With the current trend toward more individualized and streamlined meals, there are fewer buffets at bar and bat mitzvah parties.
“The trend has always been to serve the adults at the function a dinner and have a buffet for the kids,” said Alan Weiss, owner of Alan Weiss Catering in Washington. “Now the trend is for everyone to have stations, where everyone takes everything they want.”
Part of what’s driving the change is that kids’ tastes are more sophisticated than they used to be, he said. They want more than chicken tenders and French fries.
The flip side of that is that now adults can be like big kids when it comes to digging into the food
The sky’s the limit for what the stations might contain, but some of the regulars are a carving station, sliders — mini-hamburgers and mini-hot dogs, for example — sweet potatoes, tacos, salad bar, stir-fry vegetables and international foods. Other favorites are omelet, panini and waffle stations.
Then there’s the dessert bar, which might offer mini-French pastries or gourmet cotton candy — the latter becoming increasingly popular.
“The trend anyway has been toward the less formal, and stations are more informal than a sit-down dinner, especially for a bar or bat mitzvah,” said Weiss. “This gives everyone more choices, and they enjoy it more.”
But stations can also be more sophisticated in what they offer — even if less formal than a dinner — and more reliant on the way foods are presented.
Tastes in both food and presentation seem to have become both more sophisticated and more informal.
That seemed to be true of the food at the bar mitzvah of Elyon Topolosky, a student at the Berman Academy, in September. Candy bars and licorice were served in clear glasses. Ice cream bars were on the menu.
But the bar mitzvah celebration also had healthy appetizers and entrees, according to Elyon’s mother, Dahlia Topolosky.
“We served quinoa dishes, trendy salads and deconstructed salad bars, so guests could make their own,” she said.
Another advantage of stations is that guests can make return trips as often as they’d like. And at many bar and bat mitzvah celebrations they can also enjoy the convenience of roaming carts of food.
Of course, all this may require more creativity to go along with the variety.
Ravi Narayanan, executive chef at Potomac 18, a kosher catering company in Rockville, said his goal is to make the food at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations “fun and interactive, so children who may not have been fans of vegetables such as cauliflower, beets, or asparagus get their hands on them and say they’ve never had vegetables like these before.”
Narayanan said he has no set menu — his way of food creation is to compose from scratch — but will ask families what they like to eat — and where they like to eat out.
“I don’t think kids go to other bar/bat mitzvah parties thinking that they’re going to have their own party next year and decide then what they’d like to eat,” he said. “So, you can take the fun foods they like and are familiar with and showcase them in different ways.”
Boys and girls approaching their milestone with a sweet tooth, might want to make donuts the centerpiece of their dessert table.
Duck Donuts — with seven locations in the Washington area — offers doughy confectionaries in more variations than the mind can conjure up. You can choose the standard donuts, or made-to-order ones, choosing coating, topping, and drizzle according to your taste.
“They’re freshly made, and could be delivered as part of our catering line, which is a decent percentage of our business,” said Travis Gafford, general manager.
There’s no limitation on quantity, he added. The company has delivered 60 dozen donuts to one event.
That’s 840 holes.
Barbara Trainin Blank is a Washington-area writer.
Celebrating a child’s bar or bat mitzvah is an important and meaningful milestone — and can be expensive one. It can be akin to a wedding, with all the range and variety that implies. From a small and simple $7,000 celebration to a tens of thousands of dollars-level spectacle, this is no minor affair.
“People don’t really love to hear that, but if you’re getting food for 100 people at a private venue, it costs what it costs,” says Brynne Magaziner, the owner of Pop Color Events, a local planning business. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a bar mitzvah or a wedding.”
But there are a few ways families can try to shave off some dollars, according to event planners. Of course, those using event planners likely already have a larger budget than others going totally DIY, but these tips are universal. Plus, both Magaziner and Andrew Grosshandler, event planner with Parties by Terrye, say they can be as involved — or not — as families want, depending on desires and budgets.
“I get a lot of people who start out thinking they’ll do everything themselves, but then realize it might not work,” Grosshandler says.
So, for those with a bar or bat mitzvah on the horizon, here are six tips from Magaziner and Grosshandler:
“I think the most important thing I tell people is to pick their priorities,” Grosshandler says.
If your boy of the hour is a foodie, put your money into catering and food he’ll love. But if the bat mitzvah girl wants to party, spring for the better (and pricier) DJ.
