 25 and 35 tutoring sessions.
The payment schedule for tutoring is:
$500 when the tutor is assigned.
$250 at the time of the 25th session (or after 18.75 hours)
Fees beyond session #25 will be billed as and when reported by the tutor. The timing of charges for sessions beyond the 25th session will depend on when the tutor reports those hours.
Your child will learn much about Shacharit on Shabbat and in Talmud Torah on weekdays beginning in Kitah Gimel (3rd grade), and in the Rabbi’s class in Kitah Vav (6th grade). If you are interested in having your child learn and lead Shacharit at their simcha, please tell the Rabbi at least six months in advance. As your child progresses through their studies, the Rabbi and Education Director will assess your child’s progress. Feel free to follow up if you are wondering how your child is doing. Depending on your child's motivation, knowledge and skills, learning to lead Shacharit may require a series of 6 to 12 meetings with the Rabbi, which will occur usually in the final months before the simcha.
Tallit and Tefillin:
An important element of this experience is learning about and becoming comfortable with the essential forms of Jewish worship. After their 13th birthdays, Jews are expected to pray on Shabbat mornings with a tallit and on weekday mornings with tallit and tefillin. In the year before your child’s bar or bat mitzvah, you will learn together the what and why of tallit and tefillin. This will help you and your child grow more comfortable with these traditions.
In the six months leading up to your simcha, your family should attend Shabbat morning services on a regular basis. Regular participation will increase your familiarity with our Shabbat morning ritual and the Beth Israel community. This will strengthen the connection that you and your child have with the congregation, which will make you feel more at home within the congregation and deepen your spiritual and emotional experience of the day.
Approximately 10-12 weeks before the bar/bat mitzvah, your child will begin working with our Education Director and Rabbi to create/write a d'var Torah. Your child will have a series of meetings with the Education Director and Rabbi to learn about Torah, the Parshiot, and what it means to give a d'var Torah in general, before writing the actual d'var Torah. There will also be opportunities to rehearse.
Parents and child will meet with the Rabbi approximately 10-12 weeks before the simcha. The Rabbi or the office will contact you to schedule this meeting. This is an opportunity to discuss ways that this celebration and milestone fit in with the fabric and history of your family as well as particular issues with regard to honors or other aspects of the day.
We have a lovely custom at Beth Israel Center for our b'nei mitzvah and their families to come to morning minyan the Thursday morning before their bar or bat mitzvah and participate in the minyan, where your child can experience their first aliyah in an intimate and haimish setting. This is also an opportunity for your child to lay tefillin. Many families add to the celebration by bringing breakfast with them for the minyan. This is a generous gesture, but not necessary. See appendix D for a suggested menu if you do elect to bring breakfast.
In the 10 days before your simcha, often on the Thursday before (after the aufruf), the Rabbi will help you with a full rehearsal of all the parts of the service that your child will be leading. This will also be an opportunity for any immediate family members who are leading parts of the service or reading Torah to practice.
On the Shabbat of your simcha, please plan to be at the synagogue by 9:20am so you can make sure that everything is organized to your satisfaction before we begin and so that you will be able to greet and give guidance to your friends and family.
When you plan your invitations, please remember that some invitees will arrive on time or early unless you give them clear and concise information advising them otherwise. For some of your guests, one possibility is to add a card explaining that while our worship begins at 9:30am, your child's role in our worship will begin at 9:50am if they are leading Shacharit or 10:15am for the Torah service.
We want to do all that we can to make your guests feel welcome and comfortable in our synagogue. Communicating with them about communal norms and expectations will allow them to engage with our community and worship as fully as possible. Please inform your guests that on Shabbat, in keeping with our observance of the sanctity of the day of rest, we do not write or use any electronic devices such as cell phones, cameras, or digital media players anywhere in the synagogue building for the entire day of Shabbat, including at the kiddush lunch.
Respectful attire honors the sanctity of Shabbat and is expected of family members and guests. Please advise those who are unfamiliar with our services of these expectations. If you are concerned about communicating this to your guests, the office has examples of wording regarding proper attire for Shabbat.
Our custom is that all men in the sanctuary wear a head covering and that Jewish men wear a tallit. Many Jewish women choose to wear a tallit and/or head covering.
