Zoom Mitzvah Celebrations: What to Consider
- Written by Stacie M. Waldman
- Hits: 1096
When COVID closed down everything from schools to offices and the NBA to Broadway, most people thought the shutdown would last a few weeks. We gasped when schools didn’t reopen after two weeks. Parents made last minute decisions to move spring Bar and Bat Mitzvahs to later in the summer. Many newly minted teens who had been studying their Torah portions were dismayed about their postponed services and celebrations, but the end seemed to be in sight.
As restrictions for gatherings remained in place for much of the summer, families started turning to other options for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Some turned to Zoom to allow their child to complete the ceremonial portion rather than waiting for the pandemic to end. In many cases, this meant learning a new Torah portion unless the Bar/Bat Mitzvah was postponed a full year.
Now, 14-months after the crisis hit, Zoom-mitzvahs are still standard. Even as small in-person gatherings are starting up again, both in the sanctuary and out, travel restrictions remain (by choice or by law) and celebrations of any sort are limited in capacity, so the Zoom-mitzvah is a nice alternative for those that cannot attend or are not invited to attend in person.
In this two-part piece, we will focus first on what families are doing or have done for their children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in the last year. Then, stay tuned for our follow up piece on vendors for everything Bar/Bat Mitzvah related: logos, invitations, photographers, videographers and Zoom experts, montages, venues, tent rental companies, dresses, caterers, and the newly minted “mitzvah boxes,” or boxes of goodies sent to guests attending the service remotely. (Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below.)
Whether you’re having the Bar/Bat Mitzvah at a synagogue or in your home, live streaming for guests not in physical attendance has become the norm in the pandemic. The benefits of using Zoom are that remote guests can interact with guests attending in-person as well as the child being honored. Live-streaming allows for one way viewing and the quality (both video and audio) tends to be higher with a simple web-cam or high quality camera. You can combine livestreaming with a Zoom, or even record people ahead of time participating in an aliya, for example, and play it at the time of their honor. You can manage things on your end (like splitting the screen and having the prayer book on the screen as well) or let people do it themselves.
Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El has been doing almost all services virtually since last March 2020. On April 17, they will begin in-person worship for up to 20 people outside. It will be a hybrid model until things are back fully in-person. The synagogue arranges the Zoom for Bar/Bat Mitzvah services, removing that burden from the parents.” I think the clergy are Zoom experts at this point,” said a mom of a newly Bat-Mitzvah’ed boy. Rabbi Jeffrey Brown seemed especially proud of his congregants. Families are accepting this “…with warmth and strength. Everyone understands the uniqueness of this moment. Each of our families has made the experience their own,” he said.
Rabbi Brown’s words should not be taken lightly. Though some expressed doubt that the service and celebration would be meaningful, many hosts, guests and honorees have found a deeper connection in a Zoom Bar/Bat Mitzvah than anticipated. A mom of two from Edgemont said she found Zoom services to be just a special as in person. “The service had all of the same components in it, so it didn’t feel that different,” she said. “Plus, they tend to be shorter and I can dress casually, so those are some nice perks of the Zoom service.” She added that she hopes Zooms will continue as they allow for out-of-town guests to be a part of the big day.
A mom of three from Edgemont has attended several remote services and agreed. “We watched from the comfort of our living room and appreciated the Bar Mitzvah boys’ effort, especially his speech,” she said. “We loved seeing the video screens of other friends watching and found just as much meaning in it as we would have in person.” A third mom felt like in-person COVID restrictions actually benefited her son. “He has anxiety and didn’t want a crowd or party in the first place,” she confided, “so this really worked out well for us. We were at home and both the Cantor and Rabbi were remote. Everything went better than expected. For us, having family of different generations be able to participate from all over the world was a silver lining. My son’s great grandmothers were both able to join remotely, and this never would have happened pre-pandemic.”
Many people I spoke with loved seeing a video montage at the end of the service and recommend including this for both the in-person attendees as well as the remote guests. We will have suggestions for self-creating a montage as well as hiring someone to do it in our follow up piece.
