When it comes to getting ready for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony, children prepare for well over a year. They memorize Torah portions; they write essays about what the holy words mean to them; they undertake a Mitzvah project and write about that too. Torah portions correspond to the calendar, so it’s a lot of — very date-centered — work. What happens when you undertake all of this preparation and plan a very personal celebration, but then a global pandemic interferes? This is the question thousands of pre-teens and their families are now struggling to answer. We have one such story to inspire you and perhaps offer up new perspectives and hope.
How Do You Reschedule a Rite of Passage? You Don’t.
Thirteen-year-old Jordan Sokoloff was all set to have her Bat Mitzvah ceremony at her temple, New York City’s Central Synagogue, on Saturday, April 4. As the date grew closer though, it became clear that new arrangements needed to be made — for both the ceremony and the party. Enter event planner, Amy Katz of Amy Katz Events, who had been working with the family to plan the Bat Mitzvah party.
Katz says, “Sadly, these types of decisions have become the new norm at this time. We highly suggest having the service on the original date so that the child does not need to learn any new Torah material, since they have been preparing for months on end. Hold Bar or Bat Mitzvah services virtually, so that grandparents, family, and friends can still be a part of, and celebrate, this momentous accomplishment.”
Amy Sokoloff, Jordan’s mother, shares that the family decided to host their temple’s first “Zoom Mitzvah” from their home, with their rabbi and cantor joining from their respective homes. She says, “The temple gave us the option to postpone the service, but Jordan worked so hard and was ready to go. Our family was excited for the weekend, and we decided we should just do it and give everyone something to look forward to.” Sokoloff mentions that they’ve been members of the temple for 13 years and were so looking forward to celebrating this milestone there and that they’re considering ways to do so in the future.
What to Consider for a Virtual Ceremony
Sokoloff shares an insider look into what she learned firsthand while preparing for her daughter’s Zoom Mitzvah. First, she notes that they needed to find a “pretty spot” in their home for the ceremony. “The temple offered us an image of the temple that we could use as a Zoom backdrop, but we declined,” she says. Instead, the family set up a table for the materials like Jordan’s Torah portion, candles, and notes. Sokoloff added some festive flowers for the occasion.
Additionally, the family needed to consider where and how to set up computer cameras and screens so that Jordan could see her friends and family, as well as the rabbi and cantor — and they could all see and hear her. And with all of those eyes on her, Jordan needed to look great. Sokoloff says, “I was the hair and makeup person — and the manicurist.”
Lastly, the family arranged for a take-out meal from one of Jordan’s favorite restaurants. “Jordan was a great sport. We made it as special as possible given the circumstances,” says Sokoloff. Overall, the experience was a unique one that, now that it’s over, she describes as “truly a special day.”
The Party — However — Should Be Postponed
Don’t give up on celebrating life’s big moments; instead, consider postponing. Trust us: we will all need happy reasons to gather together after the threat of this pandemic has faded. Katz says, “We are all facing an unknown future now. But, postponing to a later date is the only option at this time. We moved the party date to six months later in the hopes that the world will be safer.”
Sokoloff says of breaking the news to Jordan, “She was obviously disappointed, but not surprised, as she had just seen it happening with some of her friends. She understood that there were limited options.” The family was grateful to be working with Katz, as she worked tirelessly to find a new date in October for Jordan’s Bat Mitzvah party.
Plan B: Choosing a Friday Night Celebration
Katz says, “The first call was to the venue — the Edison Ballroom in Times Square — to get availability on any Saturday dates in 2020. Unfortunately, there were none available. Our plan B was to find another alternative. My clients decided that the best night to celebrate would be on a Friday night in October.”
“A lot of Jordan’s friends are in the same position — every Saturday in the fall is already booked with Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. Some are doing Sundays. We’re glad we were able to get a Friday evening,” says Sokoloff.
After Katz lined up some possible Friday evening dates, her next calls were to entertainment company More Than Music, décor firm Diana Gould Ltd, photographer Denis Leon, and videographer and montage-maker Artisan NY. She says, “Luckily, this was one of the first Bat Mitzvahs that needed to be postponed, so all event partners were accommodating and available. Working with an amazing team of professionals makes it easier when challenges arise as we all want the same outcome at the end of the day. The party must go on!”
Sokoloff says of the change, “Thank God I have Amy Katz — when push came to shove and we had to postpone, it was a full day of checking with all of our vendors, and she was instrumental.” She notes that it was a rapidly changing time in terms of the pandemic in our country and that decisions about celebrations were becoming the reality. And she says, “Everyone at the same time was realizing they needed to postpone.”
The April 4 Bat Mitzvah party planning was well underway, with the Sokoloff family set to see their final table décor from the Gould team when the date needed to be postponed. The celebration, in the classic hues of black and white, silver and gold, will go on — on one fun Friday evening in October. Sokoloff says that the party will have “no theme, but a funky vibe.” They’re planning for a very fun evening of dancing all night. She adds, “We are very much looking forward to celebrating with family and friends.”
In fact, assuming all is up and running, the family is going to plan for a small temple service on the Thursday night before Jordan’s party, “We’d love for her to experience going up on the bimah and having the opportunity for a temple photoshoot,” says Sokoloff. Invitations for the first and postponed dates are from Julie Maloof Designs, while And That will be providing the personalized event swag.
Katz reminds us, in times like these, “Everyone needs to stay positive and focused as the situation will indeed get better. Having a new date in place to celebrate is something to look forward to, and this event will be even more meaningful than what was originally planned.”