Additional considerations for anyone on the bima:
Please advise all of your guests to whom you are assigning honors that they must wear head coverings on the bima.
Women should also wear tallit when davening (leading services) or leyning (reading Torah).
A custom at Beth Israel Center is to gently toss soft and kosher candy (provided by the synagogue) in the direction of the celebrant at the completion of the blessings after the Haftarah. The candy represents the sweet life we all wish for your child.
Candy should be handed out to the congregation as quietly as possible while the bar/bat mitzvah is chanting the blessings after the Haftarah. Asking your child's friends or relatives to distribute the candy is a nice way to include them in the service. If possible, ask people who are familiar with simchas at Beth Israel Center to do this or to partner with visiting guests.
You will have an opportunity during your meeting with the Rabbi to review the rules and customs for assigning honors to friends and family. Families of a bar or bat mitzvah are invited, but not obliged, to assign up to four aliyot as well as the Maftir aliyah for the bar or bat mitzvah, following the guidelines set forth below.
Asking your friends or family members to chant the blessings before and after the Torah readings, opening the Ark, wrapping the Torah (Gelilah), and/or leading the Prayer for our Country are ways to include them in your family’s celebration. Assigning these honors is optional. Any honors not designated in advance will be assigned on Shabbat morning. The Maftir aliyah almost always goes to the person chanting Haftarah and is not counted as one of the four you may assign. Beth Israel Center will assign any honors that you have not designated.
Please complete the Honors form two weeks before your simcha.
Download a blank Honors form here.
A. Ark opening for removal of Torah Scroll (p 168)—one or two people to open the Ark and to take the Torah out. The honoree(s) will join in the procession around the synagogue. A member of the congregation will ascend the Bima at this time to guide and assist the honoree(s).
B. Aliyot during the Torah reading
You may assign up to four of these. The Maftir aliyah is in addition to the four you may assign.
Kohen— the first aliyah must go to one Kohen or Bat Kohen
Levi— the second aliyah must go to one Levi or Bat Levi
Shlishi— the third aliyah
Revi’i— the fourth aliyah
Chamishi— the fifth aliyah
Shishi— the sixth aliyah
Shvi’i— the seventh aliyah
Maftir— the final aliyah is given to the person chanting the Haftarah (typically the bar or bat mitzvah)
Helpful Information for Assigning Aliyot:
1. Those having aliyot to the Torah must be Jewish adults (post bar or bat mitzvah age), must know how to correctly chant the blessings in Hebrew both before and after the respective Torah reading, and provide their Hebrew names in advance. See “How to Have an Aliyah” and share this information with your designated honorees if they do not regularly attend services at Beth Israel Center.
2. According to Jewish tradition, an aliyah is given to an individual. This halacha was established before our worship became egalitarian, thus it did not address modern matters such as how to honor both parents with an aliyah. Embracing egalitarian life and worship has necessitated change. Our tradition teaches us that when a couple consecrates their relationship in front of God and the community, it becomes sanctified and the couple is seen to come together as one, and thus to speak with one voice. At Beth Israel Center, aliyot #3 thru #7 may be given to a couple who are seen to speak with one voice. However, the Kohen and Levi aliyot are given only to individuals. (See below, notes 4 and 5, for more on Kohen and Levi aliyot.) Divorced couples may share an aliyah on the day of their child's bar or bat mitzvah, as they are seen to speak with one voice as to the rearing of their shared child. If you have questions, concerns or unique circumstances, please speak with the Rabbi.
3. According to Jewish custom, parents and children do not receive successive aliyot. The one exception is #7 and Maftir because these two successive aliyot are separated by Chatzi Kaddish. Often these are the two aliyot taken by the parents and the child.
4. A Kohen or Bat Kohen, Levi or Bat Levi (as determined by patrilineal descent) may only have the Aliyah named for them. They may not, as individuals or as part of a married couple, have any other aliyah (#3-#7).
5. If you have multiple Kohanim or multiple Levi'im in your family, please consult the Rabbi as to how to distribute the aliyot. It may be possible to create extra aliyot to accommodate additional Kohanim or Levi’im.
C. Gelilah (dressing the Torah scroll). This honor (or honors if there will be more than one Sefer Torah used on the day of your simcha) is the highest honor of the day, as the honoree gets to hug the Torah.
