| Family First Feature |

The Super-Sized, Uber-Savvy, Mega-Detailed Guide to Making a Bar Mitzvah    

     Two women share their take on making a bar mitzvah

Your first son… he’s the one who launches you into the world of trucks and mud and, er, mild physical squabbling. Then he gets older and before you know it, he’s exchanging his T-shirts for button downs and his baseball cap for a Borsalino… and you’re planning your first big simchah. And there’s so much to do… or is there?


The Plan


Ahh. It’s been a few weeks since my son’s bar mitzvah, and it would be an exaggeration to say that I’m still detoxing, but… almost. It was the most amazing event on many levels, and I’m eternally grateful for that. But I definitely learned a lot along the way and collected tons of information, trial and error notes, and lots and lots of DIY mistakes and wins.

I tried to keep in mind what I was told by so many people: Savor every minute. Every simchah is special, but a bar mitzvah is extra special in that it’s the only simchah that you have years to plan, the only simchah you have enough energy to be fully present at (as opposed to a bris or kiddush) and the only simchah you don’t need to share with another side! We felt such deep pride and joy about reaching this milestone.

I did put a lot of energy into the details, because, for me, they truly spark joy (and I had a great time with them!). I also tried to put a lot of energy into planning so the simchah would run smoothly so there would be space to truly celebrate the bar mitzvah boy.


Our goal when planning the simchah? Normal. I didn’t want the planning and prep to be too stressful; I worried it would distract us from the essence of the beautiful simchah we’re celebrating. Some opinions view a bar mitzvah as a seudas mitzvah, and many today view it as such, celebrating a major milestone in a young man’s life, but there’s no need to create undue pressure on ourselves, our neighbors, or our families.

I didn’t see a need to entertain the same people at multiple parties (night event plus Shabbos meals and/or kiddush). And while I added a couple of personal customized touches that were meaningful to the bar mitzvah boy, for everything else I aimed for good enough, not perfect or wow. I’m not oblivious or a non-conformist — I live in the Tristate area — but I aimed for the simpler end of normal.

In general, through the planning stages, I tried to be guided by one question: Is this expenditure in line with my values? It turns out, spending many hundreds of dollars on photos, though nearly universal, is not. Nor are $5 apiece miniatures. At the same time, I made a conscious decision not to be in constant shopping mode, and made it a value to choose the first good option, without making myself crazy for the best, or even the best deal. And I didn’t cut corners on things that mattered to the bar mitzvah boy.

Do you love those little custom details? Feel in control when everything is planned out like clockwork months in advance? Go for it. But for the rest of us, don’t worry if you’re flying by the seat of your pants and your tables don’t leave guests gasping in awe. I’m here to normalize normal.

First Things First


Tefillin! This should be at the very top of the list! It can take well over a year. Have a plan.

If your son wants to lein, he needs to start working on this about a year in advance. If he has a shorter parshah, you definitely have a lot more wiggle room, but again, start thinking about it early. It takes so much pressure out of what can easily be a very stressful part of the simchah for your son.


You really need to order those tefillin early. A year or two before your bar mitzvah, start asking around to figure out which sofer you’d want to order tefillin from, and how far in advance you need to confirm with them. Also, tefillin bag! My son insisted that we had to shop early or it would never be ready on time. He was wrong, but still — it was something tangible to jumpstart his simchah. It’s about him, remember?

Let the Planning Begin


I think the hardest part of planning a bar mitzvah is deciding exactly what you are doing. Try to lock this in around nine months to a year in advance if you want to have a wide choice of halls and caterers available for you.


For my most recent bar mitzvah, we began to think about what form the event would take about five months before, and didn’t really nail it down until two to three months out. And we were fine — there were halls, musicians, and photographers.



Decide what venue you want for your event(s). GO VISIT. I know, you’ve been there a million times before for countless other people’s simchahs. But when it’s your own, you just see the place from a different lens.


