Mitzvah Chic: How To Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat MitzvahBy Gail Anthony Greenberg
Fireside Paperback/Simon & Schuster, 240 pages, $20.
After attending one too many bar and bat mitzvahs that were shows in ostentation rather than real celebrations of children’s entrances into adulthood, writer Gail Anthony Greenberg realized that most parents were clueless as to how to plan and execute a proper party for their preteens. Her new book, “Mitzvah Chic: How To Host a Meaningful, Fun, Drop-dead Gorgeous Bar or Bat Mitzvah,” is a much-needed reference for these moms and dads, providing detailed instructions on how to plan the perfect affair from start to finish.
The book — along with its companion Web site, www.MitzvahChic.com, where parents can chat with fellow planners, get ideas for themes and music, and learn where to obtain the products and services Greenberg describes — has a become necessary evil in this “Keeping Up With the Steins” world of excess and bar mitzvah one-upmanship. Greenberg is hoping that her manual will prevent parents from what could amount to years of “misspent fortunes and misdirected energy” for a party that she repeatedly reminds readers is really only one day in the lives of their children.
But even if it’s just a single day in what will hopefully be long and fruitful existences for these kids, Greenberg understands the import of a well-planned party. What it means to be “Mitzvah Chic,” she writes, is to honor the bar/bat mitzvah child and his or her family, make guests feel treasured, keep the celebration focused on the youngster and make the day dazzling — without sending yourself to the poorhouse in the process.
This bar mitzvah bible, which at times takes on a hokey, how-to tone (such chapter titles as “Eight Complete Parties That Will Leave You FARKLEMPT!” seem a little over the top), is actually an indispensable resource for both first-time planners and those who feel they’ve gone overboard in the past. Greenberg’s guide, complete with detailed instructions on how to choose the right party favors, how to word the invitations and how to pick the right caterer, provides insight on what may seem like festivity fundamentals to many but are often some of the toughest parts of bar mitzvah prep.
Greenberg also realizes that not every moppet to reach the age of youthful adulthood has had the same amount of Jewish education. She differentiates among services in Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations and even provides some essential, if somewhat obvious, advice to non-Jewish or newly converted parents of bar mitzvah-age children. “If you’re not allowed to perform a certain ritual or say a prayer, it’s not because the clergy wish to shun you or make you feel slighted,” she writes. It might be hard for some parents to be excluded from their child’s big day. But letting parents know that this ostensible ostracism is nothing personal might help them better concentrate on what’s truly important — their little darling’s big day.
The author also offers up advice on how to create centerpieces and decorations for the event. Although some of these craft-making suggestions might put off a few readers in the beginning, Greenberg is the first to admit that she’s “not Martha Stewart.” If she can make these things, she claims, so can anyone else. Many of the projects appear more complicated than others — some people won’t ever be able to handle X-acto knives with ease — but everybody has at least one artsy friend who feels at home at a crafts table. Greenberg recommends asking for help.
Bar and bat mitzvahs should be occasions for parents to relish, not agonize over. Greenberg’s handbook is sure to take some of the emotional and financial sting out of planning the biggest bash of their child’s young life.
After all, this is still a party for a kid. Save some money for the wedding.
Leah Hochbaum is a freelance writer living in New York.