10 Torah-‘inspired’ bar/bat mitzvah themes

The contemporary bar or bat mitzvah has become quite a production, but you can still create a spectacle that’s connected to substance. You can even let the Torah portion inspire you, so that your inappropriate excess is also informative and educational. (Well, sort of.)

Bereshit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

You and your guests can frolic like the party animals of the first week of creation by experiencing that night-to-morning transition (“and then there was evening, and then there was morning”) to the beat of trance and house music at dawn with a Daybreaker dance party. Be sure to serve coffee instead of cocktails. 

Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

Siblings (in this case, Jacob and Esau) battle for a birthright. Through a persuasive costume, a humble protagonist becomes a hero, then a refugee, running into an uncertain future. Celebrate Toldot’s teen dystopian literature DNA by identifying reception tables as “Hunger Games” districts, based on guests’ professions and socio-economic status, or “Divergent” factions, based on their personalities. The former facilitates networking, the latter will identify how people attack the smorgasbord.

Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1)

If you’re always misspelling “dessert” and “desert,” this Exodus-themed party will cure you of that in no time. Bring your guests to an isolated, sandy area near Palm Springs, spend 40 minutes wandering through the desert — remember, no one is allowed to ask for directions — and then enter “The Promised Land” (an air-conditioned hotel lobby). For dessert, serve bundt cakes shaped like Mount Sinai. 

Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

The infamous golden calf was made of melted-down donated jewelry and valuables. It’s the perfect excuse to collect all the money and jewelry you receive, and trade it in for a ticket to Comic-Con to see your modern-day idols. 

Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

This portion about keeping kosher can become a learning opportunity featuring Los Angeles’ finest food trucks. If you include a dairy truck and a meat truck, be sure to separate them with a giant challah mechitzah

Behar (Leviticus 25:1-26:2)

Behar starts with shemitah, the injunction to let the land rest every seventh year; it’s time to identify one annoying friend from your guest list and ask them to “give it a rest” this year. Alternately, forget the text and focus on the work, life and style of comedian and original co-host of “The View,Joy Behar. 

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

The red heifer was a mystical animal with the power to purify the ritually impure and impurify the ritually pure. More important, it provides the perfect excuse to celebrate with a bucking, oscillating mechanical bull. (Let guests know, though, that by touching it they may have to leave the “camp”; be sure to provide coffee, snacks and Netflix to prevent excessive complaining.)

Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

A king who sets out on a journey with a donkey that periodically speaks to him is obviously the narrative inspiration for “Shrek,” so take the whole gang to Universal Studios to experience meaning, Hollywood style. Start with Transformers: The Ride, clearly a metaphor for the angry transition to adolescence … but with alien robots.

Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11)

This portion celebrates the Israelites and their connections: “For what great nation has a god so close at hand as is the Lord whenever we call?” See? It’s all about who you know. So, who do you know? Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida, Snoop Dogg, Beyonce, Madonna and Donald Trump have all appeared at bar and bat mitzvah celebrations — it never hurts to ask.

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

Full of more slaying, fleeing and siege-laying than an episode of “Game of Thrones,” this portion will make you want to embrace the best of the HBO series. Mark reception tables as “House Stark” and “House Lannister,” and suggest that instead of gifts, guests bring sworn oaths of loyalty. Extra points to blonde women who show up with dragon eggs (even if they’re Judith Leiber clutches). 

Flowers Make the Wedding Bloom

Flowers are often a big part of anyone’s wedding day, from the bouquets the bride and her attendants carry to the chuppah decorations and the table centerpieces at the reception hall. Many times the flowers are what the guests remember about the wedding (unless a minor disaster strikes). Deciding which flowers to use for what arrangements, though, can be a dizzying experience, thanks to the availability of different types and colors of flowers at all times of the year.

Choosing Flowers

“Using flowers that are in season will help keep the costs down,” says Chris Kuhlman of Tioga Gardens in Owego, N.Y. “Many flowers are in season all the time, as flowers come from all over world.” Some, he said, are very expensive regardless of the time of year, such as lily of the valley and calla lilies, because flowers like that are not used as much, so the supply and demand cost is higher.

