For most Jewish girls, their bat mitzvah ceremony is the first recognition of their maturity. At 12 years old, years from voting or even driving, a girl becomes a bat mitzvah – a daughter of the commandment. She takes on all of the rights and responsibilities of an adult within the Jewish faith and is required to obey the commandments and expected to know right from wrong.
Bat Mitzvah Speeches – Why They Matter
Your daughter becomes a bat mitzvah as soon as she turns 12, regardless of whether or not your family hosts a ceremony or a party. In fact, girls have been becoming bat mitzvah for much longer than they have been having ceremonies.
The first formal bat mitzvah ceremony in the US was held in 1922 at the coming-of-age of Judith Kaplan, the oldest daughter of Reconstructionist Judaism founder Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan. Since then, the ceremony has evolved according to Jewish traditions and beliefs.
Whatever your daughter's bat mitzvah ceremony entails, it is a time for your entire family to reflect on and honor the history of its mothers and daughters, while also celebrating your daughter's childhood and her passage into spiritual adulthood.
How to Write a Bat Mitzvah Speech as a Parent – 5 Steps
Long before she started preparing to become a daughter of the commandment, she was a daughter of your family. You have 12 years of memories of your girl and her journey, and you have everything you know about who she is in the context of your family and its women. It's only natural if you feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of condensing all of that into a bat mitzvah speech.
When you guide your daughter through something new, you take her through it step by step. You can approach your speech the same way.
1. Collect Stories and Choose a Theme
If you get palpitations every time you walk by your computer, fearing the moment when you will have to sit down and type the introductory sentence to your speech, don't worry. There's no need to dive right in like that.
To start, make it easy on yourself and just brainstorm. Write down all of your favorite memories about your daughter, the ones that make you proud, the ones that make you laugh, and everything in between. Write down the best jokes she's told you and the worst ones you've told her. Write about how it felt to watch her prepare for her big day.
Do It Your Way
Remember, this is just for you. There's no need to write in complete sentences, or even to write phrases that make sense to anyone but you. Your notes could say “home run with Bubbe's teeth” – as long as you know what it means, it's just fine.
You don't have to record all of your stories in one sitting. In fact, you don't need to sit down at all. Carry a notepad around with you or install a good voice memo app on your phone. Then, any time a story comes to you, you can jot it down.
Of course, for this to work, you'll have to start brainstorming in advance. If you wait until the night before the ceremony to start thinking of stories, you won't have time to let the ideas and memories come as they will.
Choosing the Theme
You don't have to have your final selection of stories written in stone just yet, but if you feel like you're still miles from ever being able to decide, think about choosing a theme before you narrow it down any further. Look your stories over and see if you can identify some common threads. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Think about your daughter's chosen Hebrew name. What values or qualities does she share with that person?
- How has your Jewish faith and community shaped your daughter's life?
- Identify the Torah portion that corresponds to your daughter's bat mitzvah week. What is the lesson that it teaches? How has your daughter lived that lesson?
- What Jewish cultural or religious values does your daughter exemplify?
If you come up with a different theme, that's completely fine. The purpose of this step is to start building a framework for your speech and give you a jumping-off point.
2. Organize and Outline
This is where you develop the rest of your structure, and it might be the most important step of the whole process. An outline gives your speech shape and logical flow, much like a blueprint tells a construction team where to put the doors, windows, and walls when they build a home.
Don't worry, your outline doesn't have to be at all formal. All you need is something like this:
- Introduction: Thank everyone for coming, highlight the grandparents
- Body: Sarah and the Mitzvot – Protecting the weak, protecting friends from embarrassment, stopping gossip
- Conclusion: Pride and love, good wishes for future
This gives you three basic concepts for the piece as well as a way to begin and end it. Then you're ready to write!
3. Write the Speech
The body of the piece will take up about 80 percent of your speaking time and will include the most detail, so start there.
Once that's done, create a smooth segue into the conclusion. If you can, include references to at least one of your stories.
Finish by writing an attention-grabbing introduction that mentions or alludes to your theme. This helps the piece to flow smoothly and sound polished.
Remember, you're speaking to your family and a large group of 12-year-olds, one of whom is your daughter. She can tell if you sound like yourself or not, and it will be more comfortable for her if you do.
