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A Rite of Passage

Planning a meaningful mitzvah



photos by Peyton Matik/ Monin Photography Ethan Leinberger/ Ema Whittaker

Every year, a percentage of the middle-school crowd finds themselves on the bar/bat mitzvah circuit, as they commemorate the symbolic coming-of-age as an adult of their 13-year-old Jewish friends. It has become fashionable in the past 50 or so years to commemorate this milestone with celebrations of every variety.

Wilton residents Ethan Leinberger and Peyton Matik became bar and bat mitvahed at Norwalk’s Temple Shalom in March.  

The kids prepare well in advance, with at least two years of religious school preceding their bar/bat mitzvah, culminating in the study in Hebrew of their designated Torah portion known as the haftarah. They are also expected to lead the service and to recite a speech they’ve written.  

Leading up to their big day, each student engages in a service project. Ethan volunteered at the Open Door Shelter, the only emergency homeless shelter in Norwalk for children and parents. “They loved to see him arrive each week,” says Ethan’s mom Rachel, “and it really expanded his thinking beyond the sometimes protective walls of Wilton.”

Peyton participated in a Hats for the Homeless program and ended up making hats by hand, raising money, and collecting clothing from the community. She donated 73 hats, 26 scarves, and more. “Considering how harsh this past winter was,” she says, “I hope these items helped keep people warm, and spread the idea that people care about them. I learned that just doing something, no matter how big or small, is the important part.”

According to the website emitz.com, the average bar/bat mitzvah costs at least $15,000, with some costing far more. For instance, recently Nicki Minaj was paid an estimated $300,000 to perform a seven-song set for a Manhattan bar mitzvah. Many variables affect the bottom line. Both families profiled here took a relatively low-key approach, focusing their preparations on the religious significance.

For the kids themselves, the other most important element was the service. Says Ethan, “After working for several months to get to this day, it was really special that so many of my friends and family came from out of town to support me.” After Ethan’s service, guests boarded buses to travel to the Sheraton in Stamford to celebrate.

Peyton opted for an alternative way to commemorate her bat mitzvah. In addition to a post-ceremony luncheon at the Cobb’s Mill Inn in Weston, she and her family traveled to Israel to have a ceremony at Masada. “The trip was such a moving experience,” says her mother Boo, “that Peyton is ready to move to Israel for college.” 

Neither Wilton family used a party planner. “This was a labor of love, an intimate occasion with lots of personal touches,” says Boo.

“I am definitely not a party planner type, so it was a bit challenging,” says Rachel. “I used some bar mitzvah planning books and personal recommendations. I kept reminding myself that although I wanted it to be an amazing celebration, it was important to keep things in perspective. The meaning of the day was more important than the party.” 

Both families agree that this once-in-a-lifetime event passes in a blink of an eye and that what’s most important is to take the time to stop and focus on your child during his or her special day.


Manage the Mishegoss
Here are a few tips on navigating the mitzvah planning:

ATTIRE
The current “nightclub” trend for parties lends itself to “club casual/club cool” attire.   Most parents take their boys to shop at department stores like Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom, while others visit Men’s Wearhouse and Lubin’s in Scarsdale. Girls have a bit more fun picking out their outfits and often head to Wilton favorites B Chic or Snappy Gator or A Splash of Pink and Winged Monkey in Westport.

ENTERTAINMENT
The DJ, the MC, and “dance motivators” are key to the success of the party. Dttment.com or totalentertainment.com are options. Check advertisement in local magazine and guides. 

VENUES
Popular places to hold celebrations include the Delamar Hotel, Mora Mora in Sono, and the Inn at Longshore in Westport.

ONLINE RESOURCE
Mitzvahmarket.com is a one-stop-shopping destination, from mitzvah project ideas to an exhaustive list of vendors and everything in between, serving the tri-state area. 

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Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

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More information

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