It’s also about prioritizing your own time. If someone in the family is crafty, then handmade decorations might be worth the time for the money saved, for instance.
“It’s a very tricky balance,” Magaziner says. “It’s either time, money or convenience. You can save a lot of money, but it will be inconvenient and cost you a lot time. But if you have the time, go for it.”
2. Start early
Trying to book a venue with just a few months’ notice is a difficult task, especially if you have a certain price in mind. The more time you have, the more leisurely the planning process, Magaziner says. It gives you time to think through your decisions and comparison shop.
3. Do your research
This is especially important if it’s your first child going through a bar or bat mitzvah. Getting the lay of the land will help give you a sense of prices and realistic budgets, Grosshandler says.
“Most people, especially if it’s their first kid, don’t know what anything costs and there will be sticker shock to some extent,” he added.
4. Don’t forget to ask about taxes and fees
It’s all about asking the right questions and being an informed customer.
“The one thing that people always overlook is taxes and fees” Magaziner says. “People might be quoted one price, but you should always ask if it includes taxes and fees.”
5. Take a hard look at your guest list
This is probably the hardest part, because families, naturally, want everyone to come celebrate their child’s special day. But a high guest count is the top driver of cost, according to Magaziner.
“The number of people you invite is the number of mouths you have to feed,” she adds.
If you really want to save money, think about how you can keep the guest list smaller.
6. Keep the focus on your child
At the end of the day, this party is for the boy or girl. Grosshandler says he tells parents to stay “focus[ed] on the kids — what makes them unique and what will give them a good time. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top.”
Some of his favorite parties are ones where he can go, “Oh, that’s so that family.” In other words, parties that fit the family, especially the one whose special day it is. Theme parties, Grosshandler adds, are making a comeback because you can design around your child’s interests — often without breaking the bank.
No matter how much you spend, he says, “it should be fun.”
Amanda Paull, 21, was raised in a Catholic home with a Catholic mother and Jewish father. In her hometown of Northbrook, Ill., north of Chicago, she attended church regularly with her mother and two siblings.
And yet in May 2016, Paull stood on a bima in a Jerusalem hotel next to four other college students. Overwhelmed with nerves and excitement, they recited in unison the blessing for an aliya to the Torah. At an informal ceremony, Paull and the others became bar and bat mitzvah.
“It was a really spiritual experience to have my bat mitzvah in Jerusalem.” Paull said. “I felt like I was a part of the religion.”
The five, and another 120 college students who witnessed the ceremony, were on a 10-day Birthright trip to Israel. Birthright did not answer a request for information about b’nai mitzvah during its tours. But those who take part, like Paull, had little or no exposure to Judaism growing up. For them, the Jewish rite of passage complemented their first trip to the Jewish homeland.
“It was probably the first time in Jewish history anyone showed up to their bar mitzvah service sunburned and a little hungover,” Stephanie Butnick wrote in Tablet about a service she attended on Birthright in 2012. “But there was no doubt that this was a special moment.
“Special mostly because many of the 12 participants in the service had very little interaction with Judaism growing up, and most hadn’t considered getting bar mitzvahed at all when they were teenagers.
This morning each of them opted to take part in a Jewish ritual that had been a requisite part of my Jewish upbringing.”
Paull said her perspective on religion came mainly from her mother, who attended Catholic school throughout her childhood, while Paull’s father was uninvolved in their religious upbringing.
Paull lived this way until she was 15, when her maternal grandmother, the main religious influence in the family, died.
“At that point, it was kind of like whatever we wanted to believe in, [my parents] would support,” she said.
While Paull was always curious about Judaism, she finally felt confident to investigate, but wasn’t sure how to begin.
Then, during her freshman year at the University of Maryland, she joined the Jewish sorority Sigma Delta Tau, and her exploration began.
“I grew up with tons of Jewish people and most of my friends in SDT are Jewish, so over time I’ve learned a lot about the religion through conversations with them,” she said.
Paull began attending events at the Hillel student center with her sorority sisters and participating in Shabbat services. She found herself yearning to explore Judaism more deeply.
At the end of Paull’s sophomore year, many of her friends began preparing for their summer Birthright trip. Paull wanted to join.
“I already felt much stronger about Judaism than I ever did about Catholicism, so I used this as a way to learn more about myself and my newly found Jewish culture,” she said.
