As you veer into the Bar/Bat Mitzvah market, keep one very important thing in mind: they can be very challenging. On the same token they can also be very rewarding.When a Jewish boy (Bar Mitzvah) or girl (Bat or Bas Mitzvah) turns 13, a religious service is held at his or her Synagogue, usually on a Saturday morning. A celebration or Simcha follows the service. The celebration following is what this lesson will address. Keeping in the mind the regional differences that exist, I will address the Mitzvah performing from the perspective of how we do them in our market area in southern Arizona.
The Cocktail Hour
Usually there is a cocktail hour prior to the party. In our area the cocktail hour is typically held outside of the main room in the foyer. Sometimes the adults would like to be alone, allowing the kids to go into the main room. If this is the case, be prepared to keep the kids busy with games and dancing. Otherwise, if everyone is together in the foyer, there are numerous ways of entertaining the kids. A small stage set-up with karaoke is a great way to keep them occupied. You may also want to consider supplying the client with a face painter or balloonist. I have also seen inflatables brought in early in the evening for the kids to play with, but be advised you must have an ending time for these, otherwise you will be competing with the inflatables as the evening goes on.
As the guests enter the room, this is your opportunity for your first big impression. Upbeat music, lights going, dancers/party prompters on the dance floor urging the guests to join in, is a great combination to start the evening. After a few minutes we introduce the Mitzvah, usually alone without the family, with some high-energy music that is related to the theme. For instance “Rock & Roll Part 2” or “Get Ready For This” for a sports theme, a Broadway song for a performing arts theme, “Dance To The Music” for a music theme are just a few suggestions. The Mitzvah may simply walk into the room waving to the guests, or you might try something like a motorcycle entrance, or maybe have the Mitzvah carried in by family members, or simply escorted by your dancers. Crank up the energy by having everyone clapping their hands and cheering for the Mitzvah!
The traditional Jewish dance called the Hora is the next item on the list immediately after the introduction. I suggest either Bobby Morganstein’s “Hora Medley”, or if you can get a copy, Steven Seigel’s “Ultimate Hora Medley” is incredible. Do an announcement something like, “Ladies and Gentlemen we like to start (Mitzvah’s name) special night off right, so we’d like to invite everyone onto the dance floor for the Hora.” Start the song, crank up the lights, have the dancers assist and watch the fun begin. Be prepared also to give a little guidance if the guests are unsure what exactly to do. Have them form a circle or circles, holding the person’s hand next to them. You may also need to let them know which direction. “Outside circle to the left, inside circle to the right”, etc. If your client has purchased giveaways, now is a great time to pass some of them out to assist with the overall energy level.
After the Hora we may follow it with a few more dance songs, depending on the client’s wishes, but usually we prepare for the traditional prayers or blessings. The Motzi is the blessing over the Challah or bread. Sometimes the client may want to have a Havdalah service. This is a traditional prayer and singing that signifies the end of Shabbot, the holy day. It is done a short while after sundown. Typically, the Mitzvah will do the prayer(s) alone or with family members or a friend or cousin. Never be afraid to ask someone at your local Temple for assistance with the intricacies of Judism. They are usually very helpful in educating you, and this will only help you in projecting a confident and educated presence to your client.
During the meal we typically will try to play more of the adults requests. Motown, oldies, show tunes, Sinatra, etc., usually work well. However, be prepared for some complaints from the kids. Simply reassure them that their requests will be played very soon. In our area the most popular way of serving the meal is a plated meal for the adult and a buffet for the kids. The end result is that the kids are done with their meal in 10-20 minutes and the adults are still eating while the kids are anxious to do something “fun”.
1st Activity For The Kids
Because we try to allow the adult guests at our Bar/Bat Mitzvahs as much “adult time” as they can have, we normally will do a game or two and possibly a few dances after the kids finish eating while the adults are continuing their meal. While upbeat, high-energy can and does work, we try to keep a somewhat more subdued level of energy on the dance floor so the adults can have a nice meal and have conversation with their friends and/or family members. Therefore, a favorite in our area is the limbo. Everyone is familiar with the limbo so I won’t mention any more on it. Other favorites like Coke & Pepsi are also a big hit at anytime for the kids but, early on keep in mind that the more energy and noise the activity makes, the less time the adults have to enjoy their meal and adult conversation.