Where I live, the budget one-stop-shop hall gets booked a year out, but nothing else is quite so competitive. Unless you simply MUST work with a certain vendor, three to four months is probably fine for most of these bookings. And if you really like living on the edge, or you’re hopelessly last-minute like me and not very choosy, you can find options as little as a couple months in advance (probably closer, too — Covid weddings, anyone? But that’s a bit reckless even for me). We didn’t visit the hall before booking. No regrets. Not even sure what I would have learned.

Party Planner


There’s a good chance that you’ll have a few options of people you want to work with, but there’s always one needle in the haystack that you’d have to book super in advance. Sometimes it’s someone with a lot of budget sensitivity, sometimes it’s someone with a similar sense of style to yours, sometimes it’s someone super organized, and sometimes it’s someone who has endless patience. Whatever it is, if there’s someone whose style is a prime priority for you, try to secure her early, and other things will fall into place from there. (And if you decide not to use a party planner, consider whether you want to rent/borrow tablecloths, chairs, or chargers.)


I used to laugh at the idea that everyone needs a party planner, but then I saw how much time and money they can save. Even for the simple, budget-conscious folks, there can definitely be a value in delegating a lot of the legwork to someone who specializes in simchahs. That said, if you have the time and proclivity, it’s completely not a must. Unless you have a specific or high-end vision, a standard bar mitzvah doesn’t entail anything that a reasonably organized person can’t manage on her own. Since I’m not super-organized, and I work pretty full time, hiring someone turned out to be one of my best moves of the bar mitzvah. I chose someone very budget-conscious, and with her knowledge of the market, she was able to save me enough time and money to more than justify her fee.



Similar to the party planner, when it comes to someone who fits all your criteria — budget, tone, etc. — a musician can also be a needle in the haystack. It’s worth setting this up in advance so you don’t have to scramble at the last minute to find another option. A few months in advance is fine.


My son — like many bochurim — has strong opinions about music, so it was important for us to book early, and to book someone he’d be happy with. This is a place where I wouldn’t necessarily prioritize booking the cheapest option: I want my son to enjoy the music at his simchah!

Picture Perfect?


Make sure you’ve seen (plenty) of samples of the photographer’s work, and take note of the tone of their pictures. Do you want something more relaxed? More fun? Communicate that. Discuss in advance if you want pictures taken indoors vs. outdoors. If you plan to take pictures on Friday, discuss the timing; your guests won’t want to be ready for Shabbos too much in advance. Find out what the payment plan is — upon receipt of the pictures or at the event — and how long their turnover time is.

Other photography tips:

Assign someone to be your second pair of eyes while you’re taking the pics. This person should keep an eye on untucked shirts, crooked ties, sheitels behind ears/not behind ears, stray hairs, slouchy posture, crooked yarmulkes, you get the idea. The photographer might not know your standards or your style, and they also might feel uncomfortable telling you to change anything that’s not obviously wrong.

Plan in advance what shots/combos you want. Three generations? All the girls? Think about it before things get really hectic.

Consider getting dressed up and doing a photo shoot either before or after the day of your simchah. It relieves so much stress the day of.


When we started asking around for photographer recommendations, and pricing them, everyone came in at around the same price. It was time to stop and do another value check: Do I really believe in spending $800 on one night of photos, where my kids will all just be making weird faces anyway? Nope. We ended up going with a less-experienced photographer who charged about half the going rate. And I’d say we got what we paid for: looking at our photos, you can definitely tell that he was less skilled. Are we happy with our cheaper pictures? Absolutely.

Not everyone has a photographer, you know. And others choose to pay just for portraits, not for the full duration of the event. Remember to ask: Does he include video? For the same price or an additional fee?

A quick tip:

Remember, the photographer doesn’t know your kids’ names or what they normally look like. So if your sister stands over his shoulder, she can much more easily say, “Shloimy! Give us a real smile!” which will be far more effective than his “Kid in the blue tie — no, the dark blue tie — smile wider. Chin down!”

Hair and Makeup


Don’t just book the date; think about what time you want it done. Consider how nice it will be to be done running around with all your appointments by the time your guests arrive. Get it out of the way early in the day!


I did get my makeup done for the simchah — it was a definite extra, but I wanted to feel my best and most confident.



