February 19, 2014
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Bar and bat mitzvah gift tips

What’s a good bar mitzvah gift?

for The Brooklyn Paper
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You’ve just received a beautiful bar mitzvah invitation in the mail. Your warm feelings of excitement soon transform into a vague sense of apprehension as you realize you have no idea what kind of gift to give.

You want it to be meaningful. Special. Generous. Something that will show how much this family and the bar or bat mitzvah child means to you.

Here is our gift to you: a few general guidelines to keep in mind when picking out a bar mitzvah present.

Let’s get the obvious option out of the way: money is always appropriate. This is especially true if the honoree is a friend of your kid’s or your families are casual friends.

You may feel like cold, hard cash is impersonal. Ideally you want the bar mitzvah boy to receive a present with some meaning and that they can enjoy now, not later. And sure, a check may not be the most elegant and memorable gift, but as a parent who is saving for college, I can contest that every dollar is greatly appreciated. Most families are very good about squirreling away the bulk of whatever is received for school and then allowing the child to use a portion of it for something that they really want like a computer, jewelry, or a video game. So a cash gift is useful for now and later.

Unless is bounces, you can’t go wrong with a check.

If you insist on going the merchandise route, you then have two paths to consider: Jewish or secular. That is, should you give some piece of Judaica or other Jewish-themed present or not? A lot of people are drawn to a gift like this because they feel that their present should reflect the importance of the day. It might seem inappropriate or superficial to give something electronic, for instance, in recognition of reaching such an important Jewish milestone. (“Hey, Bubbe and Zayde gave me ‘Grand Theft Auto!’ Awesome!”)

For example, a special book on Jewish concepts is a common bar mitzvah-themed gift, and giving it is a great symbolic gesture, but keep in mind that this kind of present will probably sit on the shelf for a long time. We hope that a bar mitzvah symbolizes the beginning of a young person’s quest for religious education, but the reality might be quite different. It’s hard to picture a typical bar mitzvah kid rushing home from their party eager to start reading about Isaiah and his message to the Jewish people.

On the other hand, a girl might love to receive a special piece of jewelry featuring a Jewish star or chai symbol. But then again, make sure you have an idea of the bat mitzvah girl’s taste or style, or it’ll likely go into her jewelry box to sit unused.

How about a gift card? That very nicely combines the ease and flexibility of cash with the desire to give a more practical gift. This is a great way to let a kid pick something out for himself while making sure that mom and dad can’t get their hands on the money and stick it in a boring savings account.

And finally, here’s one more idea that you probably didn’t think of: did the bar or bat mitzvah student get involved with a certain charity or organization as part of a community service project? It would be truly meaningful if you considered making a donation to that fund in the child’s name, in addition to whatever gift you decide upon.

Or, then again, you could always kick it old school and just give the bar mitzvah boy a fountain pen.

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