So, while it might be tempting to sound like a Harvard professor of theology, that shouldn't be your goal. (Unless you are one!) Instead, just write the way that you talk. You'll feel better about it and so will your audience.
To Be or Not to Be (Funny)?
Some bat mitzvah speeches are very reverent and have all of the gravitas of a formal religious ceremony. You can certainly go that way if you want. But there are plenty of parents who choose to give funny bat mitzvah speeches because it's what feels right for their families.
If you have the kind of family that plays and jokes around, you can bring that atmosphere into your speech. Just be cautious about sharing any stories that your daughter might find embarrassing. (Remember, all of her friends will be listening.)
4. Edit and Revise
Once you have the first draft, put it aside for a while and then come back and read it over. Ask yourself:
- Do these stories work, or would a different one make my point better?
- Is the phrasing clear and easy to listen to?
- Does it sound like me?
- Does one story flow smoothly into the next?
- Is my introduction catchy and does my conclusion wrap it up neatly?
It can be difficult to answer these kinds of questions for yourself, so feel free to read it in front of someone else. Your spouse, another of your children, or even a friend can give you more objective feedback than you can give yourself.
Mark up the page with any changes you want to make, then go through and create your second draft. Repeat the process until you're happy with the result.
5. Stand and Deliver (Before the Big Day!)
Once you have your final draft, it's time to practice. Stand in front of a mirror – or, better yet, find yourself a small live audience – and rehearse your speech as though it were the day of the bat mitzvah ceremony. The more you do this, the more comfortable you will feel when you take the microphone.
Time is of the Essence
Every time you read your speech aloud, time yourself. People will give you different recommendations for speech length, but you can't go wrong by keeping it short. Aim for close to 3 minutes, but don't slash any big pieces unless you start approaching 10 minutes.
A Few Examples
Every family is different, so every parent's bat mitzvah speech will be different. Some will be tender, others will be formal, and some will even be funny. Here is an example of a funny speech by a parent who balances pride and admiration with the ability to entertain.
Funny Bat Mitzvah Speeches – An Entertaining Example
Rachel! Today, you are a woman. Well, kind of. Only at temple, so don't go getting any ideas. You still have a curfew and no, you can't drive us home. What you can do is keep accepting congratulations from all of these people who came out to celebrate you today. Even that boy over there that I've never seen before. We're going to talk about him later.
Right now, though, I'm going to talk about you and how wonderful you are. Folks, I know you wouldn't be here if you didn't also think that Rachel is an amazing kid, but I promise you, you don't know the half of it.
A Thinking Woman
Some of you might not know, but bat mitzvah translates to “daughter of the commandment.” It means that our Rachel is an adult within the Jewish faith. (Again, I reiterate: only in the faith. Don't ask her to buy you a beer.)
There are a lot of things you can ask her, though. My Rachel is smart. Now, when I read this aloud to her – I had to because I didn't know which embarrassing stories would get me in trouble – anyway, when I read this for her, she almost vetoed my saying that. She insisted that I was only saying it because I'm her dad and I'm supposed to think she's smart. So I promised I'd prove it to you.
Let me take you back to the beginning of Rachel's bat mitzvah preparations. As soon as she found out she'd been assigned Parshat Noach, she started looking up everything she could find about it. And I mean everything, from her old board book about Noah's Ark to the Stephen Schwartz musical Children of Eden. She even sang the song about the humpty-back camels and the chimpanzees, but I'm pretty sure that was just to annoy her sister.
Well, eventually she found commentary about the reading. Specifically, she found something that asked if Noah was truly righteous if he didn't warn anyone that the rain was coming. She asked the rabbi if G-d couldn't at least have found someone nicer, who might at least tell his neighbors to buy an umbrella.
The rabbi told her that people had been debating that question for years, and he invited her to think and pray and write about it for a week. So my Rachel – my 11-year-old – took a survey. She went up and down the street, asking everyone if the governor told everyone to evacuate, would they just go, or would they make sure everyone had heard?
The Insights of a Thinker
She found out – and I fact-checked this with her – that only 30 percent of people on our street would have knocked on other people's doors. She came to three conclusions.
One, we should move to a neighborhood with nicer people. (I said no.) Two, that if you're going to ask a hypothetical question, you shouldn't ask it of a 95-year-old without someone there to help. I found out the next day that our neighbor Mrs. Nugent had called her son, asking for a ride out of town because there was going to be a flood.