Reserve your neighbors’ houses. No, you won’t know at this point exactly who is coming, so overbook a few houses just in case. This is a great job to delegate to a close friend. She can text your neighbors and friends for you.

More on Housing:

Think about the proximity to your venue more than the proximity to your house. You’ll want your guests to be able to get around easily.

Text your hostesses one to two weeks in advance to confirm with them that you’ll be using their house. Let them know who you’re putting up there, and how many adults/children. And make sure to tell them about the pack ’n plays! If you asked someone for their house but won’t be needing it in the end, let them know.


Verify whether your guests can come the night before or stay over the night after. People may otherwise assume the request is for the day or two of the simchah only, but many out-of-town visitors may want to come for a bit longer.

Home Improvement


While this may feel like a pretty vain thing to include on this list, think about it… a houseful of guests is a surefire impetus to fix that leak in your ceiling that was never taken care of. No need to wait until the last minute. Last minute usually means you’re paying more for the rush job, or you’re settling on quality.


…Yup. I waited till the last minute. Of course, it’s not like I left these things until the last minute out of sheer laziness. There’s a lot to get done even for a simple simchah, and also, you know, life. Kids still want to eat and have clean laundry during simchah season, if you can imagine, and my boss still expects me to show up. So, yes, if you are mortal, there probably will be some late nights, last minute errands that you wish you’d taken care of six months ago except that life was in middle of happening, and stuff that just doesn’t get done. It’s fine.



This can take months to get right if you want it to happen without rushing, so if you plan on getting a new sheitel for your simchah, think about it early. It’s also nice to have a chance to wear it and make any changes you want before crunch time hits.


Conventional wisdom is that the mother must get a new sheitel before making a bar mitzvah; when I looked around at various plans for making a bar mitzvah on a budget, most of them included a line item for a sheitel! I had a perfectly nice, two-year old sheitel that serves me well on a regular Shabbos — there was literally no reason to splurge here. I wore my old sheitel and — spoiler alert! — the ceiling did not cave in. Bonus points for getting it done in an especially dressy style, but I didn’t bother — I didn’t want to have to undo and reset it.



There are so many really beautiful options out there and so many really talented invitation artists. Consider using Canva to create your own logo, invitation, and envelopes. Canva is fantastic for making a logo as they have countless templated options that you can work with and many Hebrew fonts to choose from, too.

Of course, you can just outsource invitations. Price both options. You might be surprised which one costs less.

Plan when you would like to send out your invitations and work backward to get them into the mail on time. And don’t forget to order thank you cards for your son. He’ll thank you for this! (Kidding!)

Consider also ordering bentsher cards instead of actual bentshers.


My kids stuffed lots of envelopes, which I regret now; I see most of my neighbors just send the large postcard type of invitation, which would have been both cheaper and less time-consuming.



Don’t wait till the last minute to get the perfectly matched sock! Have the clothing organized well in advance, including hair accessories, socks, tights, yarmulkes, shoes, jewelry, etc. Consider putting everything each child needs in a Ziplock bag attached to their outfit hanging in the closet. For girls, you might want to try out their planned hairstyle to make sure it’s something that can work for their hair type/length. (Take a quick picture for reference so you remember.)

And don’t forget about the seamstress/tailor/shoemaker! Make sure all your alterations happen and you are pleased with the results.

Finally, try on your clothes, and wear them for a while. If it’s something you’ve never worn before, it’s helpful to know if some flap keeps opening, or a hook and eye is needed somewhere.


I wanted my kids’ simchah clothes to be their new Shabbos things for the season. I spent a few days hitting up the local stores, buying things to try on and making returns. Those three to four days were busy but then we were done, and had new winter clothes to boot. My dress was the only one that was true evening wear, and it’s my go-to dress for weddings now.

Hostess Gifts


Decide what you want to give and place an order. If you are making a bar mitzvah the same month as a lot of other people in your community, you might want to ask around to make sure you’re not all giving the same gift. Then again, everyone loves diffusers and they do get used up eventually. Other ideas are: salt and pepper shakers, Havdalah candle, babka on a serving dish, salad servers, or a nice bowl. Whatever you’re giving, make sure to have packaging planned in advance.

