When children are young, they live by a kind of moral absolutism in which everything is either very good or very bad. This starts to shift in adolescence when the young person begins to notice shades of grey in a formerly black-and-white world.
A boy who has become a bar mitzvah is able to see the subtleties that let him experience the full depth of his spirituality. He starts to notice not only the needs of his body and mind but also those of his soul. The bar mitzvah ceremony marks a young man's entry into this spiritual adulthood.
A Parent's Bar Mitzvah Speech – Celebrating the Milestone
A bar mitzvah marks the transition from childhood to adulthood in the Jewish faith, and it has deep meaning for the entire family. Parents reflect on the first 13 years of their son's life and the experiences that made him who he is. They remember all the ways in which he has developed as a person, and they look forward to who he will become as an adult.
As a father or mother, a bar mitzvah speech is your opportunity to share these memories with friends and family. By speaking about your son's childhood and his development as a young adult, you can lead your whole community in celebrating him.
How to Write a Bar Mitzvah Speech – Steps for Parents
Writing your son's bar mitzvah speech might be one of the greatest honors you have experienced to date as a parent, but it can also be an enormous challenge. How on earth do you tell the story of your son's childhood in just a few minutes? There have been so many defining, funny, and meaningful moments.
To organize your thoughts, you'll need some structure. Here are five steps that can make your speechwriting endeavor a little bit less daunting and much more fun.
1. Make an Outline
An outline for a parent's bar mitzvah speech is like a blueprint for a house. It's not the final product and it's not anything you need to share, but it gives you the structure that you need to get started.
Like a story, every speech has a beginning, middle, and an end. No matter what you include, your speech for your son will probably look something like this:
- Introduction: Thank everyone for coming.
- Body: Tell everyone why you're proud of your son and his spiritual growth. Include at least one good story.
- Conclusion: Offer your son a blessing. Tell him that you love him and are proud of him.
You can also jot down ideas if you think of a good story, blessing, or quote for the speech. If not, that's fine. The next step will take care of it.
2. Think of Stories and Ideas
This step will probably be the most fun. After all, what parent doesn't love to tell stories about their kid? Don't worry about picking the perfect story, just write down whatever comes to mind. Include fun memories, touching moments, and anecdotes about your son's spiritual growth.
At this stage, you don't have to write in complete sentences. You don't even have to stick to your own thoughts. Ask your spouse and talk to friends who have spoken at their own children's bar or bat mitzvahs.
Talk to your son, too. He may have some ideas for what he wants you to say, and his thoughts may surprise you.
Narrowing It Down
Once you have all of your stories and ideas written out, read them through and pick the one that seems to fit the occasion best. You'll go into detail about that one.
You can also pick out a few little things that you think should get a brief mention, such as:
- How hard your son worked to prepare for the day.
- His role in the family's religious celebrations.
- Spiritual insights he has shared with you.
- Signs of the man he is becoming.
To keep as close as you can to the intent of the day, draw your stories back to the meaning of the bar mitzvah.
The Religious Element
Even though it involves a big party, a boy's bar mitzvah is first and foremost a religious milestone. You have raised him in the Jewish faith and this event marks a shift in your role as a Jewish parent.
As you speak to your son's spiritual growth, think about alluding to his Torah reading. Does it match who he is as a person? Has he worked hard to figure out what it means to him personally? If you work that in somehow, your speech will be richer.
A Note on Humor
Yes, a bar mitzvah is a major milestone in your son's spiritual journey. But it's also a celebration, and it's completely appropriate to include a family-friendly joke or two.
You can even include a funny story about your son, but check with him first if you decide to go that route.
Remember, what you think is cute might be embarrassing for your 13-year-old, particularly when it comes from his parents and all his friends are listening. Thinking about your toddler son playing synagogue with his stuffed animals might make you smile, but keep the story in the family unless your son gives you the go-ahead.
3. Write It Out
When you've picked your stories and figured out where they will go in the context of your outline, you're ready to sit down and start writing.
Start in the Middle
The rule of thumb for speechwriting is that the body should comprise 80% of the content. Start with that 80% as your foundation. Then, read it out and identify the main thoughts you're trying to express.
The Beginning and the End
Work those main ideas into your introduction and mention them in the conclusion. Create smooth transitions into and out of the body of the piece.
