Posted by: Debbie Abrams Kaplan | June 22, 2016

Lessons from the bar mitzvah

Given how smoothly the planning was going for Zack’s bar mitzvah, I thought I’d have no good post to share after. Ha ha! Stupid me. You’re in luck. I have plenty of lessons from the bar mitzvah, and they’re all below, in no particular order. (When you’re done, visit my lessons from Dori’s bat mitzvah).

-My name is Debbie Kaplan and I order too much food. If we invite you over for dinner in the next year, it’s likely that we’ll be serving you food from the bar mitzvah weekend. But we’ll pretend we made it ourselves.




-Your son’s favorite bar mitzvah presents will be the loaf of sourdough bread from California and the box of Beanboozled Jelly Bellies.

-You will be more nervous than your son on bar mitzvah day. Your husband will be perfectly calm. It’s a good partnership.

-You will be grateful that you decided not to read Torah at your son’s bar mitzvah, because you would have been even more of a nervous wreck.

-It’s possible to be hungry and nauseated at the same time. You will force yourself to eat breakfast, but continue to feel sick while doing so.

-It’s possible to use every vase in the house when you bring the 25 dozen tulips home from the bar mitzvah lunch and need to consolidate them. You’ll then realize that your vase hoarding tendencies are justified.


Enter a caption

-You will wake up at 5:15 a.m. several mornings the week of the bar mitzvah. And you will go to bed thinking of all the things that can go wrong (and they WILL all go wrong), and this will keep you up for 2 hours while lying in bed Friday night. You will get 5 hours sleep a night and be so exhausted that by Sunday brunch, you’ll want to crawl into bed at 11 a.m.

-Instead, you will go to bed at 8:30 p.m. Sunday night and sleep for a solid 10 hours. And you’ll wake up exhausted and in need of Excedrin Migraine.

-I’m not a lot of fun to be around when I’m stressed out.

-ShopRite in Clark will screw up your Sunday brunch order AGAIN. During Dori’s bat mitzvah weekend, they lost the fruit plate order (placed in person the week before) but remembered the bagel order. During Zack’s bar mitzvah weekend, they lost the bagel order (placed in person the week before), but remembered the fruit plate.


just a sampling

-You will be forever grateful to Vaccaro’s Bakery for allowing you to cancel your baked goods order Sunday morning. Because who needs $75 worth of baked goods, when you have platters of bakery leftovers from Friday night and Saturday lunch?

-When you tell one of your main clients 9 days before the big event that you want to clear the decks the next week because of the bar mitzvah, he’ll say “mazal tov, and no problem!” And then an hour later he’ll assign 3 stories (requiring interviews) due the Monday after the bar mitzvah.

-You’ll order water bottles as party favors from Vistaprint, but realize that their promotional site doesn’t offer discount codes while the main site offers a zillion codes. The day after you order the bottles, you’ll get a snail mailed brochure from the Vistaprint, offering 15% off any new promo site order. Face palm! Fortunately they’ll retroactively apply the code to your order. Thank you Vistaprint!

-You didn’t realize when you picked the bar mitzvah date that it would literally be in the middle of high school finals. Two days of finals before the weekend, and three days after. That’s not stressful for a high school freshman!

-You really should keep the granola bar and snacks in your purse (even when others laugh at you for doing so) along with the bottle of water that’s usually there. Why? Because the day of the final rehearsal/photos, your son will not have eaten all day (this isn’t unusual – don’t judge me). The sanctuary will be about 100 degrees because no one knows how to turn on the air conditioning in that room. And the Torah reading is super long. And you’ll watch your son start fading to the point where he’s about to faint. So you stop and make him take off his tallis, jacket and tie, to get some water and sit. And eat that piece of chocolate you have in your purse even though your kids laugh at you for always having a piece of candy in your purse. Papa Dan telling him that he fainted at his bar mitzvah wasn’t much of a relief.


-Your son will have a stuffy nose and almost lose his voice the morning of the bar mitzvah, because he was too rowdy at Shabbat dinner the night before. You will force him to drink hot water with lemon and honey, even though he hates it. His voice will be just fine during the service.

1010-It’s possible to forget all about 1010! the week of the bar mitzvah, because you’re too busy to remember to play it.

-You will buy your bar mitzvah dress 14 months before the actual date, but you can’t find matching shoes until the week before.

-You’ll be so far behind on the news that you’ll have to hear about Lin Manuel Miranda leaving Hamilton during the bar mitzvah lunch.