Florist Pat Van Tuyl said, “What seems to be popular these days are the Asiatic lilies, the Oriental lilies, the Stargazer lilies, which are pink, and the Alstroeneria lilies, which come in yellows, lavenders, whites, pinks and reds,” he said. “Roses are still real popular too.”

Good choices for spring weddings, Kuhlman said, include tulips, irises, daffodils and other bulb flowers. In the summer and early fall, though, those aren’t such good choices, even thought they may still be available, because the quality won’t be as good, and those flowers can’t handle the heat as well.

For mothers’, grandmothers’ and aunts’ corsages, sweetheart roses, cymbidium orchids and gardenias are still popular, although Van Tuyl notes that the last are often delicate, turning brown if brushed against.


Using similar-looking flowers throughout the wedding ties everything together, Scott MacLennan, of MacLennan’s Flowers, noted. “We coordinate the flowers with the bridesmaids’ dresses and the bride’s bouquet, and carry that through to the reception,” he said.

Kuhlman thinks there should be some coordination between the flowers used in the ceremony and the reception. For example, the bridal bouquet and synagogue flowers may use softer or fewer colors, while at the reception the colors go brighter, he says. “Going from an afternoon ceremony to an evening reception might also include a different look for the flowers.”

Some brides do ask for pew decorations, MacLennan notes, “depending on how elaborate the wedding is and the finances, who’s paying for it.” Flower arrangements for the wedding can cost $100 to $3,000, again “depending on whether 50 people are coming and the reception’s at the Legion Hall, or if 300 guests will be attending the reception at the country club,” he said.

Another thing Van Tuyl sees is a move away from table centerpieces at the receptions. “They were hard to hold conversations around,” he said. Instead, there is now a new container which has a large base and a center-holder that puts the flowers up 32-36 inches, enabling conversation to flow more freely at the tables.

Floral Wedding Themes

A lot of times, Kuhlman said, “We do a theme all in one color. White can be a very striking color visually, and we do the bouquets and decorations with some greenery” for a splash of color. For instance, “a New Year’s theme could be done all in silver with accents,” he says.

Basically, the theme depends on what mood the bride wants to create — classic and subtle or a little wild, Kuhlman says. “If they want a taste of glitz we can do that, and it can be fun. Often, though, we do something elegant, not so bright or glitzy. All weddings have some look, for instance, Victorian or more modern, or even tropical, which can be dramatic and bold.

“Sometimes,” Kuhlman continued, “we’ve done harvest themes in the fall. That look can be very gorgeous, with fruits put in with the flowers in the centerpieces.”

Bridesmaids’ Bouquets and More

If a bride wants her bridesmaids’ dresses to match their bouquets, Kuhlman stated that he needs to see the color of the dress. “Often there needs to be some contrast,” he said. “If it’s subtle, we can do shades of flowers similar to the dress. But if you have a little contrast the flowers show up better in the pictures.”

The attendants’ bouquets really should complement, rather than match, their dresses, Van Tuyl states. “Brides come in and try to match the flowers to the dresses, but then they won’t show up well in photos,” he said. “For instance, if the dress is blue, then maybe a few blue flowers could be used mixed in with pinks and whites, which will look much better.”

The Bride’s Bouquet

Many brides these days are having two bridal bouquets made, one to walk with and keep for themselves and the other to throw.

“We’ve been doing toss bouquets for a long time,” Kuhlman said. “Usually the toss bouquet is a miniature version of the main one. The bouquets do keep for a while, and now flowers can be preserved through freeze-drying. People can go to Precious Petals for that. Some flowers freeze-dry better than others, though,” he warned.

Van Tuyl said he will often include a free, smaller throw bouquet for the wedding, as many brides today want to keep their bouquets and have them freeze-dried.

The Consultation

MacLennan said the first consultation could take up to an hour and should be three to six months ahead of the wedding date, “after the dresses are chosen and a color picked.” There might be a few other times where the flower order is fine-tuned, based on the number of attendants, the number of tables at the reception and how many people have RSVPed. “Sometimes the bride will call with a question or we’ll call her with a question, and then the answer needs to be researched,” he said.

