Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

Bat Mitzvah Holding the Torah

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are exciting events at Congregation Etz Chaim.  Typically, we host two or three per year and specialize in customizing Bar or Bat Mitzvahs to fit each family.

These are not definitive rules, but rather basic guidelines to get you started. Here is a general idea of what needs to be done, what you can expect of us and what we expect of you.

Setting the Date

There are several factors that families may consider when setting the date for a bar/bat mitzvah.

  • Traditionally, a Bat Mitzvah takes place after a girl turns twelve and a half and a Bar Mitzvah around the time of a boy’s thirteenth birthday. Birthdays are calculated according to the Hebrew calendar, which differs slightly from the daily American calendar. Your child’s teacher or tutor could assist you in this calculation.
  • Some students choose a date that corresponds to a specific weekly Torah portion or Haftorah reading that is especially meaningful to them. A teacher or tutor could assist you in identifying the readings for specific dates.
  • Some families choose a date which will be convenient for those who will be traveling to attend. Holiday weekends can be considered a plus if people need extra travel time or a minus if traffic will be heavy or hotels in the seacoast communities are crowded.
  • You may set the date as soon as you wish, but we recommend that you set it no later than 6 months ahead of time.

When you are ready to set the date, please call Beth or David Strassler at 967-5833.

This phone call is important to insure that are your date does not conflict with any other synagogue activities.

Who will lead the service?

As we do not have a rabbi, many congregants allow our synagogue president, David Strassler, to officiate the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service.  If a rabbi is preferred, many have called Scott Rapaport to officiate. He is a trained cantor from Bangor who is familiar with our synagogue because he has led the High Holiday services each year for many years. Scott also holds a special affection for our congregation.

Many families have commented that he is flexible, accommodating to work with, and makes the service interesting and memorable for everyone in attendance on the special day. He is sensitive to the mixture of people that often attend a Bar/Bat Mitzvah and is adept at putting everyone at ease.

You may get his number or other suggestions from Beth or David. There is a fee involved.

OR you may choose another religious leader with whom your family has a relationship.

What about a tutor?

Usually, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidate meets weekly with a private tutor for between six months to a year before the event. How much time is needed depends on how much your child wants to learn and lead on the day of the event.

Many of our Hebrew School teachers are capable and willing to serve as tutors. Please discuss the fees with the individual tutor. If fees are a financial concern, some tutors have been known to reduce their fees substantially.

What will your child do during the service?

When becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a child leads different parts of the weekly Shabbat morning service. Your child will work with his/her tutor to decide which parts to lead from any combination of the following:

  • Blessings before and after the Torah reading: The same prayers are read at each service before and after the Torah reading. These are important because they are the prayers that your child may be called upon to read when attending future Shabbat or High Holiday services.
  • Blessings before and after the Haftorah portion: The same prayers are read at each service before and after the Haftorah reading.
  • Haftorah Reading: There is a scheduled reading from the Prophets that is unique for each Shabbat service. If your child chooses to do a reading in Hebrew, then this is what s/he will practice.
  • D’var Torah: This is a discussion of the meaning of the Haftorah and/or Torah readings for that day. It is an opportunity for your child to demonstrate an understanding of the lessons to be learned in modern life from the readings.
  • Prayers: There are several prayers that your child is familiar with from Hebrew School, and may decide which ones to lead. These include the Shema, the V’ahavta, Ein Keiloheinu, and Adon Olam. You may also ask younger siblings to lead one or more of these.
  • Torah Reading: The torah reading is divided into several sections and most of it will be chanted by the leader of the service. Sometimes, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah candidate decides to learn the last portion (the Maftir) to chant from the torah.

Personalizing the service

Bar Mitzvah at the BemaYou have a broad range of possibilities of how to personalize the service. There are usually a few “extras” added to the service on the day of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It is important that you, your child, and whoever is leading the service discuss this ahead of time.

These extras are opportunities for your child and family members to receive extra special attention. None of these are required and families choose whichever fit their needs and style.

  • Presentation of the tallis: In the beginning of the service, a special family member may be chosen to come forward to present the Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidate with his/her new tallis. There is a special blessing and usually some words are also spoken.
  • Aliyahs or honors: This is an opportunity for family members or friends to come up to the bimah for a short part of the service. These may include speaking, such as reciting the prayers before each section of the Torah is read, or not include speaking, such as opening & closing the doors of the Ark.
  • Speeches and Presentations: After the Haftorah reading, family members or special friends may take the opportunity to come forward and say a few words about the candidate. Representatives from the synagogue and the Hebrew School will present special gifts. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidate usually gives a thank you speech.
  • Programs for the service: You may choose to print programs for the service. These may be used to welcome the participants, outline the parts of the service, tell the names of those receiving honors, explain the meaning of the service, and/or print the Haftorah.
  • Special yarmulkes: Yarmulkes printed with the candidate’s name and date of Bar/Bat Mitzvah may be ordered from the Israel Book Shop at 1-800-323-7723. There is a variety of colors and styles, and a minimum number per order.

How long will the service last?

The service can last anywhere from two to three and a half hours, depending on how many “extras” you decide to add and how many additional prayers you include. The length should be discussed with whomever will lead it.

When should the service begin?

Depending on what time you want to end and how long you estimate the service will take, you can determine your starting time. Families have previously used 8:30, 9, 9:30 or 10 o’clock.


