We often get phone calls from people who've been invited to a bat mitzvah, maybe aren't Jewish themselves, and want recommendations for a gift for the bat mitzvah girl. The question is, what is an appropriate bat mitzvah gift that she'll really love? This is our little intro to bat mitzvah & guide for the perplexed about what to bring the bat mitzvah girl.
About Bat Mitzvah
Bat mitzvah is a "coming of age" for Jewish girls. At age 12, they are now considered old enough to take on the responsibility to observe the Jewish laws and practice. For example, girls following the Jewish tradition will now fast on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish year) and lead the blessings in the home. In most non-Orthodox communities the girls will participate in public religious ceremony and read from the Torah. This ceremony is what most people refer to as the bat mitzvah and it usually takes place when the girl is 12 or 13.
The ceremony is where the bat mitzvah girl will be called to the bimah (the front or "stage" of the temple) and will perform the blessings and read from the Torah. She may read or even chant the entire Torah portion (from the Five Books of Moses) and Haftara (selections from the books of the Prophets) and may even give a d'var Torah, a philosophical expounding of what she has just read (quite impressive for a young girl, yes?). This is no small task! Girls study for years for a bat mitzvah ceremony.
These days secular gifts are given frequently. But a bat mitzvah is a monumental landmark in the Jewish life-cycle, why not let your gift add to the meaningfulness of the occasion?
(These bat mitzvah gift suggestions are in no particular "rank." With any one of these, you can't go wrong.)
Jewish Jewelry. Of course a Hebrew Word Bracelet or Star of David Necklace is always appropriate. Consider jewelry with a different Judaic theme. Pomegranates are a popular design motif now and you will find pomegranate earrings and pomegranate tallis clips (for prayer shawls). They symbolize integrity, equity, and justice because it is lore that there are 613 seeds inside the fruit, the same number of mitzvot (good deeds) Commanded in the Torah. With trees (for the Tree of Life) and birds (for Noah's dove) you can't go wrong because they are loved Judaic and secular symbols. There is also the chai: Hebrew letters cheit and yud means life, and the hamsa: the upside down hand which is a very popular good luck symbol, and there are many appropriate gifts including the Hamsa Tallis Clips (for a prayer shawl).
Plant a Tree in Israel. Israel was mostly desert and marshland when independence was declared in 1948. Planting trees has been critical to creating inhabitable land. The Jewish National Fund is the charity that heads the effort and planting a tree in the bat mitzvah girl's name is as easy as going to the JNF website. You can even get a beautiful certificate to give her.
A favorite Jewish Recipe. If you are Jewish or can request your Jewish friend's recipe for her magnificent kugel (noodle pudding) or latkes (potato pancakes), consider giving the bat mitzvah girl the recipe along with the necessary serving or cooking gear and in a beautiful keepsake recipe binder.
A Biography of a Jewish Woman. Is she a reader? A hardback book about a Jewish woman would be a nice gift. Golda Meir, the first and so far only woman Prime Minister of Israel; Rose Schneiderman, advocate for the rights of working women in the U.S.; Henrietta Szold, American who set up medical units in Palestine and helped resettle thousands of Eastern European Jewish children fleeing Hitler; Yael Arad , Israeli silver medalist in women's judo in the 1992 Olympics; and Gertrude Stein, American writer who became a catalyst in the development of 20th century modern art and literature. Looking for books on other Jewish subjects? Try Next Book, it's the place on the web to find quality Jewish book reviews.
Shabbat Candlesticks. It is the woman's role to light the Shabbat candles and lead the blessing over the candles that mark the start of every Jewish holiday. A pair of candlesticks that fit her taste and style would make a wonderful gift. A family can have more than one set of candlesticks so you don't have to worry about duplicating someone's gift. Just make sure it's a pair of the same height.
A donation to a charity, meaningful to the the Bat Mitzvah girl, in her name. For all Jewish life-cycle events, a donation is appropriate. Giving tzedakah (charity) is central to the Jewish faith and the Commandment to bring justice to the world. It's best to choose an organization that fits the girl's interest. Does she love reading? Consider First Book which gives books to children learning to read from low income homes. Does she love dogs, traveling, wants to be a doctor? For practically any interest, there is a charity that fits. Research charities at Charity Navigator.
Public Prayer Items: Tallis, Yad, and Tallit Clips, Head Covering or Kippah. A bat mitzvah girl may get her first tallis (prayer shawl) to wear during her first Aliyah (calling up to the Torah). A well made tallis is made of wool or silk and would be a special gift from a parent, grandparent or close family friend. Like the candlesticks, a person can have more than one tallis, so if you've found the perfect one for her, don't worry about her receiving more than one. If the tallis seems a bit much, consider tallit clips, jewelry that clips onto two sides of the shawl and keeps it on the wearer. If you are going to buy her a kippah or yarlmulke which is a headcovering worn to remind oneself of the presence of G-d, in our opinion, there is only one place to buy a cool kippa for girls: Diaspora Girl hand crocheted kippahs.
Art. Hamsa charms to hang on the wall, papercuts, and other Jewish inspired art make great gifts.
Money/Bonds in increments of 18. If you want to let the bat mitzvah girl choose something for herself (or save for college), money may be the answer. You can give cash, checks, or savings bonds and make it more meaningful by giving in increments of 18. 18 is the number associated with the word chai, Hebrew for life. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a corresponding number and the letters cheit(8) and yud(10) = 18.
P. S. -- Bring your gift to the party -- not to the ceremony Saturday morning.