D. Ark opening for returning the Torah scroll (p 183). The same people who removed the Torah from the Ark usually return it, but if you wish to honor additional people, a different person or pair may be named. The honoree(s) will join the procession around the synagogue.
E. Honoring a person who is not Jewish. The rabbi will help you determine an appropriate way to honor relatives who are not Jewish, either during the service or as part of your celebration.
Please check with the Rabbi if you have a question about whether a particular person you are considering for an honor is Jewish according to Conservative practice.
F. Including your child's siblings and friends. A lovely way to celebrate the multi-generational depth of our community is to include your child's friends and siblings in our worship that morning. Children who are already 13 may receive any of the honors described above, or may participate in our worship as described below. Younger children may come on to the Bima to help lead Eyn Keloheinu and Adon Olam at the end of the service, whether they know the words or not.
Torah Reading and Davening Assignments
Reading Torah/Chanting from the Sefer Torah (Leyning)
If you have family members or friends who are knowledgeable about how to chant from the Sefer Torah, asking them to do so on the day of your simcha can be a honor for them. It has been our experience that a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is not the best time for someone to chant from the Sefer Torah for the first time or for the first time in a long time. Often the pressure and excitement of the day combined with the strangeness of chanting in a new place throw off the new or rusty reader. We strongly encourage preparing an additional aliyah to read in the weeks or months before the simcha to get jitters out of the way for those who do not routinely read Torah.
Different congregations have different understandings of what it means to prepare a Torah reading properly. At Beth Israel Center, our expectation is that our Torah readers are able to read directly from the Torah scroll itself (not from a photocopied sheet or from a chumash or tikkun) having memorized the Torah trope/cantillation to guide their chanting.
If you would like to ask family and/or friends to read from the Sefer Torah on the day of the simcha, please contact Rayla Temin at least three months prior to the day. It is common practice for rabbis around the country to communicate with each other to ensure that guest Torah readers can comfortably fulfill a congregation’s expectations. For that reason, please give contact information for each person who will be reading Torah to the Rabbi at least three months in advance.
Davening (leading prayers)
We welcome your suggestions for daveners from our own congregation. We are usually able to accommodate your requests, however, there are times when circumstances require that we assign the davening to another person. If you have someone in mind from outside Beth Israel who is knowledgeable, qualified, and experienced in davening, you may suggest that individual. It is of course essential that service leaders be familiar with our service, melodies and customs. Please speak to the Rabbi at least three months in advance to make this arrangement.
Ritual Committee Point Person
It is important to be aware that your simcha is an integral part of our regular schedule for Shabbat services. These schedules are prepared and distributed to all participants well in advance so they can study their assignments. The person who, in consultation with the Rabbi, currently prepares our davening and Torah reading lists is Rayla Temin. It is essential that you consult her or the Rabbi at least three months ahead so that we may begin the process of integrating your requests into the monthly schedule. Since your list has to be finalized by two months prior to your simcha, the conversation needs to be initiated by you well in advance of that. Please email Rayla Temin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 238-4398.
If there are any other ways that we can assist you in organizing your simcha, please let us know. Call us at 256-7763 or email the Rabbi or office.
Modeling a meaningful and happy Jewish life is the most important role parents play in their child/ren's spiritual life and development. A vital role in preparation for bar or bat mitzvah is to support the child's learning by making every effort to ensure the best possible attendance and commitment to their work in Talmud Torah, with their tutor(s), and with the Education Director and Rabbi.
During the service, all parents bless the child, ideally in Hebrew. This applies to endogamous and interfaith families. The blessing is below if you'd like to practice in advance. We encourage all parents to bestow this blessing.
Life cycle moments are wonderful opportunities to tie together personal hopes and dreams with Jewish ritual moments. There are many such opportunities during a bar or bat mitzvah weekend -- for example, during a Shabbat dinner or at the beginning of a party. If you choose to speak from the bimah before offering your child the traditional parental blessing, a good guideline to remember is the phrase that used to adorn our bimah, da lifnei mi atah omed, "Know before whom you stand." Remember the sanctity and purpose of the moment, the place and the community. If you decide to add this element to the service, please limit comments to just a few sentences. A more appropriate time and place for a longer tribute is over lunch in the social hall. We will provide a microphone for this purpose.