Finally, pick an attention-grabbing hook for the first sentence (maybe a joke?) and choose a memorable ending. You can go any number of ways, including:
- A spiritual passage.
- A meaningful quote.
- Your son's favorite movie quote or song lyric.
- A religious blessing.
Make this decision only after you've written the rest of the piece. You can't really know how to wrap up the piece until you know what it sounds like.
A Word of Caution
Resist the temptation to sketch out the basic idea and let inspiration take care of the rest. You don't want to get up there and forget your best story or leave out the most important detail. Also, it will be an emotional day for you, and you'll be grateful that you gave yourself a script as security.
4. Edit and Rewrite
Read your speech through with a critical ear. Ideally, you'll be happy with it overall, but there's likely to be a few things that you want to change. Don't panic – just follow the four steps of speech editing:
- Remove anything that doesn't seem to fit, even if it's a great story.
- Rewrite any bits that sound awkward or overly formal.
- Reorder sentences that might flow better somewhere else.
- Repeat the process until you're happy with it.
When you read it aloud, your bar mitzvah speech to your son shouldn't be more than five minutes long. Two or three minutes might be even better. That doesn't sound like much time, but experienced speakers will tell you that it feels like plenty when you're in front of a crowd.
5. Rehearse It ... Several Times
It's obvious when people have put time and energy into writing their speeches. It's also obvious when they haven't. Practice your speech in front of your family, including your son if possible. The more you do this, the more comfortable you will be when the day finally comes.
If you're comfortable with your speech, you won't have to glue your eyes to the page as you speak. You'll be able to look at your son, your other family members, and all of the gathered friends. You'll be able to make some memories for yourself. And, as an added bonus, you'll seem more confident and relaxed at the microphone.
A Few Examples
Let's look at two bar mitzvah speeches by parents, one from a father and one from a mother.
The first is a father's speech that strikes a good balance between humor and tenderness. This father has a great son who has probably achieved many things in his young life, but the speaker stays focused on what is most relevant to the occasion.
A Parent's Bar Mitzvah Speech – Father to a Man
Today, my son Jonah is a young man.
I guess that makes me “the old man.” Well, I had a good run.
No, you know what? It's been great. And it's just beginning. Jonah is now a man in the Jewish faith, and he's already a great one. He's responsible, kind, and a deep thinker.
When Jonah was little, he would sit next to me in shul and stare at the rabbi like he was watching a birthday party magician. His eyes would look like dinner plates whenever anyone spoke in Hebrew, and he always had a question about the d'var Torah on the way home. Sometimes three or four or nine questions.
A Curious Spirit
Jonah just wanted to know. About everything. All kids say “why” all the time, and probably every parent thinks their kid does it the most, but I'd bet money on Jonah in a question race any day. He didn't just ask why, he asked when and how and who. How did the lamp stay lit for eight nights? Why do we dip apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah? Where was the Garden of Eden? Were there any Jews in the Revolutionary War?
He was curious about everything. In shul, in the classroom, even on the soccer field. Of course his grades reflected it, but I'm not here to brag about his straight As. Well, not very much.
A Mind Maturing
As he has grown, Jonah's curiosity has matured as well. One day, when our rabbi was reassuring us that G-d would punish those who were wicked, Jonah got a funny look on his face, and then he smiled. I asked him why on the way home, and he said he wasn't sure at first because so many bad people are successful. But then he said that he realized, it's not “G-d is punishing the wicked,” it's “G-d will punish them.” So, he said, faith allows us to not give up hope because G-d will see justice done in the end.
The next Jewish Marvel movie writer, ladies and gentlemen.
A Strong Work Ethic
I'm proud of Jonah's curiosity and thoughtfulness, but I'm also proud of his dedication to being a good person. When his rabbi told him he should be practicing his Torah portion for 15 minutes every day, he set an alarm on his phone and when it went off, so did he. He'd disappear into his room and you'd hear muffled Hebrew coming through the door.
One day in the spring, Jonah got the flu. He couldn't sit up without getting dizzy, so he didn't practice his Torah. The next day, his mother went to see how he was feeling, and he was propped up against pillows, 20 minutes into a 30-minute practice setting. He had promised the rabbi that he would practice 15 minutes a day, and he wasn't going to let him down.