The candlelighting ceremony is a traditional activity done at Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. While it may differ in some areas, it typically involves the Mitzvah calling up 13 or 14 individuals or groups of individuals that have been important in their Jewish life. Normally the Great Grandparents are first, followed by Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, cousins, teachers, close friends of the family, school and/or Hebrew school friends, siblings and then parents.
Many times in our area the Mitzvah will also light a candle for him/herself. We will make an announcement like, “Ladies and Gentlemen at this time we are going to have our traditional candlelighting ceremony, so if we can ask for undivided attention, and welcome to the microphone, (Mitzvah’s name)!” From there, the Mitzvah will begin the candlelighting on the mic and normally alone. They usually start by reading a short paragraph, poem, or limerick about the person(s) that they are asking to come up and a light a candle. Many times the clients will want specific songs played as the individual(s) come up to light the candle. For instance, the Mitzvah may be talking about his or her favorite cousins and how they’ve always enjoyed surfing together. Then as they begin to walk up to light their candle, the DJ starts a song like, “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys at the hook of the song. For a group of Aunts, Uncles and Cousins you might play a song like, “We Are Family.”
This part of coordinating the event may, and many times does, take more time on your part. Your client may ask for assistance in coming up with 13 or 14 specific songs about a number of different topics. If they prefer, you might suggest a medley of popular Jewish songs that can be found on the Jewish Party CD by Bobby Morganstein.
The Rest of The Evening
Discovering the “magic” of what makes a successful Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration has been an ongoing learning experience over my last 20 years of performing. I will admit that it has been in the last 7 or 8 years that I finally figured out what works and what doesn’t.
From the very beginning of meeting with the client, (we will discuss this in more detail in a later lesson) I find out what their definition of a successful party is. Is it one that has adults and kids dancing together on the dance floor? Is it only the kids having a great time with the adults either watching or picking the kids up later? Or are the adults the focus of the entertainment, and the kids are bored to tears throwing paper wads at each other in the hallways?
For the most part, especially if you’re new to this market, centering the entertainment for everyone’s enjoyment is your best bet and more often than not very successful. Here-in lies your biggest challenge: How do you get the testosterone-ridden boys to mingle with the sweet girls, while at the same time you want Mom, Dad, the Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents on the dance floor too? Interaction is the key! Interactive dances and games are the sure way to involve everyone. Time-honored interactives and follow-alongs like the Stroll, the Slide, YMCA, and Shout are always enjoyed by all ages. Newer ones like Men In Black, Tongoneo, the Train go over just as well.
The answer to your next question is No. No, you’re not going to do interactive dances all night, but be prepared to do lots of them. Ten to fifteen is normal and will keep everyone happy. You can still do some rap for the kids at appropriate times, and throw in some oldies or Motown for the adults but think about your programming like any other show you do. At a wedding, do you play “Baby Got Back” right after a Sinatra song brings out all the 50-70 year olds? Conversely, you probably wouldn’t play “Come On Eileen” for a bunch of screaming 30-somethings followed by “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis. The same goes for Mitzvahs.
A few key suggestions:
Take advantage of having all the kids at the ice-cream bar by turning the music towards the adults.
Be ready for a game or kids’ dance right after dinner because the adults will still be eating when the kids are ready for fun.
When you do a game, try to make it enjoyable for everyone, whether or not they are involved in the game, by interjecting enthusiasm and humor.
Remind yourself and everyone on your performance staff to have fun and look like they are. Enthusiasm is contagious!
Never be afraid to ask your client what they have seen at other celebrations that they have liked or disliked.
Ask the child too. He or she may become one of your best salespeople by telling their friends what a great time they had at their Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
Remember, you need to balance what your client requests and what your experience with parties in general has taught you about reading a crowd. Spend the time to get to understand the traditions involved in the mitzvah celebration. It would certainly be worth your while to study up on the religious ceremony that the party celebrates. Ask questions ahead of time so that you can be prepared for the event. These events can be great fun for the guests and for you. Once you develop a good reputation in this market, you will be in demand again and again. It’s well worth doing the “homework” up front…it will pay off!
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