Parents typically provide the congregational kiddush lunch that follows Shabbat morning services. Sometimes other family members or friends contribute; each family's situation is unique. Our Executive Director can help plan your kiddush and any other elements of your simcha (celebration) that will take place at Beth Israel Center. See Appendix E for more information.
TABLE - WORK IN PROGRESS
How to Have an Aliyah
Those coming up for an aliyah should be aware that there are certain customs/practices to be observed while having such an honor, namely:
The honoree gives the honors card to the Gabbai. (The honors coordinator will pass out honors cards to the honorees upon or shortly after their arrival on Saturday.)
The honoree(s) stands to the reader's right side. The reader will point out the place in the Torah scroll where the reading begins. The honoree takes his/her tallit, or the nearby Torah binder and touches it to the designated spot, then kisses the cloth prior to chanting the opening blessing.
While chanting the blessing, the honoree should take hold of the Atzei Hayim – the spools upon which the Sefer Torah is mounted — lift slightly, and replace at the end of the blessing. The scroll is open during the chanting of this blessing.
At the conclusion of the reading the same practices are followed in chanting the closing blessing. but this time, the scroll is closed.
Then, when the next honoree(s) come up, the current honoree(s) step(s) off to the right side of the reading table and remain(s) on the bima during the next reading.
After the next reading is completed, the honoree(s) descend(s) from the bima.
Phonetic Hebrew transliteration:
Y'varekh'kha Adonai v'yishm'rekha;
Ya'eir Adonai Panav ei'lekha viy'hunekha;
Yisa Adonai Panav ei'lekha, v'yaseim l’kha shalom.
May Adonai bless and protect you.
May Adonai shine toward you and be gracious to you.
May Adonai turn toward you and grant you peace.
Food and Other Celebration Guidelines
Beth Israel Center is a nut-aware facility. Please do not serve nuts or include them as ingredients in any food served at Beth Israel Center.
If you would like to provide breakfast for your family, friends and those who regularly attend morning minyan on the Thursday before your child’s bar/bat mitzvah, it is customary to include bagels and cream cheese. The easiest place to get kosher bagels and cream cheese is Bagels Forever, 2947 University Ave. , which opens at 6:30 am. A “bagel box” there of 26 bagels & 2 tubs of cream cheese will be more than enough. Beth Israel has a bagel slicer to use, or you can place an order in advance for sliced bagels.
Some other food (but bagels & cream cheese is plenty):
Coffee: There is usually one small pot of regular coffee brewed for the minyan. If you would like to supplement this supply, one or more disposable boxes may be brought in from local coffee shops.
Lox: reasonably priced at Trader Joe’s or Costco (other places as well).
Donuts: Greenbush Bakery on Regent Street has kosher donuts and opens at 6 am; they are not open on Mondays.
• The service begins at 7:00am and lasts about one hour. Many participants arrive early to lay tefillin.
• Please bring in disposable plates, napkins, cutlery and cups.
• Food can be set up after the service is over (sometimes someone from the minyan will do the set up).
• A bottle of whiskey may be brought in for a L’chayim (celebratory toast).
• You are responsible for cleanup.
At Beth Israel Center, the simcha family provides the congregational Kiddush lunch on Shabbat. All those attending services are invited to attend the luncheon, whether they are expressly invited friends and family of the celebrants or not. The scale of the celebratory meal is at your discretion. However you organize the food, note that it is also customary for those families that would like to make celebratory toasts with hard liquor to provide whiskey or other kosher liquor of their choice.
There are two ways to organize your kiddush.
1) Hire a professional caterer. Please consult the list of approved caterers, which is available from the office. Caterers must submit menus for review and schedule kitchen time with the Executive Director.
2) Self cater, using your friends and family. If you chose to self cater, please contact the office about kitchen use scheduling, kashrut, how to estimate guest count and other provisions. When self-catering, you must be (or have present someone who is) trained and approved by the Rabbi to use the kitchen.
Shabbat & Kashrut
Families may host events at Beth Israel Center in addition to the Kiddush lunch. Examples include a dinner Friday night or a Saturday evening party, with or without dinner. Such plans must be consistent with our observance of Shabbat and kashrut.
