Will you be in Israel this Passover?  Do you know someone who will? Looking for an amazing Chol Ha’Moed activity for the whole family?

Get some great scenic exercise, and help disadvantaged young women at the same time!

We hope you will take advantage of an amazing new opportunity to raise funds for Lev LaLev – while touring Israel and having the time of your life with your friends and family.

Our partner Cycle for Unity (www.cycleforunity.org) has organized two amazing Chol HaMoed cycling adventures:

Cycling Adventure #1: Blaze the Burma Road – Thursday, March 28

Cycling Adventure #2: No Place Like Northern Israel – Sunday, March 31

What makes this family activity different from all other family activities? Riders can raise funds for Lev LaLev with every kilometer they ride! 

Space is limited and reservations must be made in advance, so be sure to register today: http://cycleforunity.org/apply/

You may be surprised to find that "becoming bar/bat mitzvah" happens automatically when a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13 and a girl, age 12. The ceremony that today occupies center stage is actually a historical afterthought, with evidence of observance starting only from sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries.

Unlike boys, there isn't as long a history of coming-of-age rituals for girls* and young women are not bound by age-old traditions like young Jewish men. An early bat mitzvah usually followed the same format as a bar mitzvah, however, because women are not traditionally required to perform many of the more public mitzvot (commandments), an authoritarian ceremony made little sense. Therefore, as observant women have become more Judaically educated, they are eager to create meaningful rituals unique to a bat mitzvah.

celebrating with a women only theatre perfomance
Since the bat mitzvah is still a relatively new idea that continues to evolve, the modern bat mitzvah varies depending on your congregation. Still, young Jewish women have more freedom to express themselves at a bat mitzvah. Without a binding centuries-old tradition to follow, you can be innovative and creative in shaping the ceremony and celebration.

Some girls choose to observe the occasion by giving talks either on the Torah portion or some personally meaningful aspect of their involvement in Judaism. Another influence on the development of a bat mitzvah within Orthodoxy is the women's prayer group.

Since some Jewish sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all the mitzvot, equal to them all combined, more and more bat mitzvah girls worldwide are now choosing to celebrate with a tzedakah project; something to benefit those less fortunate. Carrying on the tradition of chesed, loving-kindness displayed by the Jewish foremothers, who shaped the course of Jewish history; this new tradition has even had an impact on the modern bar mitzvah ceremony!

Your bat mitzvah experience is even more special when you enrich the lives of others! Jewish tradition teaches that we deepen our happiness when we share our joyous celebrations with people in need. This is especially important as you prepare for a bat mitzvah, when you become an adult and accept responsibility for fulfilling the important mitzvah of tzedakah.

There are so many options to select or create a project that matches your own personal skills and interests. One may elect to give a portion of gift money to a charity which reflects these interests. Another wonderful way to share the joy of your bat mitzvah is to donate the flowers, centerpieces, extra baked goods and food to a hospital, homeless and/or children's shelter, senior home, or other recipient. They will be delighted, and you will truly be performing a mitzvah.

American bat mitzvah girls celebrate in Israel
Put the mitzvah in bat mitzvah…Lev LaLev joins hands with bat mitzvah girls, Just Like YOU! The Torah commands us to care for the orphan and to never forget our Holy Land…join hands with bat mitzvah girls from around the globe in planning your very own Mitzvah Project to support orphaned girls in Israel!

Together we can help you brainstorm ideas to start your journey as a Jewish adult with a meaningful contribution that fits your personality and favorite hobbies. Contact Sheena Levi at sheena@levlalev.com or call 1-800-630-1106. Learn more about what we do: www.levlalev.com/batmitzvah

* By the 14th century, sources mention a boy being called up to the Torah for the first time on the Sabbath coinciding with or following his 13th birthday. By the 17th century, boys were also reading Torah and delivering talks, often on talmudic learning, at an afternoon seudat mitzvah (ritual meal). Today the speech, usually a commentary on the weekly Torah portion, generally takes place during the morning service.

Historians discovered evidence that families began honoring their daughters with a special meal for their 12th birthday in countries such as France, Italy, and Germany only about 200 years ago. Since girls physically mature at an earlier age than boys, twelve, not thirteen, was the age chosen for a Jewish girl's passage into adulthood. However, it wasn't until 1922 that the first bat mitzvah in North America was celebrated, but most Jewish girls did not have an opportunity to become a bat mitzvah in a synagogue ceremony until the 1950s, or later.

Bat Mitzvah girl performing the mitzvah of hafrashat challah
The True Meaning 
Bat Mitzvah literally means "daughter of commandment." The word "bat" means "daughter." The word "mitzvah" is Hebrew for "commandment."

Traditionally, the term "bat mitzvah" refers to when a Jewish girl reaches the age of 12. She becomes a "bat mitzvah" and is recognized by Jewish tradition as now being morally and ethically responsible for her decisions and actions.

