To find out what’s hot – and what’s not – in bar/bat mitzvah gift giving this season, I checked in with Leslie Kanner, owner of Israeli Accents, the longtime Judaica store off of Rockville Pike.
Two sartorial staples of the b’nai mitzvah are the tallit, the prayer shawl with knotted fringes, and the kippah, the head covering. Both remain popular gifts, says Kanner, although they have evolved contemporary looks.
Today’s tallit is not only made from Israeli wool, but also handwoven silk or handwoven cotton. And these mantles come in more background colors than white. She now sells them with blue, red and teal backgrounds, with lots of additional color options for the stripes. Especially for women, there are sheer tallitot, embroidered with silk flowers and striped in hues of turquoise, pink or purple. “A tallis is not just what people grew up with 30 or 40 years ago,” she says.
All those extras will cost you, though. While a traditional one in white, with blue or black stripes, costs around $55, the handmade ones cost up to $500. If you opt for one of those, be careful where you dry clean it, Kanner says. “I tell people to check with their synagogues. Someone in the office will know who to send them to. There’s the old story about the dry cleaner who said, ‘It took forever to get those knots out.’ You don’t want that problem.”
Kippot are much less boring these days, too. Lately, Kanner has seen bar mitzvah boys buying them with customized designs to reflect their boyhood passions—Harry Potter, baseball, even hot peppers. G Street Fabrics, the historic Washington fabrics store owned by the Greenzaid family, sells kippah fabric in bulk. Kanner says many of her customers buy the fabric first, and then bring it to her for customization.
Another b’nai gift-giving trend Kanner sees are yadim, the pointers used to follow along the text of the Torah. These, too, have come a long way. Whereas they used to come in sterling silver only, pewter and even anodized aluminum yadim are now popular – “and they feel really good in the hand.” Geared toward women are bejeweled yadim in pink and purple. “People don’t return them,” Kanner says. “That’s a good sign.”
One gift-gifting tradition that’s fallen off is the “serious pen,” says Steve Rabinowitz, a Washington communications consultant whose son, Jake, celebrated his bar mitzvah only a month ago at Adas Israel Congregation. “When I was a kid, my parents were still joking about their generation, ‘Today I am a fountain pen.’” He received one for his bar mitzvah in 1970. His son, in 2015: zero. “People do still give them, but not very often,” confirms Kanner.
Like his son, Rabinowitz recalls getting “a lot of checks.” But he also got something less fungible – “three (three!) electric pencil sharpeners. Apparently, it was the latest thing.”