Some party planners want you to ask your child where he or she wants to have his or her party. In the real world, most parents really don’t want to know what their 10-year-olds prefer—except for their favorite themes and colors. Parents should stay realistic and try to keep things on a level that shows their children they respect the dignity of the occasion.
One of the most popular themes for boys is sports, and the girls favor color combinations—like pink and purple, instead of themes, though it has been reported that a shopping theme has appeared …with labeled shopping bags, shoe boxes, and other packaging used as centerpieces…
Once the ceremonies and rituals are over, a family can throw one heck of a fun birthday party for the kids who just went through all that hard work. They do deserve a reward…and skating parties, boat rides, white-water rafting, bowling, and even hang-gliding are great ways to have fun and celebrate an emerging teenager’s birthday. But such a party really has nothing to do with a bar/bat mitzvah—unless of course, you decide that the reception is formal and contains its own rituals, candle-lighting ceremonies, cake cuttings, and other ways to interact with and honor extended family members and guests.
Such receptions, usually held in synagogue ballrooms, lend themselves to Jewish historical and cultural themes. Centerpieces can be model synagogues from Eastern Europe, flowers, or crafts made in Israel…
Think things through. What is the message you want to send your child? Make sure your themes don’t cause a disconnect—or a revolution with the rabbi and more traditional members of your family. That being said, there are so many exciting themes that can be lifted straight from the Bible and Jewish history, from the Creation itself and the Garden of Eden, to David the Warrior King and his battle with Goliath. You can wander in the desert with camels, as did Abraham and those who came later; play Daniel in the lion’s den; or get swallowed by a whale.
Young girls can look to Miriam, Judith, to Deborah, to Bruria, and to Donna Gracia Mendes for inspiration. Kids can split the Red Sea, play Moses and get the 10 Commandments, bring down the walls of Jericho, wrestle with angels, free the Jewish slaves in Egypt and come up with almost any way to give the story a contemporary twist. Tell it like it’s a video game, with all the sound effects…There are 52 weekends in a year, and there are at least 52 themes in the Tanach alone to choose from. With imagination, you can actually make these themes fun.
If putting the mitzvah back in is just too dull and boring, there are always Jews in sports to kick it up. Still another angle would be to make things a little more international by choosing the theme from cities spanning the globe, where Jews once lived and made a difference, then creating menus, music, and programs to match. Weaving in the theme of the week from the Torah wouldn’t hurt.
For example, the island of Curacao is rich in Jewish history, has a rather Dutch-Caribe fusion in food, and has a unique culture that can spice up any event. The same can be said of Recife, Istanbul, Cairo, Kaifeng, Kobe, Moscow, Paris, Toledo, Rome, Saloniki, and even cities in India. The list is endless, and if your family comes from an unusual place, using the cuisine and culture makes your event that much more interesting, while teaching your child about your family. Jewish history in those cities is the background theme, and you can play with the menus, decor, and music to make things even more exotic.
As always, you are limited only by your imagination. Read your child’s Torah portion, talk to the rabbi about some of the themes that can be drawn from it. See if that theme relates to something in the contemporary world or your family’s history. Use those elements to create an exciting and meaningful experience for your child, your guests, and your community.
By Jeanette Friedman