For consulting on the flower arrangements to be used in any wedding, Van Tuyl said he needed at least three weeks’ notice, although more time is welcome.

“For instance, if the wedding is in October, they should come in during July or August, which provides plenty of time. If they want gardenias, calla lilies and others, I need three weeks to special order the flowers. It usually only takes [about] an hour to discuss the wedding orders,” he noted, adding that he does have a book with photographs of different arrangements for couples to look through for inspiration.

Overall, the choice of flowers comes down to what the bride wants, what her tastes are, what colors she likes and what look she wants to create, Kuhlman said. “I need to meet with the bride, the parents and the groom to find out what they like.”

Jewish Themes Dominate Oscars

Rarely has Jewish talent and Jewish themes received as much recognition as at the last Academy Awards of this century.

“Life Is Beautiful,” the tragicomic fable set partially in a concentration camp, earned best actor and best foreign film Oscars for its star and director, Roberto Benigni.

The irrepressible Italian actor-director, who leaped over rows of seats to reach the stage, dedicated the foreign film award to those “who gave their lives so we can say life is beautiful.”

Benigni was the first filmmaker to direct his own Oscar-winning performance since 1948, when Laurence Olivier won the acting award for “Hamlet.”

The best actress award went to the heroine of “Shakespeare in Love,” Gwyneth Paltrow, who counts 33 rabbis among her ancestors on her father’s side. The rabbis were members of the Paltrowitch dynasty, which originated in southwest Russia.

Steven Spielberg was named best director for the graphic World War II saga, “Saving Private Ryan.”

“The film is really an extension of my earlier ‘Schindler’s List,'” Spielberg said in a recent interview. “It honors the men whose bravery ended the war in 1945, rather than in 1947, when no Jew would have been left alive in Europe.”

The biggest non-Jewish winner at Sunday’s ceremony was the Bard of Avon. “Shakespeare in Love” won best picture and picked up six other Oscars.

“Saving Private Ryan,” with five awards, and “Life Is Beautiful,” which scored in three categories, were not far behind.

In a somewhat less glamorous category, “The Last Days,” which presents the testimony of five Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivors, took honors as the best documentary feature.

The film was produced by Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which has videotaped the testimony of more than 50,000 survivors.

The documentary’s director, James Moll, thanked the foundation for “assuring that survivors will have a voice for generations to come.”

In the documentary short subject division, the winner was “The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years.”

In her acceptance speech, producer Keiko Ibi expressed her wonder that a film by a Japanese woman on the lives of Jewish senior citizens could garner an Oscar.

Ibi, a New York University film school student, met her cast on New York’s Lower East Side, where they were members of the Alliance Stage theater group.

“I think she clearly touched a chord in the seniors, who clearly touched a chord in her,” said Alan Goodman, executive director of the Educational Alliance, a Jewish social service agency that has worked with immigrant populations for over a century.

“The seniors are a generation of immigrants from many years ago, and the director is somebody who’s new,” said Goodman, whose agency is a constituent of United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York.

“But the feelings are still the same — the same emotions, the same struggles and aspirations. I think that some of that kind of language, that emotional language is universal.”

“The Prince of Egypt,” the animated version of the life of Moses, picked up a single award for best original song with “When You Believe.” The Stephen Schwartz tune is sung triumphantly by the departing Jews during the exodus from Egypt.

Two Jewish men who influenced the movie industry in different ways — the late director Stanley Kubrick and film critic Gene Siskel — were commemorated in special tributes.

During the long evening, there was, as usual, some Jewish-themed humor.

Norman Jewison, who directed and produced the 1971 movie version of “Fiddler on the Roof,” accepted the Irving Thalberg Award by dancing onstage to the strains of “If I Were a Rich Man.”

Acknowledging the applause, the non-Jewish filmmaker told the audience, “Not bad for a goy.”

In the final acceptance speech of the evening, Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax Films, which produced “Shakespeare in Love,” ended his list of thanks with a tribute to his mother — “who makes Jewish mothers look good.” —Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

JTA staff writer Julia Goldman in New York contributed to this report.