Traditionally, bar and bat mitzvahs take place in the celebrated boy or girl’s family synagogue. Dozens, if not hundreds, of friends and family members gather to witness and celebrate this transitional rite of passage. In 2020, Jewish families are pushed to find creative ways to mark the passage of their child into adulthood.

To hold a traditional bar or bat mitzvah in today’s environment would place everyone involved in the CDC’s highest risk category. There would be far too many people in one space and maintaining a distance of at least six feet would prove difficult in a crowded synagogue and reception hall.

Fortunately, that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Plenty of families are still finding ways to carry on with their plans, even if they look a little different.

Read on to learn more about how you can hold a bar or bat mitzvah during a pandemic without risking the health and safety of your loved ones.

Socially Distant Bar and Bat Mitzvah Lessons

Bar mitzvah girls and bat mitzvah boys bear quite a large responsibility. They are expected to practice their Hebrew and learn either a portion of the Torah or blessing for the aliyah. Some boys and girls also opt to chant the haftarah.

In addition to learning how to read and speak in Hebrew, bar mitzvah girls and bat mitzvah boys must interpret what they’ve learned from the Torah and other traditional teachings. All of this must come together in a speech that they deliver to their guests at some point during the celebration.

In order to prepare them for this important moment, the child becomes a student. Most families begin lessons anywhere from six to eighteen months before the Mitzvah date depending on how well the child knows Hebrew already. Most find that the earlier they begin their lessons, the less pressure they feel when the day finally comes.

How can you maintain Bar and Bat Mitzvah lessons during the pandemic? Talk to your rabbi about their preferred methodology.

Some rabbis may offer in-person lessons that take place outdoors or in spacious, well-ventilated rooms. Others may decide that remote learning is the best option and offer lessons over video chatting platforms such as Zoom.

Remember that without these lessons, the child may feel ill-prepared. If you’re going to stick with the original date you selected before the pandemic, do your best to make sure that lessons continue.

To Postpone or Not to Postpone?

Many families hold a bat mitzvah when their daughter has reached twelve years of age and bar mitzvahs when their son has reached thirteen years of age. Rabbinic literature states that these are the ages at which a child passes into the age of adulthood. The concept is that they have reached physical maturity and the age of moral discernment.

Of course, it’s possible to hold a bar or bat mitzvah well after the twelfth or thirteenth birthday. We’ve even seen adult mitzvahs from time to time. If you’ve been planning a mitzvah for the past year or two and the pandemic has yet to pass, should you postpone?

Truthfully, that is entirely up to you and your family. As we mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with waiting until your son or daughter is older.

However, the difficulty lies in deciding when to reschedule. There is no clear indication as to when the pandemic will be under control in the US and across the world. This uncertainty of postponing may add more stress to you and your family, rather than eliminating it.

Plus, you want to ensure that the Mitzvah lessons are fresh in your son or daughter’s mind. We’d argue that it may be better to stick with your original date but with some major twists. Let’s talk about what those twists might look like!

Reenvisioning the Bar and Bat Mitzvah During a Pandemic

If you had a bar or bat mitzvah planned for the coming months and don’t want to postpone, there are ways to navigate the situation without putting the health of friends and family at risk. Many families are hosting what is cheekily being referred to as the Zoom Mitzvah. Many of the components of a traditional Bar or Bat Mitzvah are still in place but they’re done from home over the video chat service, Zoom!

If you’re going to use Zoom for your child’s Mitzvah, you’re going to want to invest in a professional account. Free Zoom accounts may kick users off after 45 minutes and while you can create a new meeting and log back on, this forced hangup is very disruptive. In addition, make sure that you are familiar with how Zoom works so that you are prepared to use it when the day comes.

Now, let’s look at how you can have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah from the comfort of your home.

Have the Torah Delivered to Your Home

Talk to your rabbi about your remote Mitzvah in advance. It is important that they know when to be present online and can get all texts to your home in time for the big day.

While it may feel strange, many families have had the Torah, scrolls, and more delivered to their home. As long as you keep these texts in a safe place and handle them with care, there won’t be any issues! Your child can read from the Torah in your living room, kitchen, or any other place of your choosing.

During this time, make sure that your guests are muted. You can either exercise that control yourself or give them control over their own microphones. To avoid any technical issues, ask your guests to let you know in the weeks leading up to the Mitzvah if they need any help navigating the app.

Prepare for Aliyot

Even over Zoom, you can ask a few members of your family to appear on screen for aliyot. Reach out to the selected few and make sure that they know how to unmute themselves. Give them a distinct order to appear in so that no one accidentally talks over one another.

Before your child reads from the Torah, each selected family member can appear one at a time to bless the reading. Once they begin speaking (and their microphone is unmuted), Zoom will centralize their video so that everyone can see it. This is a great way to create feelings of connection even from a distance.

Feel Free to Up Your Guest List

One of the nicest things about a Zoom Mitzvah is that you can call on friends and family near and far to participate. Whether you have family in Israel or on the other side of the states, everyone can join without worrying about the cost of a flight or other arrangements!

Plan for an In-Person Celebration Later

Without the glitz and glamor, a Zoom Mitzvah can really allow your child to focus on the important things. In fact, giving up an in-person Mitzvah during a pandemic is a very selfless and community-oriented act. It’s a wonderful way to begin adulthood!

That being said, it’s hard to imagine a Bar or Bat Mitzvah without a shared meal after the ceremony. While we encourage you to dine with your guests over Zoom, we also recommend planning a party for the future. It may be wise to hold off on setting an exact date at the moment, but you can begin to tell your guests now that in the coming months, you hope to gather in person.

Don’t Forget the Gifts

Even if you’re not holding a traditional, in-person Bar or Bat Mitzvah, it’s still nice to honor the girl or boy with a Bar Mitzvah gift! Gifts are easy to handle from a distance since you can send packages, cards, and checks through the mail. Some Zoom Mitzvahs have even set aside some time for the boy or girl to open their gifts on screen, giving them the opportunity to thank their gift-givers “face to face.”

Embrace the Zoom Mitzvah

In the midst of a pandemic, it can be hard to decide what to do about your child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Gathering in person may be off the table, but switching gears and hosting a Zoom Mitzvah is a fun and creative way to keep things on track!

Do you have more questions about adapting to life during the pandemic? We have answers. Take a look at more of our posts and bookmark our page for regularly updated content.

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