Restrictions on large indoor parties have allowed people to be creative with their celebrations for the Bar/Bat mitzvah honoree. Some people have had food trucks come to their driveways with limited guests in attendance and kept everything outdoors. “It was nice for my son to be a part of these small celebrations,” said one mom. “There were limited guests, it was all outdoors, and it felt both safe and fun. One celebration included 10 kids for 90 minutes, then another 10 kids for 90 minutes and there was food, a DJ and games for both sets of kids. A crepe truck and a hot chocolate bar were both hits with the kids.” Another parent is planning to host a small outdoor dinner party for 50 at a local country club after the service. A third family is planning to skip any sort of party altogether and will use the money they would have spent on that to make donations to organizations that are meaningful to their son.
Other trends? “I love these care packages people are sending out,” said a mom of an upcoming Bar Mitzvah boy. “A friend from San Francisco sent boxes with kippahs, candy, and other goodies ahead of time. It was such a nice surprise!” One mom sent Nutella babka from Martines Bakery in Scarsdale Village to remote guests. Another soon-to-be Mitzvah Mom said one host asked guests to email a picture of themselves watching the zoom service. “They will make an album out of that which will make for a beautiful memory.” Videos from guests using Tribute or Vidhug also seem to be popular ways to include remote guests in the celebration.
Are people feeling comfortable with indoor celebrations now that many adults are vaccinated? Most people I spoke with said no to indoors at this point but outdoors, probably. “We plan to seat people in pods and follow all safety protocols,” said a parent who is planning a dinner celebration for 50, outdoors, with some entertainment. “A family can have a table for four. Vaccinated people can sit with other vaccinated people they choose or others if all are comfortable. My goal is to ensure that everyone feels safe and is safe.” The club she’s hosting at is flexible with tables and they’ll plan seating last minute to accommodate requests.
What about gifts? We have no exact answer except that it’s important to feel good about your decision to gift. One parent felt confused about when to give a gift. “Last Fall, host parents were saying that the party was postponed but still happening sometime in the future after the zoom service. So, some parents of guests felt that giving the gift now was like saying ‘right, as if there’s going to be a party,’ and then if there is, do you show up empty handed at the party? Some hosts were using the Zoom with no party as a way to invite the entire grade in Edgemont,” she added. “On one hand, it’s inclusive and that’s lovely, on the other hand, it’s confusing from a gift-giving standpoint.”
Without a big party do you still give the large amounts we’ve become used to giving? Are we moving away from the “plate cost?” On the other hand, shouldn’t we give the same whether there’s a party or not? “It doesn’t seem right to penalize the kid because they happen to turn 13 during the pandemic,” said a thoughtful upcoming bat mitzvah guest. Then there’s the question of being invited to a Zoom from someone who likely wouldn’t have invited you if in person. Do you give a gift if you don’t attend the Zoom?
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section regarding gifting, your experiences as a bar/bat mitzvah host parent or guest during the pandemic, what worked or didn’t for remote gifts as well as plans for in-person celebrations.
Love Our Library Spring Celebration on May 15th
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Hits: 640
The Friends of the Scarsdale Library will hold a “Love Our Library-Spring Celebration” on May 15th (rain date May 22nd). The celebration will be held outdoors at the Scarsdale Public Library and feature several fun child-friendly activities including:
-Performances by Dave Cast of Characters featuring “The Bubble Guy”
-Family rock painting
-Motorized boat racing at Library Pond
-Bollywood dance classes by Mayura Dance Academy
-Educational presentations by the Weinberg Nature Center
-Knit Together – Tanya Singer and Sarah Divi interactive art piece that attendees can photograph and post
-Tours of the Hindsight is 2020 Art Exhibit. The exhibit features local artwork inspired by the pandemic and attendees can sign up for tours at the event.
Food will also be available for purchase from the Apiary at the Library and Manny’s Ice Cream Truck.
Admission is $35.00 per family. Attendees are encouraged to also become “Friends” of the Library with an additional contribution to the FOSL. Due to COVID-19, families are asked to sign up in advance by May 7th via the Library’s website here. Car parking passes and wristbands will then be available ahead of the event for pick-up at Scarsdale Village Hall starting May 10th. Additionally, masks and social distancing will be required at the event, and hand sanitizers will be available.
