There are things in life that are truly baffling — memorizing the all the digits of Pi, Rubik cubes, how Rachel Ray became so popular. Yet, what seems to send most non-Jewish guests who have been invited to a bar or bat mitzvah deepest into the land of bewilderment is the ever-elusive bar mitzvah card. What should you say in a card? How much should you give if writing a check? Is writing a check okay? Would a kid rather get a gift card? What kind of gift card? And is there really anything worst than getting a gift card for Apple Bees (yes, Rachel Ray’s cooking)?
We break down some frequently asked questions so non-Jewish guests can relax and concentrate on more important things, like brushing up on their Yiddish (just kidding):
Question: What kind of card do I buy for a bar or bat mitzvah? Do they sell bar mitzvah cards at the drugstore?
Answer: They may. But if not, a general congratulations card is just fine.
Q: What should I write?
A: If you know the child or the family well, write something personal. Keep in mind that this is a birthday and a very special religious accomplishment for the kid that took a lot of time and preparation. Otherwise, a simple “Congratulations!” or “Mazel tov!” (the Yiddish word for “congratulations”) is standard. Here’s a great example:
“Congratulations on becoming a Bar Mitzvah! May your special day be filled with joy. Mazel Tov! Your friend,
Q: Should I write a check?
A: Yes! Unless you know specifically what the young boy or girl would like as a present, checks are still the gift of choice in the b’nai mitzvah-circuit. Checks in a multiple of $18 are also appropriate. Just put a check in the amount of, say $36 or $54 into a bar mitzvah or general congratulations card. Why multiples of 18? We will let About.com eloquently explain the reasoning behind this:
“The word for ‘life’ in Hebrew is ‘chai.’ The two Hebrew letters that make up the word ‘chai’ are chet and yud. In Gematria (the numerical value of Hebrew letters), chai is equivalent to eight and yud is equivalent to ten. So ‘chai,’ chet, and yud together, equals 18. Giving money in multiples of $18 is symbolic of giving ‘chai’ or life. Many people give money in multiples of $18 as presents to someone celebrating a birth, a bar or bat mitzvah, or a wedding.”
Chai checks, or checks of any amount, are usually deposited by the parents into the kid’s college fund.
Q: When do I give the hosts the card?
A: Just like at a wedding, bring the gift to the reception. Don’t give it to the family at the actual service. Most likely, there will be a gift table at the reception where you can drop it off.
Q: Do I give a different kind of gift if I’m invited to a bat mitzvah rather than a bar mitzvah? And what’s the difference?
A: Girls have a bat mitzvah while boys have a bar mitzvah, if you are talking about both genders in general, it would be referred to as a b’nai mitzvah. Traditional gifts for both are checks and academic-related items. If you are not Jewish, it may be wise to stay away from religious-themed items — those are more appropriate for giving by other Jews who are more familiar with their symbolism.
Q: Okay, so it’s appropriate to give something in multiples of 18, but, honestly, how much should I give?
A: It depends. Adult couples that live in New York typically give anything from $180 to $500 and if a kid is coming alone, they usually give a gift of $36 or $54.
Yet, many variables come into play in terms of a concrete amount. First and foremost, consider what kind of bar mitzvah you are attending — is it an elaborate party at a separate venue or is a service with a modest lunch afterwards? Are you close to the child? And where exactly is the bar mitzvah being held? For instance, if you are attending a bar mitzvah with a formal reception at a Manhattan venue, couples typically give the kid $300 to $350 (preferably in a variable of 18). And if the bar mitzvah reception is at a high-end venue, like the Waldorf Astoria, guests may give up to $500. If one is attending a more conservative lunch reception after services, people tend to give a little less, unless you’re particularly close to the child.
Ultimately, the amount is a personal decision. It’s important to take all this information into consideration and then use your best judgment. Keep in mind that the money typically goes towards the bar or bat mitzvah’s education.
Q: I don’t know the kid very well, what should I give?
A: If you don’t know the child well, writing a check for a lower amount, if preferable over a gift. But if you insist on giving a gift, a gift card is a good idea. Here are some popular choices:
• AMC Theaters and Regal Entertainment Group
• Forever 21
• Cheesecake Factory
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