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Ways to include younger guests your kid’s bar mitzvah service.

Underage kids at the bar … mitzvah, that is

for The Brooklyn Paper

Dear Cantor Matt,

We have a lot of younger kids we would love to include in our son’s bar mitzvah. There are several cousins, his Hebrew school friends, and of course, his little brother. Can they do anything in the service? Are they allowed to participate?

— Not KID-ding around

Dear KID,

I guess putting them to work parking the guests’ cars is out of the question, huh?

But, yes, there are many ways kids who have not celebrated their b’nei mitzvah yet to participate in services. As always, this will depend on the kind of service that takes place in your temple, how many honors you’re allowed to hand out, and few other factors.

It’s wise to observe or ask what other families have done at your synagogue. This works especially well if your date is a little later in the year, so you have the benefit of having attended several other b’nei mitzvah services already.

But, let’s divide up the likely options into two categories: singing and non-singing … and sometimes I’m not sure which one of those two categories my congregation wishes I were in.

Naturally, non-singing parts are a lot easier and don’t take any preparation — perfect for novice kids. It’s also common for younger guests to open the ark or sit on the bimah holding the Torah — just make sure that the little brother or sister who is holding the Torah is big enough to do it. I’ve had families think that their 5-year-old daughter could manage it. Maybe we should put a sign on the bimah that says: You must weigh more than the Torah in order to sit with it.

Singing parts are more challenging, but also a lot more interesting. There are often certain prayers that may be reserved for capable friends or younger siblings. Some common examples are well-known songs that come towards the end of the service, like “Ein Keloheinu” or the famous “Adon Olam.” These are good choices because the whole congregation will be singing along — no solo singing required! — and it’s easy to have a whole group of kids or friends lead those songs.

Another idea is to have a young friend or cousin come up with his parents when they get an aliyah or other honor. Just being up there with the grownups may be a special way to include him without anything further for him to worry about.

But even more importantly, don’t feel that you need to include every last family member or friend in the service. It’s fine to simply focus on the bar mitzvah kid and celebrate his accomplishment. I bet all the younger guests — siblings, cousins, and friends — are just happy to be there and have the opportunity to catch up with each other (and get shushed during the service).

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at

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