The (surprisingly complicated) invitation list

Vacation is over… 2011 has begun… which means there are less than two months to my Bat Mitzvah date.

I have two Bat Mitzvah-related things on my to-do list this week — writing my d’var Torah (Torah commentary speech), and coming up with an invitation list. One is deeply substantive, the other logistical. You can guess which one I’m starting with.

Here's a distinctive letterpress Bat Mitzvah invitation created by Studio On Fire in Minneapolis (

I’m surprised that this is complicated, but it is.

If this were a book publication party, I would invite every single person I know (and then some whom I don’t know). For our wedding a hundred gazillion years ago, Sam and I also cast a really wide net and invited about 170 friends, relatives, and work colleagues.  At my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah in 2007, we had 30 out-of-town family members from places as far afield as Rhode Island, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles as well as dozens and dozens of her friends.

But this feels different.

This feels more internal. I embarked on an adult Bat Mitzvah process to reach certain internal goals — becoming more familiar with the religious (as distinct from cultural, political etc.) aspect of Judaism, and gaining competence and comfort with prayer services. I wanted to know that, if I were the only adult Jew left standing after some Holocaust-like disaster, I could lead a Shabbat service. I wanted to feel like I had earned my tallit.

That’s different from a wedding or a teenage Bat Mitzvah, which are communal life-cycle events that mark milestones in the life of a person and her or his family. It’s different from a book party, which is both a marketing tactic and the celebration of a creative project that you are sending out into the wide world.

Gorgeous lasercut Bat Mitzvah/wedding invitation by The Paperdoll Company ( If I were getting married again and price were no object, I'd order these.

Basically, I want to chant Torah and give my d’var Torah as part of a regular weekly Shabbat service at my synagogue. I don’t want a weekend-long extravaganza with a Friday night “rehearsal dinner” and a Saturday night banquet-with-disco-ball and a Sunday morning brunch. I don’t want fountain pens, Israel bonds, or the midlife equivalent. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to attend just because they are my friend. I don’t want relatives feeling pressure to fly 3,000 miles to show their support.

I’d like to have my Bat Mitzvah service feel part of a community of people with a genuine interest in being there. So here’s who I’d love to have:

  • Members of my synagogue, Temple Sinai.
  • Family members who don’t have to go through an airport security line to be there.
  • Friends — Jewish or non-Jewish — with an interest in attending Shabbat services or learning more about Judaism.
  • Friends and others who have followed my Bat Mitzvah process  and would like to see how it all turns out!

That last category includes you, dear blog readers. I’m sending out a small number of Evites and if you don’t get one (maybe you’ve been reading the blog quietly without commenting so I don’t know you’re interested? or maybe I don’t even know you?) and would like to come, send me a note via the “comment” box on the blog page and I’ll be absolutely delighted to add you to the Evite list.

Not that anyone ever needs to be invited to attend services at a synagogue — you can walk in and be welcomed at any shul anywhere in the world — but it’s always fun to get a personal invitation. :-)

The invitations we used for Becca's Bat Mitzvah four years ago. / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Meanwhile, I will try to navigate this surprisingly complicated process of inviting people who might be insulted if they don’t get an invitation… while at the same time, letting everyone know I will most definitely *not* be hurt if they don’t travel 3,000 miles or if there are more compelling things for them to do on a Saturday morning.

For the record: Although I’d love to have you join me, attending this Bat Mitzvah is not a litmus test of  do-you-really-love-Ilana.

On the other hand… if I get a novel published in 2011, and have a book party, attending that, or at least buying the book, will be a litmus test!

Umm... not quite the right style for Midlife Bat Mitzvah. Even if I were using paper invitations.

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27 Responses to “The (surprisingly complicated) invitation list”

  1. karen tanner Says:

    You nailed it! You articulated my reasons also so well.Thank you! I am so looking forward to hearing your d’rash and celebrating this life changing, affirming service with you.

