The following article is from the Fall 2008 edition of Mitzvah Magazine, pp.26-28. Howard was honoured to have been Jake’s bar mitzvah tutor.
While your child is busy learning his or her torah portion, Haftorah, and a long list of prayers in preparation for a bar or bat mitzvah, you’re probably busy in your own right. After all, a simcha like this needs a celebration, and who better to plan it all than mom or dad?
You may be overwhelmed trying to choose a venue, menu, outfits, invitations, and a place for Uncle Harry to lay his head when he comes to town for the big day. You’ve probably spent a lot of time on the phone, online, and talking to other parents to get their advice and recommendations. To help you on your journey, we’ve interviewed two families who’ve recently planned their children’s parties so you can see how they did it. Hopefully, it will give you great ideas or inspiration for your own. Mazel Tov.
For her second son’s bar mitzvah, Lauren Beck decided to think outside the box. “Different kid, different party,” she says. Instead of the more traditional services in a synagogue and a party at a country club, as she had for her older son, Justin, she began researching outdoor event areas, fairgrounds, and other party spaces for her active younger son, Jake. Before long she stumbled upon Club Getaway, an adult/family camp on 300 acres in Kent, Conn., that has long hosted weddings but was just getting into the bar/bat mitzvah market. It was perfect for a weekend affair that included everything you’d find at a summer camp, including sleeping in bunks, zip lines, family-style meals, bonfires, boat rides, and ball games. All that was missing was the bug juice!
What were you looking for? My children are very different, and I felt strongly about doing something that really represented who Jake is. He’s extremely active; he runs track and plays soccer. As soon as he saw it, (Club Getaway) Jake was sold.
Why did you choose to do a whole weekend away? We have family from all over the country and Israel, and it’s hard to get together. I thought, why not gather everyone for an extended time and really celebrate for a whole weekend instead of just one day? It was a great idea and ended up costing a fraction of what it would have in the city.
How far in advance did you start planning? We saw Club Getaway about a year before Jake’s bar mitzvah. Once we booked the place I called Total Entertainment because I wanted to get the DJ, Ben. We used Jamal for Justin’s party, but different kid, different DJ.
How many people did you have? We had 170 people; we were shocked at the response, but people loved the idea of it, and everyone we invited wanted to come.
Tell us about the weekend. Friday was just fir family to arrive and hang out. We had a family-style dinner with everything from grilled fist to barbeque steak and chicken. Then, we had Texas hold’em tables and karaoke. Later, we had a bonfire and sing-along, and people stayed up until 3 in the morning. I made up song books to hand out with your favourite songs, and Jake played the drums and Justin played guitar. The rest of our guests arrived Saturday and stayed through Sunday.
“Make your child’s Bar Mitzvah all about him, and don’t worry about doing what everyone else has done.”
How was the food? Outstanding; not just the usual camp food of bug juice and hotdogs! For breakfast they had a huge spread with an omelet station, fruit, bagels, hot cereals, pastries… you name it. Lunch was a cookout with salads and the grill going, plus make-your-own sandwiches. For Saturday night dinner we had lots of appetizers including baby lamb chops, seared tuna, and Middle Eastern salads. My husband even brought up pastrami from Katz’s Delicatessen in New York for a carving station. Dinner was seared salmon in apple cider glaze or beef tenderloin, plus lots of other choices. Dessert was chocolate mousse in shot glasses, fresh strawberries, cake, and more.
What activities were offered during the weekend? We started serving early coffee and Danish for those who wanted to join a morning hike or run. During the day we had water skiing, swimming, trapeze, zip lines, mountain biking, softball games, an Olympics with an egg toss and tug-of-war,ping pong, wine tasting, and dance and cooking classes. There were activities all day long. Most were outdoors, but we had indoor options in case of rain.
Tell us about the bar mitzvah service? The plan was for Jake to lead a havdalah service at 6pm Saturday on a beautiful grassy knoll overlooking the lake and the mountains. But a minute and a half before he began, the skies opened up and everyone ran for the boathouse that we had set up just in case. It rained torrentially during the service, but it stopped five minutes before it was finished. We had cocktails in the boathouse and then went up to a tent for the party.
Did you need to bring your own rabbi? Yes. We used Howard Blas, a religious teacher who had been tutoring Jake for the past two years. He even helped us rent the Torah from the Lower East Side, and we created the siddurim with him, complete with all the prayers and songs we wanted for the service.
What did you do for entertainment? We had a band and four motivational dancers from Total Entertainment. The dancers spent the whole day, playing games with the kids and getting to know them, so by the evening they were really ready to dance. We also hired Paul E Doggs to breakdance. He was someone Jake had followed around at five bar mitzvahs in a row and always said he wanted Paul at his own bar mitzvah. A year and a half ago he announced that he wanted to learn to breakdance, so we hired Paul to come every Friday afternoon for a year and teach him. Jake did a performance at the party and it was amazing!
What was so unique about doing a party this way? Spending the whole weekend having fun together creates a very different atmosphere than just a four-hour party. Family and friends really bonded, and there was an incredible feeling of warmth and genuine joy. My 83-year-old father-in-law did the tug-of-war. Even though he fell face first into a muddy puddle,he still had fun. People of all ages and physical abilities were able to take part in everything. It was a three-day-long celebration.
How much was Jake involved in the planning? Jake was very involved with everything. He planned the kids’ menus and the “Camp Crazy Olympics,” as he called it. He also helped design his whole service and chose exactly which prayers he wanted to do, and he did the whole candle-lighting.
Did you do a lot of the work yourself? Most of it. I designed the invitations with Ram at Blacker & Kooby; I ordered the yarmulkes online from www.skullcaps.com. We took Jake to the Lower East Side to get a tallis and rent the Torah. I worked with Howard to create the siddur and ordered them online at www.singersiddur.com. I ordered a huge banner online that said “Camp Jake” to hang over the Club Getaway sign at the entrance. I did
references, but this time I didn’t go with recommendations or use someone everyone else was using.
But you brought in an NY DJ? My personal philosophy is that the music is the most important part of any party. There, I was going to spend money on a known quantity. The food can stink and you’ll forget about it the next day, but you want people up and dancing the whole night. I didn’t go out of the box for that.
Even though the whole weekend was a lot of fun, you were insistent on it all being about the bar mitzvah. Because Howard had been coming to our house every Sunday for the past two years, we spent a lot of time discussing what it means to be a bar mitzvah and on introspection and spirituality. And there was a lot of spirituality about the weekend, from the Friday night candles to the siddurim we created.
How did you stay organized? I had a folder for each portion of the event, and I made a computer spreadsheet to keep track of every check I wrote and bill I paid. I’m a very organized, anal person, and I plan events for a non-profit organization for a living.
What’s one tip you can pass on to other parents? Make your child’s bar mitzvah all about him, and don’t worry about doing what everyone else has done. Once you take a deep breath and leap, you’ll feel a lot better. Every decision I made I thought about Jake; what makes him happy and comfortable. There was no worrying about who we had to invite. This wasn’t about our social life. This was about who loves Jake and is in his life. You can’t go wrong if you do it that way. Also, I learned not to sweat the small stuff. A dozen things didn’t happen the way I wanted, but nobody really noticed. Everyone was just having a great time.