Celebrating Jewishly:
The Wholesale Klezmer Band Guide to
Traditional Jewish Music
for Bar & Bas Mitzve Celebrations

Copyright © 1993 1999, 2001 by Yosl (Joe) Kurland

For information and bookings, call Joe Kurland
at 413-624-3204 or email us at wkb@ganeydn.com

How should we celebrate
my child's Bar/Bas Mitzve?

The parents of the bas mitzve were talking with the caterer to plan their event, when the caterer asked, "and what do you plan to have as the theme of your daughter's bas mitzve?"

Mother and father looked a little puzzled. "Theme? What do you mean, theme?" said the father.

"You know," answered the caterer, "some people have sports for a theme, some have a candy shop theme, some have movie theme with each corner of the room decorated like a different movie set."

The parents still looked puzzled. Then the mother's face lit up. "Oh, the theme!" she said with a twinkle in her eye. "The theme of our daughter's party is that she is now at the age where she assumes the responsibilities of an adult in the Jewish community, when he or she is expected to fulfill the commandments, and to take part as an adult in Jewish religious life. That's the theme of our celebration!"

The father nodded in agreement, and the caterer was now the one with the puzzled look.

Torah graphic by Peggy DavisA bar or bas mitzve literally means a son or daughter of the commandments. Whether there is a celebration or not, a boy becomes a bar miztve at the age of thirteen and a girl becomes a bas mitzve at the age of twelve. The event is observed by calling the bar or bas mitzve to read from the torah and haftorah, and often by their leading the entire Shabbos morning service. But what kind of a party will you have to celebrate your son or daughter becoming bar or bas mitzve?

It's nice to host a kiddush at the synagogue and invite all the members of the congregation to partake of wine, challah and snacks. But after that, are you going to have a dinner, speeches, dancing, games, entertainment? Many people feel compelled to throw a big party with rock bands, DJs, clowns, party favors, and who-knows-what-they'll-think-of-next as a reward to the young person for their years of Hebrew school and bar mitzve lessons. But is this the best way to celebrate what is essentially a religious occasion? Why not something different: a joyous but modest celebration of Yiddishkayt, with traditional Jewish music, storytelling and rituals, a perfect complement to the synagogue service.

What alternatives are there?

If you're going to hire musical entertainment, why not a klezmer band. Traditional Yiddish instrumental music fits with the tone and feeling of Shabbos. The dances that are done to klezmer tunes are fun, help build community feeling, and they're easy enough that they don't require lessons. The Wholesale Klezmer Band offers the following:

We watch to see just how much dance leading and gentle encouragement is needed, or whether the guests can dance without being led. We keep in touch with you to know if or when stories and songs are appropriate, and whether previous plans need revision at a moment's notice. We're also sensitive to keeping the music quiet enough for your guests comfort, and for there to be times of silence during the meal so that your guests can talk with each other.

Yes, but...

thank you letterYou may be concerned about whether this kind of performance will appeal to and keep a group of Jewish and non-Jewish teenagers entertained and occupied in view of the competition for their attention. Youngsters who aren't Jewish may not have any concept of what this is all about, and Jewish kids, used to loud and lavish bar and bas mitzve celebrations often think that the party is the most important part. It seems that people are struggling to outdo each other with spectacular affairs, and people feel afraid that something simple and traditional will lead to a group of rowdy teenagers and embarrassed parents.

While we have shared the stage with DJs and rock bands, our experience is that many of the adults at such functions do not enjoy that part of the show, and while the children have fun, there is nothing about that part of the entertainment that has anything to do with the meaning of bar/bas mitzve. If you feel it's important to include DJ style entertainment, I'd suggest that it is better to have a separate event for the kids, to maintain the integrity of the family celebration.

"But how do I get the kids to participate?"

The process starts with how you express the meaning of this simkhe to your children, so that they can express it to their friends. Does your son or daughter feel the religious significance of bar/bas mitzve, or is this just an excuse for a party and presents? If you have already imparted this message to your kids, then the next step is to give them the confidence to explain it to their peers. Surprisingly, it may be easier to get the message across to those of their friends who aren't Jewish than to some who are.

Kids behave best when they know what to expect, when they know what is expected of them, and when they feel they are included in the decision making. Here are some suggestions:

Traditional dances

In the old country, instrumental music was not traditional at bar mitzves. The klezmer band came to prominence performing at weddings, so traditional dances developed in that context. At a modern Klezmer bar or bas mitzve, dances can be adapted from those originally done at weddings.

We'll be delighted to help you plan your simkhe to be a joyous, modest, and thoroughly and appropriately Jewish event.

Planning Your Simkhe, your celebration

The Wholesale Klezmer Band's simkhe advisors are happy to help you plan the way dance and entertainment fit into your celebration. We are experienced in leading dancing for groups that are not familiar with Jewish traditions. We watch to see just how much dance leading is necessary, and whether the guests can dance without being led. We keep in touch with you to know if or when stories and songs are appropriate, and whether previous plans need revision at a moment's notice.

You can listen to some samples of our music online by clicking on these links or ask us to send you a demo copy of one of our CDs or tapes by calling For information and bookingsJoe Kurland at 413-624-3204 or email us at wkb@ganeydn.com

Are You Thinking about Invitations?

invitation sample by Peggy Davis

Wholesale Klezmer Band's flutist, Peggy Davis, is also a Hebrew Calligrapher who designs beautiful and meaningful invitations and gifts (including gifts for your child's teachers) for Jewish life cycle events. Please have a look at samples of her work.

What they say about the Wholesale Klezmer Band

I realized that I never thanked you all, after the fact, for the wonderful performance for Shaina's bas mitzvah. You were terrific, and everyone enjoyed your playing! In fact, I gave your name and number to...

Barbara Low, Lincoln, MA

I just want to say, THANK YOU, (again) for the wonderful job you folks did at Andy's Bar Mitzvah. It was great! We are still glowing with the memories of that day. Thank you for playing your part so well.

Cynthia Eid, Lexington, MA

For help planning your celebration, call:

Wholesale Klezmer Band
Yosl (Joe) Kurland 413-624-3204
Or write to: The Wholesale Klezmer Band
Gan Eydn, Adamsville Road,
Colrain, MA 01340

email: wkb@ganeydn.com
world wide web: www.WholesaleKlezmer.com

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About this Website

This website has been written and designed by Joe Kurland with graphic elements created by Peggy Davis and Joe Kurland. We welcome your comments on the contents and design of the site. Joe and Peggy are available to design your web page too. Please address inquiries and comments to the webmaster.