Doing the Right Thing
You know what impresses me most about all of that? He didn't even mind me telling that story. With all of his friends here, he didn't mind me publicly admitting that he does his homework every day.
He goes, “Dad. They know me. They know I'm a nerd.”
(I made a note to myself here to pause in case Jonah's best friend wanted to punch him in the arm.)
But Jonah's the kind of kid that doesn't put what his friends think above what's right. He's the kid that will give up his play time on the soccer field for the boy whose grandmother came to watch him. Yes, that actually happened.
Jonah is the kid who will call out bullying. And he does. He's the kid who will invite the new student to his birthday party. If he finds a dollar on the ground, he'll give it to me. I'll usually give it back to him, but I like that he does it.
A Good Boy Becomes a Good Man
You're probably all sitting out there thinking, of course I think he's wonderful, I'm his dad. And I do think he's wonderful, but I would like to point out that I'm not the only one. Just look at all of those nodding 13-year-old heads.
All of those 13-year-olds are here to celebrate Jonah, and so are the rest of us. So in closing, I'd like to quote one of Jonah's favorite people: Captain America. Jonah, “Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”
A Bar Mitzvah Speech from a Mother
This mother gives a bar mitzvah speech to a son who has struggled. Notice how his mother celebrates those struggles and honors his journey to manhood. This one features one long story rather than a few short stories.
My Son: The Spirit of Courage
There is a Jewish proverb that says, When you have no choice, mobilize the spirit of courage. I am so happy that you've all made time to be here today, to celebrate my son David's spirit of courage.
You probably all know, because you know David, that getting here today wasn't an easy journey for him. When he was 11, he told me he didn't want to have a bar mitzvah. He'd been struggling after the death of his father, and he had fallen in with some kids who weren't the greatest influence on him. (He's okay with me saying this. I asked.)
A Rough Road
David, who had willingly gone with me to temple throughout his childhood, all of a sudden decided he wasn't going any more. He wasn't going to become bar mitzvah, and he wasn't even sure he wanted to be Jewish. After all, his new friends weren’t Jewish.
Well, those friends didn’t stick around. In fact, they ended up turning on David at the end of sixth grade. They'd planned a prank and when they knew they were about to get caught, they threw David under the bus. David wasn't blameless in the whole thing, but he was the only one who got punished.
David ended up having to go to summer school, which was going to conflict with Jewish summer camp. The principal said not going to camp would be part of his punishment, but I insisted that he go.
Reaching out for Help
I got three calls in the first week of camp. David had done this, David had done that. They asked me if I wanted to take him home, and I said no, let's try a different bunk. The next week, I got another call.
David had acted out again. But instead of calling me right away, his counselor took him to the camp library and pulled out a copy of the Talmud. I don't know what story they studied, and I don't need to know. All I know is that when they did call me, they put my son on the phone.
He told me that he was sorry for how he'd been acting, that he knew that G-d expected better of him, and that he was going to perform as many gemilut hasadim as he could before the end of the summer. When he came back, he started talking about signing up for bar mitzvah classes.
Bar Mitzvah Doesn't Mean Perfect
Now, I'm not saying that David became a perfect Jewish angel. He'd disown me if I did. He still had to be reminded and nudged and nagged to practice his Torah reading. He threatened to quit four times. (I fact-checked that with him last night.) And he's still working to get his grades back up.
But I know that he is ready to become bar mitzvah because he knows G-d the way an adult does – not as a parent who punishes or rescues, but as one who guides and models. He knows he can turn to G-d and Jewish law when his conscience needs some help.
My Wish for You
David, I'm so proud of how far you've come. And I can't wait to see how far you'll go. In the words of Rav Ammi to his students, “May your eyes direct you straight forward; May they shine with the light of Torah; and may your countenance be as radiant as the bright firmament.”
Call in the Pros
You have a lot to do in the lead-up to your son's bar mitzvah, and writing a speech is only part of it. If adding yet another thing to your to-do list leaves you feeling overwhelmed, think about hiring some help. People hire caterers to feed their guests and DJs to play the music, so why not hire a speechwriter?
The writing professionals at Compose.ly are more than happy to work with you to plan your son's bar mitzvah speech. They'll take your stories and create a speech that includes as much love as if you'd written it yourself. All you have to do is deliver it, glowing with pride.
This post was written by Compose.ly writer Laura DeCesare.