Write up a heartfelt card to be given with your hostess gifts thanking your hosts for having your guests. It’s a big deal giving up your guest rooms, changing linen and towels, and having people in your space an entire weekend. Our neighbors do it with pleasure, but it’s important to thank them properly.


People have different tastes in decor, and a lot of people have no use for another knickknack or kitchen item. When applicable, I like to give something for the hostesses’ kids (with a gift receipt, of course). My biggest win: my second son was born in Tishrei, and our neighbors hosted our guests amid that every-day-an-erev-something fog. I gave the hostesses kids books with read-aloud CDs. I was still getting thank yous for that months later.

Making the Guests Feel Comfortable


Before they come, send out an email to your guests. This is such an easy (and free!) thing to do, and the points you’ll get are so, so worth it. I included their host’s name, address, and phone number. I offered rides, and included the Shabbos schedule, along with addresses so they know exactly where to be when. I listed a few nice things to do in the area.

Ask them if there’s anything you can do to make them more comfortable. Find out if they will need pack ‘n plays and make sure they are available. Ask them about picky eaters and make sure you have food on hand for them (think squeeze yogurts and string cheese).

Guest packages are such a fun part to plan and such a nice way to spoil your guests and express your appreciation for their efforts to come to your simchah. I’m a big fan of giving plenty of water, because when I’m a guest that’s all I ever want!

Don’t put anything crumby or messy in your packages; there will always be one kid who opens a brownie bar all over the fresh white carpet. If your guests are unfamiliar with your area, give them a map clearly showing where your house is, where they are staying and where the venue is.

And before they leave, sending your out-of-town guests away with to-go bags is a nice touch that tells your guests you thought of them. This can be as simple as some white paper bags with handles. You can put in drinks and car snacks, or leave them empty for your guests to fill with items you have ready for them, like energy bars, snack bags, pastries, and drinks.

Hacks, Tips, and Tricks


Splurge on cleaning help! You’ll probably have lots of people in and out of your house all weekend. If you’re hosting anything in your house, decide if you need a waiter.

Check the weather a week or so before. If it looks like it’s going to be rainy, order a few ponchos from Amazon to have around. (They’re usually about $5 a piece.)

Prepare your house. Plan on moving out some furniture to make room for your guests? It doesn’t need to happen Thursday night at 10 p.m. before your simchah. Wednesday at two is a really good time, too.

The Day of


Ask someone to be in charge of all the gifts/food deliveries/food gifts that come into your house. Cards can easily get lost if no one is on top of them, and then you don’t remember who to thank. Having a side table for this purpose is a good idea.

Be present! Enjoy your guests! They are all your people and they came for you. It’s a rare opportunity to have all your people under one roof. Savor it.

It’s the Small Things


If customizing all those little additions is your thing, these details can add classiness to your simchah. There are so many relatively inexpensive nice touches that add color that you can do yourself. Think water bottles, bentshers, besamim, menu cards, candy pouch/party favor/pekelach, custom napkins, custom cups….

I made six photo books featuring my bar mitzvah boy at various stages, staggering the years into each book chronologically. I put them around on each of the tables over Shabbos and they were thoroughly enjoyed by all. I decided to specifically look for pictures that had my guests in them with my son. I think it gives people something to connect to and get excited about.

The Bottom Line


There are so many ways to elevate an occasion, and different people will pick different things that speak to them, and make them feel like their simchah is special. But while there is an endless (and overwhelming!) stream of things to take care of, don’t forget that the simchah is really about your bar mitzvah boy, and celebrate him and all that you are proud of. The way you made him feel over this precious milestone is what is what will stay with you forever.


I didn’t (overly) stress or splurge, and really, it was a beautiful simchah — I don’t think our guests felt that it was simple or low-key. If you can’t manage to put out a tea station, or the coats end up piled on your playroom couch, or you don’t print photos of the bar mitzvah bachur — or all of the above — your simchah will still be memorable, uplifting, and uniquely yours.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 895)

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