However, a bat mitzvah is not a full-fledged adult yet, Jewish tradition only recognizes this age as the point when a child can differentiate between right and wrong and hence can be held accountable for her actions. The training wheels are off and the journey into becoming a mature, responsible adult has begun.

She is also now responsible for performing Mitzvot (plural for mitzvah) just like any adult woman. These include, but are not limited to, lighting Shabbat candles, daily prayer, fasting on Yom Kippur, and performing acts of chesed (loving-kindness) and tzedakah (charity). 

American bat mitzvah girl gifts Tehillim (psalms) to Israeli bat mitzvah girl
The Modern Manifestation
Today, "bat mitzvah" also refers to a religious ceremony that accompanies a girl’s coming of age. Often a celebratory party will follow the ceremony. This popular bar/bat mitzvah custom is not required; in fact, it is a relatively modern innovation. The elaborate ceremonies and receptions that are commonplace today were unheard of as recently as a century ago. Therefore, the specifics of the ceremony and party vary widely, especially in the case of a bat mitzvah.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jewish communities began marking when a girl became a bat mitzvah with a special ceremony almost identical to the bar mitzvah ceremony for boys (tefillin, reading from the Torah, leading services, etc.). However, there is no uniform model unique for the bat mitzvah ceremony yet, so the tradition continues to evolve.

Back to the Roots
The bat mitzvah is a milestone that marks the beginning of a lifetime of Jewish learning, growth, and participation in the Jewish community. 

In recent years, it has become common practice to donate a portion of any monetary gift to a charity of the bat mitzvah girls choosing. Some are now even choosing to devote their entire bat mitzvah theme to doing a “chesed” project, a project to benefit others. Some synagogues and schools are following suit and are now requiring their students of bar and bat mitzvah age to perform acts of kindness-chesed, and tikun olam-healing the world, as part of their ceremony preparations.

The concept of leaving the world a better place, by utilizing your unique talents, is becoming the modern focus for Jewish adults, and a bat mitzvah is the perfect age to start focusing on humanity’s responsibility for one another.

18 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Set your Bat Mitzvah date with a Synagogue
  • Discuss the type of celebration the Bat Mitzvah girl would like to have
  • Determine a budget by identifying, as a family, the top 3 priorities (Venue, Food, Music, Entertainment, Décor, Mitzvah Project, etc.)
  • Estimate the number of Bat Mitzvah guests you expect and book your reception hall and caterer
  • Book your photographer and videographer
12 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Determine your Bat Mitzvah Torah and Haftarah portion
Alternatively, if your Bat Mitzvah falls around a Jewish Holiday you may want to learn about the special customs  and readings of that Holiday, ex: Megillat Esther on Purim
  • Start Bat Mitzvah lessons
If necessary, find a tutor
  • Begin thinking about potential Mitzvah Projects
If you need help brainstorming ideas contact Lev LaLev’s Sheena Levi at sheena@levlalev.com
  • Meet with your Rabbi, Rebbitzin or Cantor to understand the Bat Mitzvah process at your synagogue and answer any questions you may have
  • Begin to work on your guest list
It may be helpful to separate the list into “Must Haves” and “Nice to Haves”
  • Check for Event Planners, if you are using one
  • Pick your Bat Mitzvah theme and color scheme
  • Book the band or DJ
Consider booking alternate entertainment such as magicians, caricaturists, virtual reality games, photo favors, etc. 

8 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Start learning your Torah portion, Holiday customs and/or what it means to be, and what your responsibilities will be as, a Jewish woman
  • Start coordinating your Mitzvah Project event, fundraiser, craft project, etc.
If you need help contact Lev LaLev’s Sheena Levi at sheena@levlalev.com
  • Decide on Bat Mitzvah table centerpieces
Talk to florists or balloon artists about prices and designs for the synagogue service, the Kiddush table, and for table centerpieces
Consider Lev LaLev’s table cards to showcase your meaningful mitzvah project to your guests: http://www.levlalev.com/TableCardCenterPiece
  • Start looking at Bat Mitzvah invitation designs and prices
6 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • If necessary, book hotel block for out-of-town guests
  • Start shopping for any special Bat mitzvah clothing
    • Consider a Bat Mitzvah synagogue dress and possibly an evening outfit for a formal Bat Mitzvah celebration
    • Mom and dad, brothers and sisters may want new Bat Mitzvah clothing as well
    • Consider sponsoring a new outfit for an Israeli orphan girl’s Bat Mitzvah day too: www.levlalev.com/sponsorbatmitzvah
5 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Order your Bat Mitzvah invitations
  • Order any special imprinted yarmulkes, benchers, etc.
  • Order Bat Mitzvah favors
  • Order or design your Bat Mitzvah sign-in board and guest book
  • Consider integrating your mitzvah project into your décor or asking the organization you chose to send some of their materials to showcase at your Bat Mitzvah
    • You may even wish to request that someone from the organization come and speak at your event
  • Select pictures and music to use in your Bat Mitzvah video