-You’ll be so pissed about the late arrival times and service issues from the lunch caterer and the waffle truck (even though the food was great), that you’ll ask for a partial refund. You will feel relieved when someone tells you during the Torah processional that the catering staff finally arrived.

-You will realize that while you have high standards, what you really want is for people to arrive on time and do what they promised to do. It’s pretty simple. And you’ll realize how much you value competence.

-You never know how much someone will appreciate a heart-felt “thank you,” recognizing them for their unsung, hard work. Thank people earnestly and often.

-You’ll be organized by bringing Zack’s haftarah booklet and speech on Friday night and putting them where they need to be on the bima. But then a friend will find them outside the sanctuary on a table (not sure which one) and will hand them to you Saturday morning as the service is starting. Someone had taken them out of their correct spot thinking they weren’t supposed to be there. Can you imagine a 13 year old trying to give his Dvar Torah without the written copy?

-You won’t realize that you’re mouthing the Torah reading along with your son while you’re on the bima, until someone tells you later.


-You will be grateful that after throwing individually-wrapped York peppermint patties, none of them get smooshed into the carpet, and that the kids efficiently picked up 99% of them within three minutes flat.

-You will cry several times on bar mitzvah day. The first will be when the catering staff doesn’t show up on time, the social hall isn’t ready by 9:30 and the caterer didn’t order enough table cloths (or at least show you where they were) for tables outside the social hall. The second time will be when you’re standing on the bima with your son, husband, brothers-in-law/family and your parents/inlaws, in front of the open ark. You’re looking out over the congregation full of friends, family and community, all of whom are part of the village raising your son. And the third time will be after your son finishes his Torah and Haftarah readings, nailing it.

-You’ll realize that your aim throwing candy at the bar mitzvah boy is no better from the second row than it is from the last row.

-You will swell with pride seeing your children standing at the ark together after the Torah procession. The feeling will expand during your son’s awesome speech (who know he had such presence during public speaking?) and watching your daughter use hand signals to tell him to slow down or speak up. And he wanted her to do that. You realize that your kids, who used to fight A LOT, now get along really well. You hope that lasts.


-You’ll be really glad that you made your son revisit the meat of his speech, because the first speech wasn’t good at all. And that in his third meeting with the rabbi, he’ll hit on the theme and speech content that will make it meaningful and powerful. And that having to start over with a new speech makes all the difference. You hope your son learns a lesson from this process.

-You will be sad that your father-in-law, who had a stroke Father’s Day weekend two years ago, was not here to see his only grandson become a bar mitzvah. Especially since it was his choice not to come.

-When you tell your kids you’re going to scatter Hershey’s Kisses on the lunch tables, and they make fun of you for wanting to do this (and using pastel colors for a boy), they’ll later eat their words – and the Kisses. The Kisses will disappear faster than the balloons.


-You’ll watch many versions of Jewish geography over the weekend, and see lots of surprising connections made.

-You know that moving a table full of glass vases is a really bad idea. But you do it anyway and break one vase. The polyester table cloth dries with an hour, with no stains.



-Your son will entertain himself at the end of the bar mitzvah lunch by stacking plastic cups in tall pyramids.

-Mylar balloons usually last a few weeks. But if you put them in a really hot car, several will pop, and two days later they’ll be partially deflated. But you’re happy seeing the kids running around the social hall, trailing balloons behind them.


-You can get nice fabric table cloths for 6 foot tables, from the Christmas Tree Store for only $7.

-When you try to be efficient, ordering your wine and beer for the party ahead of time and asking them to put it in the fridge together so you can pick it up quickly (with everything cold), they’ll screw it up. On Saturday night at pick-up, they’ll say “that white wine is already cold and in the self-serve section, so we didn’t pack it ahead of time.” And then they’ll need 3 people to get the bottles from the self-serve cold case, restocking it with warm wine. They’ll barely have enough of what you asked for. It’s a good thing someone else didn’t come in and buy it that day, you’d be stuck with warm white wine when you asked for cold, if the staff even noticed that section was out. It will take 4 employees to scan and pack the items to take out of the store. You’ll wonder why they didn’t just do what you asked on Thursday morning when they had no customers. This would have made life easier for everyone – especially since you offered to pay when ordering.

-Upon getting to the bar mitzvah party, you’ll realize that the hubcap that you expertly attached with zip ties, is missing.

-Your son will be nervous and freaked out before the bar mitzvah weekend. But you will see an ecstatic boy Friday night through Sunday night, one who constantly thanks you for all you’ve done, and who keeps saying what a great time he had.

-Monday morning your son will be grumpy, exhausted and will still have to go to school.