  2. susie m Says:

    Well, as we Millers, we wouldn’t miss it. Looking for inspiration, insight and laughter. We’re proud of you for taking this on in such a thoughtful way (ok, do I sound like a Jewish mother or what?!!).

  3. Tali Says:

    I just came across your blog, and was very inspired by your motivations for having a Midlife bat Mitzvah! Its a bit far too come from Israel – but wanted to wish you mazal tov anyway! Looking forward to reading more!

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Thanks, and welcome to the blog, Tali! I’m curious how you stumbled across the blog? Always trying to figure out how people find it, and if there are ways to increase its readership…

      • Tali Says:

        Because I am a speech writer, specializing in Jewish functions, I have google alerts sending me postings with the words bar mitzvah speech” or “bat mitzvah speech” – so your blog came to me in the form of one of those email alerts!

      • Ilana DeBare Says:

        I checked out your web site, Tali, and it looks like an unusual and creative business niche! (I used to cover small business and so ran across a lot of interesting business ideas.)

      • Tali Says:

        And it’s a lot of fun! And I also get to contribute in a meaningful way to people’s milestone moments!

  4. Juliet Says:

    Just did this! I had some invitation “drama” unfortunately. It does happen. I kept having flashbacks to my wedding. You will probably end up feeling like you are getting married…to yourself? But it’s fun. And it’s 100% YOUR event whereas a wedding has at least one other person, plus most likely at least a couple or more inlaws wanting to get involved. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures! I really regret not getting more. The day passed in such a blur and I would like to have more photos to look back on and piece it together.

  5. Valerie Says:

    I am looking forward to your ceremony which i am sure will be as insightful and entertaining and thought provoking as your blog has been!
    Mazel tov!

  6. Joan Simon Says:

    Happy New Year Ilana! very touched by your process and hope I can make it. Not 100% sure since I’ll just be getting back from a yoga retreat in the rainforest of Costa Rica to celebrate a birthday milestone (60) and then there’s the weather thing driving from Sonoma. But at this point my intention to be a witness is there.

  7. rachel Says:

    Thsi resonates so much with me, having had my BM on December. I didn’t want a huge fanfare a la 13 year olds. I just wanted a normal service, led by me. With people there who I wanted to be there, not felt obligated to be there. I did have an evening dinner though, because my family travelled from a long way away and stayed in my town for the weekend.

    It was, all in all, perfect.

  8. Laura Trupin Says:

    Ilana — I’ve been an avid reader of all 100 of your blog posts, and am looking forward to the next 100 (or so)! I’ve not ventured to post a comment yet, even though nearly every one of them has resonated with me. But here goes….. I think I have an idea for your next book. This goes back to your post from several months ago about The Social Network. Beth and I watched it on the plane ride home this past weekend, and we both went into a full-on 1970s feminist rage over it. Back to my idea. I think you should do a book on women in the high tech world of the past 2 decades. Not the Carly Fiorina-type, but the engineers and developers…. the ones who were completely absent from the Facebook movie. Maybe it’s been done. But if not, I think you’d be the perfect one to tackle it.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Great minds thinking alike… back in Jan. 1996 I did a three-part series for the Sacramento Bee on that exact topic. The lead story was called “Logged on or Left Out? Women in the Computer Industry”. Unfortunately, it’s now beyond a pay wall on the Sac Bee web site. You can find it in the archives but have to pay to read it.

  9. Meg Spencer Dixon Says:

    Hi Ilana —

    It took me awhile to finalize logistics, but I’ve done so, and have booked the flights, and responded to the evite — can’t wait to come! I’m looking forward to meeting you and your daughter, and of course seeing Sam again.

    Traveling 3,000 miles to attend the bat mitzvah of someone I’ve yet to meet was just too crazy not to do.


  10. Cheryl Brummer Katz Says:

    Thank you for this post. I’m having mine in November, and it’s reassuring to know someone else out there was noodling over the same issues that I am.

