A Step-By-Step Guide To Planning A Bar Or Bat Mitzvah

Although your child may have just hit double digits, it’s likely you’re already dreaming about his or her upcoming bar/bat mitzvah. Many synagogues assign dates two, three, or even four years in advance, so there’s no reason you can’t start looking for a place to host your celebration, asking for business cards when you hear a DJ you like, or thinking about a theme as you start the planning process. After all, the more you do in advance, the more relaxing the last few months and weeks leading up to your simcha will be. Here’s a timeline to keep you on track:

2-3 Years Before:
Get the date from your synagogue.

Start thinking about what this rite of passage means to your family and your child and about what type of celebration you want to have.

12-18 Months Before:
Draft a guest list so you have an estimate of the number of people (this will help you choose the venue).

Decide on a style for the event that suits your child, family, and budget so you’ll know what to look for.

Ask friends and relatives who have planned similar events for advice and recommendations.

Get price quotes from potential caterers, photographers, entertainers, venues, and party planners. Give deposits to any you’re seriously considering, keeping in mind that the money may be non-refundable.

1 Year Before:
Lock in a location, band or DJ, caterer, and photographer/videographer.

If you’re using a theme or color scheme for the event, choose it now to help in related decisions.

Book a block of rooms at a nearby hotel.

Send out save-the-date cards. This is especially important if your event is over a holiday weekend or you have many out-of-town guests who will need to purchase plane tickets. Include hotel information for advance reservations.

Look up your child’s Torah portion and discuss its meaning. Help your child choose a mitzvah project.

6-8 Months Before:
Have your child begin tutoring to learn the Torah portion. Make time for such appointments, studying, and meetings with the rabbi and cantor.

Develop a guest list with current addresses. Set up a spreadsheet to keep track of RSVPs, presents received, and when thank you notes are sent.

Select and order invitations, thank you notes, and personalized kippot.

Choose and order centerpieces, decorations, and party favors.

Organize photos for a video montage or sign-in board.

Plan any other events for the bar/bat mitzvah weekend, such as a Friday evening Shabbat dinner or a Sunday brunch.

3 Months Before:
Finalize menu, centerpieces, and decorations.

Shop for clothing for all family members. (Wait until one month beforehand to have a growing boy’s suit tailored.)

2 Months Before:
Weigh invitations to ensure proper postage, then mail­—the earlier the better. If you get lots of regrets, you may still have time to invite some people from your second-tier list.

If you’re holding a candle lighting ceremony, choose the people to be honored, work with your child to write any introductions, and choose corresponding music.

Develop a timeline for the event that includes formalities, horas, entertainment, and food service. Coordinate with the entertainers and caterers.

Make appointments for hair stylists, barbers, and manicurists.

Make a playlist as well as a do-not-play list for the DJ if there are songs you and your child definitely don’t want.

1 Month Before:
Reconfirm all service providers and the time they are expected to arrive; discuss any special instructions (i.e., give a list of photographs you want taken to make sure the photographer gets them).

Create a seating plan as RSVPs arrive. Call anyone you haven’t heard from. Make place cards and alphabetize them. (If many RSVPs are still not in, add table numbers later as you finalize seating.)

Coordinate a rehearsal time with your synagogue. Some will allow you to video this event instead of the actual service.

Arrange hospitality baskets for out-of-town guests. Include a schedule of events and detailed directions.

Write speeches and toasts.

Have final clothing fittings.

1 Week Before:
Confirm final guest count with caterer. Remember: Once you have guaranteed a number, this is what you will have to pay for, even if fewer guests show up.

Drop off seating cards at party location.

Get checks ready to pay any vendors on the day of your event. Remember to keep cash available for tips.

Take formal family pictures in the synagogue.

Relax and enjoy this special time with your child, family, and friends!