When I grew up in the South, it was rare that girls had a bat mitzvah. In some cases, they celebrated a diminished version of the boy’s bar mitzvah. Much before then, in 1922, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism sponsored a bat mitzvah for his daughter with the first public U.S. ceremony.
B’nai mitzvah have come a long way since then. What’s most significant in showcasing three recent ceremonies and events here is that teens – both boys and girls – are finding meaning in their parshah interpretations and selecting and executing mitzvah projects to benefit others. The party, food and décor, surely, enhance the mix as well.
Blair Rubinger and Leah May Kogon have music and heart in their b’not mitzvah, but Morgan Miller adds another layer to the experience – her twin brother Jake. Their moms kvell about their special events.
Leah May Kogon’s Winter Wonderland
February 16, 2019, at Ahavath Achim Synagogue
Mom Laurie Kogon recounts:
Jaffe: Why Havdalah?
Kogon: The Havdalah bat mitzvah is one of our favorite services where you get the afternoon Torah reading service and Amidah, but you also get the very spiritual Havdalah service to prepare for the new week to come. What made this service different was that the synagogue shut off all the lights and had all 120 of Leah May’s friends surround her during Havdalah. She stood on a chair and was only illuminated by the Havdalah candle when she sang the blessings. It was very moving and beautiful.
Jaffe: Mitzvah project?
Kogon: Leah May chose Bosley’s Place Inc. as her mitzvah project, which is a nursery and sanctuary for neonatal and underage homeless and orphaned puppies. All of their puppies are hand-bottle-fed, so they are very loving towards humans, and they have been socialized from a very early age. Leah May and her dance team raised money for the organization, bottle-fed the puppies and made toys for them. In addition, Leah May made blankets for each of the puppies currently in their nursery and for many months to come.
Jaffe: Parsha interpretation?
Kogon: Leah May’s parasha was Ki Tissa. The most meaningful part for her was that it revealed how everyone had to give a half a shekel, no more, no less, no matter who they were. She believes that it showed that everyone is equal and has equal access to Hashem. It also shows that it takes at least two people to be part of a community. She tied it to her mitzvah project, that she was able to help so many more puppies by volunteering together with her dance team instead of doing all the work alone.
Jaffe: Décor/ theme?
Kogon: Winter Wonderland: Leah May’s Snow Ball
Jaffe: Describe the food. Yours was kosher — who catered and what were some menu items?
Kogon: A Kosher Touch, a division of Added Touch, catered the event. They did a delicious dairy menu of items ranging from four cheese ravioli with roasted butternut chunks in a brown butter and fried sage sauce, to zucchini rollatini stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach, to broken flakes of seared blackened salmon served over a bed of blended couscous and Israeli couscous with oven-dried balsamic tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, fresh-picked tarragon, saffron onions and lemon. For dessert we had Krispy Kreme doughnuts iced in event colors hanging from colorful ribbons from metal tree branches, chef-prepared and flambed assorted donut holes with a bananas Foster sauce and Good Humor ice cream pops.
Jaffe: Planning cycle?
Kogon: The event planning process took about two years, but that was mainly to secure our preferred vendors. Once we had them, the real planning was done within the year of the event. We liked:
Decorator and event planner – Isabel Bryan of BEE (best.event.ever)
Photographer – Steven Dewberry of SRD Photography
DJ – Jason Kagan of Kagan Entertainment
Jaffe: Looking back?
Kogon: I would slow down time so I could savor every moment even more!
Blair Rubinger Performs A Soulful Song
December 1, 2018, at Temple Sinai
Mom Hillarie Morris shares:
Jaffe: Why Havdalah?
Morris: It wasn’t because it was a bat mitzvah that we did that. We absolutely loved that beautiful service and had the same thing previously with her older brother.
Blair had a simple candle lighting, then she sang an uplifting Israeli song “One Day” by Matisyahu while playing keyboard.
We were really able to see her personality shine. Blair, a student at Sutton Middle School, has performed in “Hairspray” and various musicals.
Jaffe: Mitzvah project?
Morris: Blair wanted to bring awareness to suicide prevention. She sold homemade necklaces to raise money for Link Counseling [The Link Counseling Center].
Jaffe: Parsha interpretation?
Morris: Blair’s was Miketz. She spoke of putting the past behind and not dwelling on things one cannot change. Never feel trapped and move forward to the future.
Jaffe: Décor and theme?