-When following up with the caterer the next week, you’ll learn that for the first time in 20 years, one of her emails was left in draft form instead of sent. That was the email telling her catering manager to show up at 8:30 instead of 10 a.m. and giving final catering instructions. And that unfortunate accidental action, which took place in the blink of an eye, caused a tsunami of problems and agita for me, and cost the caterer 10% of her bill, which I gladly would have paid in exchange for the catering manager showing up at 8:30.

-You discover you really hate the word “agita.”

-When following up with the dessert waffle vendor, you’ll learn that they showed up 30 minutes late because for the first time in their history (notice a theme?), they sent the staff to the wrong town (South Orange instead of Chatham). And that their double waffle iron, which is supposed to crank out 120 waffles/hour, was broken, so they used 2 single irons. Only one of the irons was burning waffles, so they just used the other iron, resulting in 30-45 minute lines when there should have been no wait at all. You will get a 50% back.


-You will be forever grateful that your husband has such good party planning ideas (rock climbing and NJ pizza). And while many vendors screwed up over the weekend, the Gravity Vault in Chatham came through with flying colors. The staff was AWESOME.

-When you take pictures at a rock climbing party, most of the climbing pictures will be of people’s backsides. You play the game “identify that ass.”


-You will be honored that your wonderful friends and family traveled a far distance to celebrate with you. It’s expensive to come in and it’s a hassle to travel. We’re grateful to those who made the journey.

-When you leave your driver’s license at home, sometimes they will still let you on the plane. But they will not let you rent a car.

-The really cute new shirt you wear to the party actually makes you look pregnant. No, I’m not pregnant.


-One year ago, Mark and I seriously debated not having a bar mitvah service. We knew that our son was capable of learning Torah and Haftarah and reading them well, but wondered if he could put the effort into a year-long course of study, without causing too much family angst. The preparation required daily sessions of Zack sitting with a parent to practice and learn, in addition to weekly tutoring lessons. Tutoring sessions were cut back from 45 minutes to 30 minutes to make them manageable. The first six months were miserable for everyone involved. We kept telling him that at some point, he would turn the corner and the light would go on in his head – he’d realize that he knew what he was doing and it would stick. Before he hit this point, his tutor suggested that he only read half his haftarah. We were relieved that this was an option, but didn’t tell Zack. He soon turned the corner and learned the whole thing. At some point his tutor suggested that instead of chanting 5 Torah portions as we wanted him to do, he only chant one, and suggested that we were pushing him too hard. We gave Zack a choice: read 5 Torah portions, or read one but lead Musaf as well. He chose the 5 Torah portions. The tutor said we were pressuring him too much. We knew he could do it, but then doubted ourselves, concerned with how long he’d be standing on the bima reading, and wondering if this would be too much for him.

-We worried about how he’d do on game day, whether he’d speed through the reading and actually follow the words, rather than relying on his memory, as he did during lessons. Would he faint? Could he make it through the physical and mental effort required to read five long Torah portions in a row, followed by a long Haftarah?

-The worries were for naught. Not only COULD he do it, he DID it, exceeding everyone’s expectations. He made the entire congregation proud. I type this with tears in my eyes.


-I have no illusion that he’ll be excitedly asking to do Torah readings in the future, but he will know that he’s capable of more than he thinks. And that doing a good job takes a lot of work and practice, which is not always fun.

-When Zack went to the bathroom on Sunday he said “I have to go number 2, and I don’t have to bring my Hebrew!”

(this post was read and approved by Zack before publishing)

Here are lessons learned from our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.


  1. So your husband stays calm and has great party planning ideas – how lucky are you?

  2. Mazel Tov to the entire Kaplan family. It is stressful but rewarding.

  3. Definitely one of the two best mitzvahs I’ve ever been to! Seriously, Zack was awesome.

  4. What a wonderful bar mitzvah. Zack let himself enjoy the day, and the joy spread throughout the sanctuary. All of the work paid off, but the lasting memories will be Zack reading from the Torah and chanting his haftorah with confidence and dignity.

    • Thank you Abbie, and you were a huge help to me before the service.

  5. Your boy really did a great job – and unless one has been through the difficulties of preparing, planning and completing a bar mitzvah, we might have been none the wiser to any of the behind the scenes meshugas 🙂 Good tip about the Driver’s License, I’m gonna remember that one.

    • Rina, the last part of the comment cracked me up. And having planned a wedding with a lot of moving parts, I’m sure you got a taste of the planning/prep part. Very similar in a lot of ways.

  6. Mazal Tov, Debbie! I’m amazed at how much you’ve learned :). By the way, Dori looks exactly like you!

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