If you've been invited to a Bar Mitzvah, and you've never been to one, don't worry. There's a few things to know about proper Bar Mitzvah etiquette and the experience will be interesting, moving and fun.
First things first: just what exactly is a Bar Mitzvah? Bar Mitzvah is a Jewish rite of passage at age 13 for a boy. The basic idea behind the ritual is that once a boy becomes a Bar Mitzvah (that is the traditional way of saying it - "becomes a Bar Mitzvah") he is old enough to understand and accept the obligations of the commandments, and is proud to have the obligation. By the way, if you've been invited to the ceremony for a girl, it's called a Bat Mitzvah instead of Bar. The difference is the word Bar means "son" and the word Bat (pronounced "baaaat" like a sheep says "baa" with a "t" sound at the end) means "daughter." Mitzvah means "commandments."
What happens during a Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah? Traditionally, he or she will read from the Torah in a Torah service in Synagogue. The Torah contains the Five Books of Moses, written in Hebrew on a long parchment scroll. A portion is read each week until the reading is completed and then it's started over. The complete Torah takes a year to read this way. Only Jewish adults may read from Torah at a Torah service, so this marks his or her first time doing so as an adult.
You're probably invited to the ceremony. It's a religious service in a house of worship, so church attire is expected. Males will also possibly be expected to wear a kippah or yarmulke which is a round head covering traditional to Jewish worship. They're available in most synagogues, so you'll be able to grab one and put it on.
In Jewish services, there are some prayers that are recited sitting, and others that are recited standing. Just follow what the people around you are doing and you'll be fine. Some prayer books have translations of the Hebrew that is used in any number of prayers, so you can follow along with the service.
Bar Mitzvah ceremony is followed by lunch. You may be invited to lunch after the service. This will probably be a nice catered lunch, with some music and maybe a nice tribute to the Bar Mitzvah boy. You may hear a few prayers at the beginning of the meal, including a toast over a glass of wine, and some shared bread, called challah. Just relax and enjoy yourself.
What gifts are traditional for a Bar Mitzvah? Money is always a good choice. There are symbolic amounts that mean good luck in terms of Jewish numerology. $18 or $36 (double 18) are great choices. That's because the number 18 in Hebrew letters spells the word for "life." Also popular for girls is Judaic themed jewelry (six-pointed stars, for example). Many Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids save their money for college. It's a good help for them, and much appreciated.Congratulate the 13-year old by saying the Hebrew words for good luck and congratulations, "Mazel Tov."
Bat Mitzvah lessons help prepare a Jewish girl of age 12 or 13 to take on the responsibilities of leading a Jewish life. In most Jewish denominations, girls as well as boys celebrate this milestone in their Jewish education.
When looking for Bat Mitzvah dresses, you want something that will be versatile so your daughter can wear it to the ceremony and then modify it a bit for a less formal luncheon.