Morris: Blair wanted a blooming flower wall with chandeliers.
Florist Jim White brought in floral arches leading to the wall. Our décor was very floral with twinkling crystal and fairy lights. Blair was involved in picking roses and hydrangeas.
Jaffe: Planning and food?
Morris: We love planning and started in 2015! We first hired caterer Chef Cary featuring different food stations because guests like choices. Blair selected the kids’ food: spring rolls, grilled cheese tomato soup shot glasses, spanakopita, crudites shots, latkes, a pasta bar, macaroni and cheese (loaded with carbs!) and a yummy dessert bar. We used Cohen Photographic Art for pics.
Jaffe: Do over, what would you change?
Morris: It goes by so fast. … Remember to take it all in. Four hours is a second. Above all, let the kids have input.
Twins and Robots Make for a Sensation
February 16, 2019, Temple Sinai and InterContinental Hotel
Mom Arden Miller remembers:
Jaffe: How did the twins work together?
Miller: Morgan and Jake led the entire service together and each chanted their four aliyot Torah portions, Haftorah, and gave their d’var Torah speeches separately. They conducted the entire service primarily in Hebrew. Morgan and Jake spoke a lot about how they were there for each other throughout the process in their speeches. They were each other’s biggest supporters throughout their lessons. When Morgan was feeling overwhelmed with all of the work involved, Jake would give her moral support and vice versa. They would practice their Torah portions for each other, and one would provide compliments or advice on how to improve to the other. They also practiced their speeches for each other many, many times.
They alternated mitzvah lessons alone and many together to work on prayers. They pushed each other to be their very best. Morgan didn’t want to let Jake down and vice versa. They stood together on the bimah for the service and did certain prayers alone and many together. They came up with their idea for a mitzvah project because they are both very into sports (soccer and basketball) and wanted to do something active yet meaningful.
Jaffe: Mitzvah project?
Miller: The project was done together, with our entire family and many friends. They chose to support the Emory Winship Cancer Institute. They participated in the Emory Winship Cancer Institute 5K Run in October to raise donations and awareness for the fight against cancer. They created a personal web page on the Emory Winship Cancer Institute’s 5K fundraising page, emailed family and friends, and raised almost $5,000.
This project was especially meaningful to Morgan and Jake because their great-uncle and great-grandfather succumbed to cancer. Morgan and Jake had an inspiring experience participating in the 5K race.
Jaffe: Parshah meaning?
Miller: Tetzaveh: Morgan’s was about the introduction of the ner tamid, the eternal light that now hangs in every single synagogue across the world.
Jake’s Torah portion was the description of the sacrificing of ram’s blood and the instructions to the priests to place the blood on the priest’s ear, foot and hands.
Miller: Club chic with an undertone of soccer. We had a lot of metallic silver, aqua blue and royal blue mixed with black. Guests felt as though they were at a New York club, and one said they felt as though they were at an EDM (Electronic Dance Music) concert with all of the special effects and décor.
The robots were AMAZING. The kids attending the party “went crazy” over the LED robots on stilts with the CO2 machines (those were a surprise for my kids!), the cool sparks fireworks we had on stage, the insane candy bar, and the DJ/stage.
Miller: InterContinental’s food and drinks were outstanding.
During the cocktail hour, we had a full sushi stand with a chef preparing rolls, grilled lamb chops, spinach phyllo, pita with baba ghanoush, and chicken tandoori satay.
During the meal, the pasta bar for adults had an amazing ravioli, … poke bar and tenderloin stations, and quesadillas were popular.
The kids also had “pigs” in a blanket (non-pork) and similar adult items customized to their tastes.
Bar included frozen colada drinks. Morgan and Jake LOVED the pink and blue kid’s colada drinks. We had a “dessert reveal” featuring cupcakes, cookies and rainbow-colored cake push pops. Then vanilla milkshakes with sprinkled rims and a donut on each straw served on custom acrylic trays with the event logos and LED lights, making them fun and visible on the dance floor. We also had an explosion cake for the Shabbat dinner at our home Friday night! The kids really loved that!
Miller: One full year! The very first thing was hiring event coordinator, Laura Maddox, Magnolia Celebrates. She put me in touch with all of the right vendors from the beginning, kept me on track and left no stone unturned. She also made sure we planned ahead and allowed me to enjoy the process without any stress. It was a seamless and enjoyable planning process.
Advice from all the moms: “Treasure every moment!”