Bar Code

The goy's guide to bar and bat mitzvahs

by Gary Drevitch
Copyright 2005 Time Out New York
TIME OUT NEW YORK March 2005

OY, VEY! Your teen's been invited to a bar mitzvah, and you're clueless. What's she supposed to wear? More to the point, what's she supposed to bring as a gift? (Somebody said something about money.) Here are a few lessons for the Judaically challenged:

Spell check

It's traditional to give bar- and bat-mitzvah gifts in multiples of $18. Why? The Hebrew word for life is chai. In Hebrew numerology, the two letters that make the word chai correspond to the numbers eight and ten. Adding them together gives you 18. So, to give 18 is to give life, and most everybody likes life. Want to learn more? Get Madonna's class notes.

Bond traders

A check is appropriate but absolutely not required. Bonds, particularly Israel Bonds (israelbonds.com), are perennial bar-mitzvah gifts, as they encourage kids to save rather than to blow their windfall on White Stripes tickets.

Consumer report

Money's not the only way to go. NYC's bar-mitzvah-circuit teens-wearily traversing the city each Saturday from crudités table to crudités table, dance floor to dance floor-report a spike in store gift cards, iPods and iTunes certificates, tech accessories and a new, improved batch of Judaica items. Warning: If you're not Jewish, then forget trying to improvise in the Judaica category. Your friend already has a gold chain with a chai on it. He got it from his aunt Naomi when he was eight and keeps it stashed under his forgotten collection of Pokémon cards in his top drawer. But kids can still show that they're hip to the bar or bat mitzvah's role in Jewish culture with some, well, hip Jewish culture: CDs from the Klezmatics (Rhythm & Jews); David Krakauer (The Twelve Tribes); Jill Sobule (Underdog Victorious); or the outstanding Knitting on the Roof, in which an all-star collection of downtown Hebrew hipsters reimagine the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack.

Charity cases

The biggest trend in gifts may be not giving any—at least, not to the party kid. Many families now ask guests to donate to a specific charity along with, or in lieu of, other gifts. Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, for one, has become a mainstay recipient of city events (www.mazon.org).

Jewcy couture

Even if the party that follows the mitzvah ceremony has a "disco luau with the Yankees" theme, respect the gravity of the day (a Jewish child becomes an adult when he or she is first called to read from the Torah). Pull out a jacket and tie, or a modest dress or skirt. And lads, leave that tam at home: Boys will be expected to don a yarmulke in the synagogue.

Knee jerks

Remember: no kneeling.