Since 1946, the Friends of the Scarsdale Library (FOSL) has supported children’s enrichment, lifelong learning, and exciting programming that impact so many in the Scarsdale community. “The Friends of the Scarsdale Library is excited to put on this event for the community to celebrate our new library and the resilience of our community.” said Dara Gruenberg, President of the FOSL. She added “It is inspiring to see the continued support for SPL from Scarsdale, and the funds raised from our annual fundraiser are essential in supporting Library programming and activities that the community continues to enjoy and demand.”
Nancy Kaplan, FOSL board member, who is coordinating the celebration said, “After living for so long under lockdown and with restrictions gradually easing, Scarsdale families are eager for events to take their children to. We are thrilled to be organizing not just one of the first major community celebrations of the library, but for the Scarsdale community as well!”
Elizabeth Bermel, Executive Director at the Scarsdale Public Library added, “We could not hold a celebration for the community after the renovations to the library were completed last year due to COVID-19. I am excited that this event will serve in part as a community celebration. We are grateful to the Friends for all their hard work that raises funds to support our mission: to encourage the joy of reading, the exploration of ideas, and the pursuit of lifelong learning for the children and adults of our community.”
To purchase admission for the event, please visit the sign up page here:
Let It Snow
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Hits: 817
A two day snowstorm from Sunday January 31 to February 2 compounded by another snowfall on Sunday February 7 has left Scarsdale glazed in white. Kids are sledding, building snowmen and helping their parents shovel paths and driveways. With more snow expected this week, clearing the front walk has become a daily chore.
Thanks to Debra Asher, BK Munguia and Vinnie Phuah for sharing these lovely snow photos. Add yours to our snow gallery by emailing your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scarsdale Grad Publishes Second Children's Book
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
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Rachelle Gage, a 2012 graduate of Scarsdale High School, has just published her second children’s book. “Jacob’s Extraordinary Day,” written and illustrated by Gage, was inspired by her autistic brother and his “super senses.” The story follows Jacob and his class as they plan their school's Annual Spring Jam. Jacob ultimately inspires his class to embrace their creativity through a day full of fun and exciting activities.
Rachelle is also the author and illustrator of “The Fantastic Pups.” Her books include themes of kindness, inclusion, and acceptance.
Gage says that her teachers at SHS supported her talents, especially in her AP art class. She says, “I was so happy to have more art incorporated into my school schedule and would even eat lunch in the art room to continue my projects.”
Gage worked as a graphic designer at a fashion company for four years until the COVID crisis caused the company to eliminate the design department. She says, “It was hard at first, but I learned to be resilient, and began working freelance jobs. I really enhanced my work over the past year. I most recently designed the logo and did the illustrations for a new law website and I am currently working on the marketing campaign. I found that continuing to create art helped keep me busy during lockdown. It was during this time that I decided to finally start my second book. While this past year has been difficult and abnormal, I am grateful for the ongoing support from my family and friends.
Rachelle has experience in drawing, photography, and crochet. When she is not working on her art and design, she enjoys traveling, hiking, and obstacle races.
Purchase your copy of “Jacob’s Extraordinary Day” on Amazon here.
SHS Teens Raising Funds for Leukemia and Lymphoma Research
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
- Hits: 929
SHS Seniors Angelina Clark and Victoria (Tori) Von Redden are raising funds for The Leukemia and Lymphoma (LLS) 2021 Students of the Year campaign. The seven-week challenge culminates with the Grand Finale Celebration on March 11th. The funds raised benefit the LLS mission: to find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families.
The money that is raised funds research and treatment for both blood and other cancers.
Since the campaign’s inception in 2014, the Students of the Year program has funded blood cancer research, patient aid, and community outreach programs. Last year alone, more than 5,000 high school students participated throughout the country.
Angelina said, “As someone who has lost relatives to blood cancer, I understand the importance of blood cancer research. Every three minutes someone is diagnosed with blood cancer, so every contribution to LLS helps.” Angelina and Tori are supported by SHS LLS club members Grace Cheng, Isabelle Goldban, Alison Jiang, Samantha (Sam) Kofman, and Maria Salem. As Scarsdale Raiders, they have chosen to name their campaign, “Ders for a Cure.” The campaign ends March 11, 2021.
Make a tax deductible contribution to support the efforts of “Ders for a Cure” here.