When a Jewish child comes of age, the show must go on, despite a pandemic or inclement weather. There’s a milestone birthday to acknowledge; for a boy there’s a parsha to lein. The big party of yesteryear is not yet on the agenda, but there are many beautiful ways to celebrate becoming a bar or bat mitzvah.
Deena Greenstein has been putting more emphasis on the tefillah for the bar and bat mitzvah celebrations her company LBK Events plans for clients. She does that by focusing on how to make limited space work best for the different parts of the service and celebration.
Greenstein’s clients now still prefer tents, which most shuls have. Tents can also be rented and set up either at shul or home. Greenstein says the key is to organize the tent into distinct areas. The right decor, including draped fabric and different lighting plans, can not only partition the space but add beauty and keep the winter chill away. A well-constructed space plan guides guests to pick up a siddur—often custom printed as a take-home gift—then to the mechitza-divided seating area where the davening and Torah reading take place. Afterwards, guests can congregate, socially distanced, in areas that function as a lobby, dining area and game room. At kids’ parties, there’s less dancing now and more games. “Line games and group games keep kids apart,” said Greenstein. “Being sweaty with a mask on isn’t good.”
Greenstein has learned what decorative elements work best with the restrictions of a tent in winter. She uses more plants than flowers, which don’t do well in extreme temperatures. Festive balloons add color and energy. The guest list must take into account proper social distancing. For Shabbat celebrations, many families choose to have different events—Shabbat dinner, morning kiddush, lunch, shalosh seudot, kids party—so they can invite all their friends and relatives at different times.
Food is integral to any event. Food served at an event can be individually packaged for the least handling by anyone but the recipient. For breakfast events, there’s nothing like a bagel, shmear and lox and of course, muffins. Individual bottles of juice are laid out on a different table. Mac and cheese, mini pizzas and Caesar salad all adjust happily to being served in boxes. For fleishig meals, a slider and fries are always welcome.
“There’s still a catering operation in back and the food has to stand up to temperature sensitivity and retain its integrity,” said Greenstein.
Zooming and livestreaming for non-Shabbat events are still options for connecting with distant friends and family and those who don’t feel secure attending public events. But don’t do it yourself. “Hiring a pro is the right way,” Greenstein emphasized. “If you’re including your grandmother in Israel, she should be able to see what’s going on in focus.”
Zooming can do more than let guests see the action: It can be the best way for all to participate. Greenstein said she just planned a bat mitzvah celebration for a girl in Israel. The theme was a cooking demo and all the guests in the states received a package by courier with an apron and all the ingredients, so they could cook along. The climax was a siyum with the bat mitzvah girl, which she said more and more bat mitzvah girls are doing.
“There are lessons to be learned from celebrating in the pandemic,” observed Greenstein. “You can scale back, have fewer people and still have a beautiful simcha.”