Photography during the service is discouraged, but not prohibited. If used, it must be discreet and without flashbulbs. Many families choose to go to the synagogue in the days preceding the event to take special photos in the sanctuary.

After the service

Usually a kiddush is offered immediately after the Saturday morning service. However, the type and size is entirely up to you.
The basic foods of the kiddush are wine and challah. Some families also choose to offer a luncheon consisting of fish, bagels, cheeses, salads, beverages and desserts. Sometimes hot food items, such as blintzes or kugels are included. Other families choose to offer only drinks, in addition to the wine and challah.

Using the Synagogue Kitchen

The kitchen in the synagogue is Dairy Kosher.
This means that all food preparation in the kitchen MUST follow the Kitchen Use Guidelines. Guidelines are posted in the kitchen or you could ask one of our Board Members or teachers to assist you.
Included in the guidelines is the statement that non Kosher food or non Kosher dishes are allowed in the Social Hall, but neither the food nor the dishes may be brought into the synagogue kitchen for preparation or cleaning.

Inviting the Community

Your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a very special occasion, commemorating his/her acceptance into the larger Jewish family. In keeping with the significance of the event, we strongly recommend that you invite your child’s Hebrew School peers and their families to the service so it may be shared by those who have been part of the process leading up to the event. Invited Hebrew School students need not feel obligated to bring a present.

Whether or not you invite Hebrew School peers to any other party during your weekend celebration is your personal choice.

We also ask that you invite the officers and/or board members of the synagogue to the service. In fact, some families have mailed a one page flyer to invite the entire synagogue membership. Arnold, Beth, or David could assist you with any names and/or addresses.

Fees for Synagogue Use

Fees for using the synagogue for the morning service are nominal and are intended to cover the cost for cleaning before and after the event. The cost is reduced for synagogue members, so you may want to consider membership before the event. Some families have preferred to do their own cleaning and in some of these cases, the cleaning fees have been waived.
Please call Beth or David Strassler for the fee structure.Another Bat Mitzvah holding the Torah

Saturday Night Party

An afternoon or evening party is sometimes planned and offered by invitation. This is entirely by personal family choice.
The social hall of the synagogue is available for such a party for a modest additional fee.

Friday Night Family Service

Some families choose to begin their celebration with a Friday night family service. Our congregation usually has an informal service that involves more contemporary singing and stories. You may arrange to have the leader of the Saturday morning service lead the service, or ask David Strassler.

Resources for Bar/Bat Mitzvvah Preparation in the Samuel Osher Memorial Library

There are several books and videos available in our synagogue library which you may find helpful in your planning or thinking process:

  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah Basics: A Practical Family Guide to Coming of Age Together, edited by Cantor Helen Leneman.
  • Putting G-d on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin
  • The Second Jewish Catalogue, Chapter One: Life cycle: Bar/Bat Mitzvah, pgs. 61-81. By Sharon Strassfeld & Michael Strassfeld.
  • The Discovery (with educational guidebook)–58 minutesIn the middle of Bar Mitzvah preparations, twelve year old David begins to be plagued by concerns about the upcoming celebration and doubts about his Jewish identity. Teachers, friends and family members try to tackle his many questions as he comes to better understand his Jewish heritage and what it means for him.
  • A Secret Space–80 minutesDavid Goodman, the son of determinedly secular parents, stumbles into an abandoned synagogue being reclaimed by a group searching for Jewish meaning in their lives. To the dismay of his parents, he becomes increasingly interested in his Jewish roots, joins the community and begins to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah.
  • Bar Mitzvah in Israel–37 minutesAlex is given a wonderful Bar Mitzvah present—a trip to Israel! Upon his arrival, he meets his cousin Guy, who is about to become Bar Mitzvah. The boys tour the country, meeting a diverse group of people all along the way, and the story culminates with a joyous Bar Mitzvah celebration at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
  • The Journey: Bar Mitzvah–35 minutesLeningrad, 1939. A Russian Jewish youth is about to turn thirteen and a visiting American, not terribly knowledgeable as a Jew, is placedin the uncomfortable position of preparing him for his Bar Mitzvah. They learn together.

Kosher Food Policy at Congregation Etz Chaim

Kitchen Use This is a Dairy Kosher Kitchen.

Foods which may be brought into the kitchen or put in the refrigerator are:

  • Fresh Fruits, Fresh Vegetables, Fresh Herbs, Eggs, or Fresh Fish
  • No meat of ANY kind, not even Kosher meat
  • Labeled with a Kosher food symbol, such as AND marked Pareve or Dairy

This also means:

  • Only synagogue kitchen utensils, pots and pans stored in this kitchen are used in the synagogue kitchen.
  • All cleaning supplies are marked with a Kosher food symbol. (dishwashing liquids, scouring powders, sprays and polishing pastes)
  • All cooking utensils, pots and pans which are added to the kitchen supplies must be purchased new or must not have been used for one year.

Social Get Togethers

Because we wholeheartedly support community gatherings here in the synagogue, we ask that foods be prepared in the synagogue kitchen using the kitchen utensils, pots & pans AND all Kosher ingredients.
When this is considered impossible and a social event includes non-Kosher food, then the non-Kosher food may be brought into the Social Hall, if the following rules are observed:

  • Non-Kosher food, utensils or containers may not be in the kitchen.
  • No meat of any kind is included (not even Kosher meat).
  • No dishes or utensils from the synagogue kitchen may be used.
  • No containers or utensils brought into the synagogue may be washed in the synagogue kitchen.