When her trip coordinator asked their group if anyone was interested in having a bar or bat mitzvah, Paull hesitantly agreed. “I started thinking about the fact that I was confirmed Catholic when I was younger and didn’t truly understand the concept of religion, and I saw this as a way to honor my dad’s side of the family as I had already honored my mom’s.”
In the week before the ceremony, she met with her trip coordinator multiple times. She learned the Torah blessings and prepared a speech about her evolving connection to Judaism.
One of the other participants on the bima was Alix Hyatt, 21, of Baltimore, who took advantage of this opportunity for a different reason than Paull.
Hyatt grew up in a Conservative home and Judaism played a significant role in her life, she said. She
attended High Holiday services every year and celebrated her bat mitzvah the day before her 13th birthday.
But once she began attending the University of Maryland, Hyatt found herself struggling to incorporate Judaism into her life. Her full schedule kept her from attending High Holiday services.
A few months before Hyatt’s Birthright trip, her grandfather died. “It has always been his dream to have his grandchildren bar and bat mitzvahed in Israel,” she said, “so I decided to get re-bat mitzvahed to honor him and his memory.”
She added, “Being in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world, and standing on a bima, was one of the most incredible experiences ever.”
As Hyatt and Paull stepped off the bima after the service, each experienced different emotions. Paull had a newfound appreciation and understanding for her father’s Jewish heritage. Hyatt had a familiar feeling of closeness to her family and the religion that has been part of her life for as long as she can remember.
Lola Rogin is 13 and calls herself a feminist. She wants to be a marine biologist or a rock star. But when it came time to pick a project for her bat mitzvah, Lola, who lives in Takoma Park, decided to find out what life is like for Jewish girls in other parts of the world.
So she asked them. By phone, email and WhatsApp instant messenger, Lola quizzed girls in Canada, Mexico, Morocco, Israel and Lithuania. She asked about their religious observance, their education, family life and, of course, feminism.
“I’ve gone to a language immersion school since I was 4, so I was trying to talk about different places all over the world, and I also wanted to put a feminist aspect on it,” said Lola, an eighth-grader at the District of Columbia International School where she learns Chinese and Spanish.
She presented her findings at her bat mitzvah in June. Lola and her family belong to Machar, the Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism, where bar and bat mitzvah students complete projects for the ceremony.
There was Naomi Mizrahi, who is 15 and lives in Mexico City. Naomi was the most religious of the girls she interviewed, Lola said. Naomi attends a Jewish school during the week and a Jewish camp on Shabbat. But what struck Lola was the gender disparity.
“Naomi said that men, not women, are allowed to pray at shul, and that her brothers had religious bar mitzvahs but she had a nonreligious bat mitzvah ceremony with seven other girls,” Lola wrote in her speech.
Lola said she also learned a lot from Tova Zisno, a 22-year old woman who moved to Israel from Ethiopia when she was 3. Zisno told Lola that Jewish women in Ethiopia do not have b’not mitzvah and during menstruation they have to leave their homes and stay in huts.
Lola said that Zisno recently became a mother and is now beginning to see gender differences in Israel.
“She also thinks women need to be highly educated and need to invest in their career, but she worries about the pressure to be full-time mothers too,” Lola wrote.
Lola also discovered disparities for women in Morocco through a conversation she had with 16-year-old Hannah Berdugo, who lives in Casablanca. Lola said that in Morocco only boys have b’nai mitzvah and are allowed to pray. This didn’t bother Hannah because praying did not sound “fun or meaningful” to her, Lola said.
Lola found a kindred spirit in 12-year-old Lija, who lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. Like Lola, Lija, who asked that her last name not be used, attends a secular school. Her family is not observant, but Lija did have a bat mitzvah and like Lola completed a research project for her milestone.
Lola said Lija’s secular Jewish experience mirrored her family’s.
“I’m Secular Humanistic, so we don’t believe in God. We don’t do prayers or anything. But we try to celebrate our Jewish heritage. We celebrate all holidays without the religious aspects.”
But when Lola asked Lija whether she considered herself a feminist, Lija said no.
“I was puzzled at this and I wonder if in her culture, the word feminism has become a ‘dirty word’ and she doesn’t know the true meaning,” Lola wrote.
Lola said she spoke to each girl for about 20 minutes and recorded each conversation, which she then transcribed and referred to when writing the speech. The project took her about six months. Among the challenges was finding a time to communicate with girls living in other parts of the world. And her speech originally clocked in at 25 minutes, so she had to cut it in half.