  11. Myra Peskowitz Says:

    I just came across your blog. I am 73 and preparing for my bat mitzvah in 4 weeks. I have been having a hard time articulating my reasons for doing this and also for not wanting to make it into an event. You hit the nail on the head. I could see my feelings coming to form in what you wrote. Thank you.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Mazel tov, Myra! I’m so glad that you found this useful. That’s wonderful that you are doing this at 73. Where do you live and what congregation do you belong to? (I suspect you are far from the Bay Area, but if you’re around here, maybe I can come to your service!) -Ilana

      • Myra Peskowitz Says:

        Having you there would be lovely but I am clear across the country , 90 miles east of New YOrk City, in a hidden gem of a place called Shelter Island. I am very late in asking people to attend and wonder what kind of email invite you used if you did. I also view this as personal but I know some friends want to be there and I haven’t yet figured out what to do about it. The Bat Mitzvah will take place as part of Shemini Atzaret services at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor,, NY.

      • Ilana DeBare Says:

        For an email invite, I used Evite.

        FYI, you might want to think of a nonprofit to designate if friends want to make contributions in your honor, and mention that in the invitation such as “No gifts please — but if you are moved to make a contribution. I would love to support the work of xxxx.”

        I suspect gifts are the last thing on your mind, but some people may want to honor your achievement and would appreciate it if you designated a charity.


  12. barbara karpel Says:

    i just found your blog and your reason for having an adult bat mitzvah echo mine, which will be on june 1, 2012. i am trying to be low key & am worried that evites are declasse, yet i am running out of time for printed invitations. i am leading a havdalah service and inviting the choir members with whom i sing plus a few friends and family – hopefully around 40 people. since this service ends shabbat, i cannot sen my guests away without feeding them.
    my daughter’s research says it is especially not nice to make a suggestion to honor the event with a donation in lieu of a gift. will you share the wording you used on your evites? with only 6 weeks to go, i am feeling pressured. thanks for having this blog!

  13. barbarakarpel Says:

    Did you also use printed invitations? Where on the Evite did you suggest the charitable contribution? Because, like you, my reasons for becoming Bat Mitzvah are not the same as for a 13 year old, (in fact what you said was just right), I want to keep it low-key, hence Evites vs printed invitations. My Bat Mitzvah is on June 1, 2013 so I have only 6 weeks to get this done (by the way, I will be 68 at the time). Any suggestions you could decrease my anxiety about getting this right and still be tasteful. Thanks

  14. Marci Abrams Says:

    Hi Elana:
    This is beautiful and I was so excited when I found it. I am preparing for my Adult Bat Mitzvah on June 29,2013 just after I celebrate my
    70th Birthday. I was not permitted to have a Bat Mitzvah in 1956 because Conservative Shulls had no such ceremony for women and we belonged to a very Traditional Conservative Shull. Even Reform Temples rarely allowed girls to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony back then and if they did you could only read Haftarah not Torah. I am reading Torah, and Haftarah and doing a D’var Torah on both.

    Anyway, I am working on my invitations right now and need to send printed ones. What kind of invitations did you finally decide on and what type of wording did you use? Also I wanted to put on the bottom of the invitation “in lieu of gifts please consider making a donation to the Hope House, a shelter for abused women and children or Kehillat Hashem (my congregation)”. How did you handle this and did you actually put it on the invitation?

    I live in Marietta, Georgia and some of my reasons for becoming a Bat Mitzvah are the same as yours, but your wording about your reasons was right on!

    I have always been involved in the synagogue wherever I have lived, and also have sung in synagogue choirs since I was twelve so learning to lead and chant the service was much easier for me than for most 13 year olds and even for some adults so I am also doing that. This has been a very big undertaking for me and I am glad to see that other women are doing this too.

    Please answer me soon as I want to get my invitations out the first week in May which will be here very soon.

    Thank you so much and I am so glad I found your blog.

    Marci Abrams,

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