3 Months before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Finalize your Bat Mitzvah guest list
  • Make a hotel packet for out-of-town guests
  • Make the final selections on Bat Mitzvah clothing and accessories
  • Have a completely assembled invitation weighed to ensure correct postage
    • Buy stamps for mailing Bar mitzvah invitations and for RSVP cards
  • Host your Mitzvah Project fundraiser, event or perform the Tikun Olam volunteer work of your choice
6-8 Weeks before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah
  • Mail your invitations
  • Send your Bat Mitzvah song list to the DJ/band
  • Develop and edit, or order, your special Bat Mitzvah video
  • Make appointments with florist/balloonist and place order  
  • Start developing your Bat Mitzvah speech  
1 Month before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Have final fittings done for Bat Mitzvah clothing 
  • Make hair stylist and manicure appointments 
  • Finalize your speeches and thank you’s and keep practicing them and your portion!  

2-3 Weeks before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Choose people for aliyot and honors during the service 
  • Do Bat Mitzvah guest seating arrangements and send them to the reception hall 
  • Make sure arrangements are complete with venue, caterer, music, entertainment, décor etc. 
  • Send final instructions to Bat Mitzvah photographer and videographer 
  • Go over the event schedule with your synagogue and/or venue  
  • Order food for the Kiddush  
  • Pay all synagogue fees 
1 Week before the Bat Mitzvah
  • Take formal Bat Mitzvah family pictures
  • Meet with Bat Mitzvah caterer for final guest count
  • Make arrangements to get your guests from the airport to the hotel
The Bat Mitzvah Day
  • Relax, have fun and enjoy your accomplishments!
1 Month after the Bat Mitzvah
  • Complete your thank you cards 
  • Join Lev LaLev’s Beyond Bat Mitzvah club and learn how to continue the inspiration from your Bat Mitzvah into your new life as a Jewish Woman! http://www.levlalev.com/BeyondBatMitzvah

I am writing this post on my laptop in Netanya on February 18, 2013; just after returning from a wonderful evening celebrating with the ladies of Lev LaLev in Israel. I wanted to make sure to share my experience with you right away…

The gala bat mitzvah was held in a brand new hall in Netanya, ours was the first event ever to be held there in fact!

The evening started off with an appetizer spread of salads and bread and hot stations of chicken, meatballs, moroccan couscous, and thai noodles. The 19 bat mitzvah girls from the Home where announced one by one to take the stage in front of their adoring fans. Each girl wore beautiful custom matching pale pink gowns, but with their style added. Some gowns had sequins, other silk rosettes, some had both. Each had their hair done in gorgeous updos or styled in intricate ringlets. They looked like princesses!

Then the 3 Lev LaLev bat mitzvah girls: Rachel Piontnica, Sarina Hilowitz, and Jemma Lifschitz, who helped sponsor the gala as part of their mitzvah projects, joined their new friends on stage too!

There was a special candle lighting ceremony where the girls spoke in groups, after which each bat mitzvah girl received a gift of a beautifully wrapped new siddur, and tehillim, each with a special message written inside, from Rachel Piontnica.

I spoke to the guests, and made sure to extend mazel tov wishes on behalf of the entire Lev LaLev family from around the world. The girls were so thankful! Many came up to me afterwards to say thank you in person, and to pass on their thanks to you! They also wished a mazel tov and gave a hug to the mitzvah project girls each time they walked by them.

Next there was a musical performance and dance while the guests ate the main course. No one went home hungry! With a first course of fish and mashed potatoes, followed by rice and a choice of chicken or beef, finished off by a dessert of sorbet and fruit. The performances were so professional, and the costumes so expertly made, you would have thought the girls had months, rather than the 10 days they actually used to prepare; it never ceases to amaze me to see what these girls can accomplish together!

Then they played the most amazing video of all the girls at the Home singing: “We are the world. We are the children,” which was recorded during their own private studio session, and video footage showed the girls playing and laughing at the Home, and dancing together along the beautiful shores of Netanya. It was such a beautiful film and was a wonderful way to lead into the joyous dancing that ensued.

The girls pulled everyone into the circle to join in the enthusiastic dancing. Everyone was made to feel at home and welcome, and all I could see was a sea of smiling faces as the bus pulled up to bring the girls back to the Children’s Home, though I’m sure many were too excited to sleep!

Thank you all so much for making this night possible, it was such a special evening that I know I, and the girls are the Home, will always treasure.

Mazel Tov!

Sheena Levi

P.S. Please enjoy this video of photos and clips from the Bat Mitzvah Gala.