“The last month was me perfecting the speech, and how I was saying it, because I speak really fast,” she said.
Lola said she enjoys learning about world cultures, and originally thought about focusing on Jewish mythology for her project. But ultimately she decided to talk to other Jewish girls to illustrate the female Jewish experience.
It fell to Lola’s father, Josh Rogin, to help find Lola’s email pals. A staffer in Rep. Ted Deutch’s (D-Fla.) office, Rogin used work connections to find girls in the countries Lola was interested in.
“I’ve worked for Jewish members of Congress almost my entire career on the international relations committee,” he said. “In the course of my work I’ve met Jews from all over the world.”
While working on the project, Lola attended a class at Sixth and I Historic Synagogue about Jewish feminism. She said it gave her historical perspective.
“There were a bunch of really smart people talking about Genesis and how women were treated in history, and I was able to compare it to the experiences of the girl from Ethiopia,” she said.
Nearly a half year after her bat mitzvah, what does Lola think about her encounters with the other girls?
“What was most surprising was, even though they lived across the world, we had so much in common, and many of our Jewish experiences were so very similar,” she said, not surprisingly, in an email. “The whole experience made me feel so much more connected to the world.”
Mollie Witow hasn’t lost her adventurous spirit.
The 96-year-old decided to take to the sky in August to get a jump on her October birthday. Members of her family, including her daughter and grandchildren, accompanied her to Taylorsville for her first-ever hot-air balloon ride.
Donning black pants and a gray sweater, Bubbie, as her grandchildren call her, arrived at a sun-soaked field in Carroll County. She clutched a gold necklace bearing photos of her late parents.
“I thought I would take them with me,” Witow said. “I’ve done many things in my life, but I’ve never done anything like this. I’m ready to go, no second thoughts.”
Witlow was born in transit shortly after her parents boarded the last train out of Russia during the Russian Civil War. She was 6-weeks-old when she and her parents arrived in the United States on Christmas Day 1920 and settled in Baltimore.
Witlow, the mother of two and grandmother of six, has maintained her community-oriented spirit and active lifestyle, said her daughter,
Alison Witow, of Pikesville. From plays at Everyman Theatre to lectures at the Pre-Columbian Society, Witow doesn’t miss an opportunity to be out and about.
And that’s why Alison wasn’t the least bit surprised when her mother decided to celebrate her birthday with an hour-long ride in a balloon.
“People always say they want to be like my mother when they get older,” Alison said. “And why wouldn’t they? She’s still going.”
Witow had long anticipated her air journey with Sky Candy Ballooning, a family-owned company in Central Maryland. Although fearful that her trip would be canceled due to inclement weather, the Sunday evening proved ideal for ballooning.
Witlow watched as the balloon crew and her grandchildren, Ethan Tucker, 26, and Jordan Tucker, 29, assembled the 80-foot, rainbow-colored balloon. It added a pop of color to the hilly landscape as Ethan, Jordan and his wife, Naomi Pinson, 29, piled into the basket with their bubbie.
“I hope I make it back down in one piece,” Ethan joked. “My bubbie has been dreaming about this, so we’re happy to make her dream come true.”
Alison and other family members hopped in their cars to chase the balloon, driving along winding roads and parking their cars on the shoulder to wave at Witow and the others as they passed overhead.
Sky Candy owner Steven Andrews said Witow is his oldest passenger. Although he considers it a pleasure to welcome each passenger aboard his 120,000-cubic-foot balloon, flying with her was a special privilege, he said.
“It’s amazing to see people her age who still want to get out there and do things in life,” Andrews said. “Ballooning is really about the passengers. We always love to see their enthusiasm, and Bubbie was all smiles.”
Andrews landed the balloon on farmland in Taylorsville belonging to Audra Mercer and her family, who trekked down a hill to watch the crew disassemble the balloon. Mercer, a mother of two, said she never forgot the day a hot-air balloon landed in a field behind her childhood home in Mount Airy, and she helped take it apart.
“It was amazing to see then, and it’s amazing to see now,” she said.
In honor of completing her balloon ride, Witow received a pin etched with the words “First Flight” as well as a balloon-shaped trinket made out of a cork and wire.
“It was everything that I imagined it would be,” Witow said. “It was over all too soon.”
Shana Medel is a reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times.