Some Shabbat guidelines to keep in mind are:
• Friday evening Kabbalat Shabbat services begin at 5:45 and are about an hour long. All are welcome. A Friday night dinner at Beth Israel may begin no earlier than 6:45pm. Approved caterers or the Rabbi or Executive Director can help with making dinner plans that honor kashrut and Shabbat.
• Lights and other devices (audio system, ovens) that are on when Shabbat begins should be left on and not switched on or off on Shabbat, from 18 minutes before sundown Friday until 42 minutes after sundown Saturday.
• All supplies must be loaded into the building before or after — not during — Shabbat. This applies to food, flowers, decorations, musicians’ or DJ’s equipment, etc.
• AV/DJ, etc., equipment for use at a Saturday evening event must be set up after Shabbat.
Beth Israel’s Kashrut Policy:
• All events are either meat or dairy – both meat and dairy are not served at any one event.
• Fresh uncut fruit and vegetables do not require a hekhsher.
• Frozen uncut fruit and vegetables do not require a hekhsher.
• All packaged food must have a hekhsher or letter of kosher certification.
• All prepared food must be prepared in the BIC kitchen, or in another certified kosher kitchen (e.g. a kosher restaurant).
• Home-cooked food may not be brought into the building (except for BIC community potluck meals).
• Wine requires a hekhsher but does not need to be mevushal.
• Direct questions about specific liquors to the Rabbi.
• Prepared foods may be reheated on Shabbat. The oven must be turned on before Shabbat (before candle lighting time the night before) or by a non-Jewish employee of Beth Israel Center or an approved caterer.
For more information on keeping kosher and Shabbat, please contact the Rabbi or consult the Kashrut Guidelines where you can find examples of acceptable hekhshers and rules about using the Beth Israel kitchen.
A party celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah often has a guest list dominated by young teenagers. It is your responsibility to supervise all of your guests, particularly those whose parents are not also in attendance. Please allow your guests to use only those parts of the building that you are actively supervising. For example, unless you have a particular plan and approval to use any of the spaces on other levels, your party should be confined to the main floor.
In accordance with the rental agreement you will sign if you host a private event, Beth Israel Center will collect a security deposit from you. This amount may be used to pay for any unusual cleaning or repair costs deemed necessary by the staff following your simcha.
Jewish Ritual Objects
Tallit: Bar/bat mitzvah is typically the time in a young person’s life when he or she receives a tallit. In many families, the parents or grandparents present the tallit as a gift. Tallit may be purchased online or at your favorite Judaica shop.
Tefillin: May be purchased online or at your favorite Judaica shop. A good place to look for a child's first set of kosher tefillin is the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs.
Kiddush Cup: Gift from kahal (congregation)
Tanakh: Gift from kahal (congregation)
Kippot: Some families choose to supply souvenir kippot. They are available from many websites, where prices are generally consistent. Purchasing enough for 75% of your total expected service attendance should be more than adequate, as not everyone will take or keep them.
There are many approaches to invitation design and style. Artwork may be created by a friend or family member, invitations may or may not be professionally printed, some families use e-mail for all or some of the information. The minimum details to include are your child’s name, the date, when services start (9:15 am), the length of services (approximately 3 hours) and Beth Israel’s address: 1406 Mound Street, Madison, WI 53711. For guests who may not regularly attend traditional services, you may want to note what time your child's role in the service will begin. If he or she is leading Shacharit, this time is around 9:40am. The Torah Service usually begins around 10:05am. Guests may arrive at any time.
If you would like to add text about how Shabbat is honored in the synagogue to your invitations, our Ritual Committee suggests:
We welcome and honor Shabbat in many ways, including coming together as a community for our Shabbat services. With that in mind, please remember to shut off all electronic devices (cell phones, cameras, etc.) during the service and kiddush lunch and whenever you are in the building on Shabbat. We also ask for appropriate dress in the sanctuary. These gestures help create a spiritually uplifting environment for all.
Beth Israel prints announcements each week for distribution on Shabbat morning. The week of your simcha, you may, if you choose, send up to 100 words welcoming guests and thanking friends, teachers, family members, etc., who helped your family reach this milestone. Please send text to email@example.com by the Monday before your simcha.