But her third conclusion was the most important – that it was pretty normal for people to follow instructions if something bad was going to happen and they were being told what to do.
The next day, Rachel came into the kitchen for breakfast, sat down, and said “Dad, I figured it out. Noah was righteous. G-d told him to build the ark and he did. He saved the animals just like G-d said. Maybe he didn't go the extra step and help others, but G-d didn't tell him to. We just sometimes think he should.”
If that isn't the model of spiritual adulthood, I don't know what is. She thought about the Torah reading, she asked people with more experience than she had, and she drew informed conclusions.
Now, I can't stand up here and claim that Rachel is perfectly mature and composed and all of that. She'd disown me if I did. So to show you all her silly side, here is Rachel and her best friend Leah – no, I'm not making that up – singing “The Unicorn Song.” (Otherwise known as Green Alligators and Long Necked Geese.) Complete with hand motions.
A Bat Mitzvah Speech From a Mother
Not all bat mitzvah parent speeches have to be tongue-in-cheek. Here is a touching and tender one from a mother, who is proud of the woman her daughter is growing up to become.
“Daughter of the Commandment”
Hello, everyone, and thank you for coming to congratulate Sarah on becoming bat mitzvah. Today, she is a daughter of the commandment, a spiritual adult within the Jewish community. But if you ask me, she always has been. She is the kind of girl that naturally follows the Mitzvot – especially the ones that involve kindness to others.
Protecting the Vulnerable
It will probably surprise none of you that Rachel chose Dara for her Hebrew name. (It translates to “compassion,” for Rachel's Gentile friends.)
Rachel is compassion personified. In second grade, she came home crying because she had told her best friend that they could be buddies for the field trip, so when her other classmate didn't have a buddy, she couldn't be his buddy because she'd make her friend feel bad. She ended up asking her teacher to have two buddies, and the teacher said yes.
She's been like this all through her schooling – always making sure no one is left out or made fun of. If she sees some nasty kids approaching one of the less popular ones, she'll go over to that less popular kid and ask about his day or something. She just naturally protects everyone.
The Anti-Gossip Warrior
No one ever had to tell Sarah that there was a Mitzvah against gossip. She's been the anti-gossip warrior since her first week at Hebrew school when there was a rumor going around that her classmate's father was in jail. Someone whispered it to her, and according to her teacher, she just turned around and said “So what? It's mean to talk about people like that.”
Well, because we don't live in an afterschool special, Sarah didn't instantly convert the gossiper and make the other classmate instantly popular. In fact, she had a pretty hard time that year. But that girl who had the rumors spread about her? She's sitting by Sarah's side, waiting to make the best friend speech.
Don't worry, Beth, I'll be brief.
I can't end, though, without speaking to how appropriate it is that Sarah read Parashat Kedoshim for her Torah portion. Watching her stand up there and remind us all, adults and children, of how important it is to be kind to those who are deaf, blind, poor, or elderly ... I don't think I've ever been so proud of her.
Sarah, they sounded like your own words. Yes, I know they were in Hebrew, and I know I've been hearing you practice them for months, but it never gets old. My daughter is a good person. My daughter is loving and kind and will always stand up for what's right. Sarah, my darling, I am so proud of you. You are truly bat mitzvah. Mazel tov.
A Bat Mitzvah Speech From a Father
Some dads are jokesters; some are disciplinarians. Others are loving teachers and guides. Here is a speech from a dad that falls unquestionably into the latter category.
Wow. Just ... wow. I have this whole speech prepared, but all I want to do is stand up here and say how amazed I am and how proud I am of my little girl. No longer a little girl. Hannah, you've been my joy and my light since the moment you were born, and I swear, I am not going to cry. Much.
Something in a Name
Now, some of you may know that Hannah is named after the woman in the Torah. Hannah's mother and I spent many hours deciding on the name because we wanted our daughter to be named after a woman who was independent, comfortable with advocating for herself, but still was faithful to G-d. We shared Hannah's story with our Hannah as soon as she was old enough to understand it.
Or, at least we thought she was old enough to understand it. We probably should have left out the sacrifice part. Instead of talking about love and faith and strength, we spent our family bonding time reassuring Hannah that no, she was not going to become a human sacrifice.
Not our finest parenting moment.
Growing Into Her Name
As Hannah got a bit older and started preparing for today, we started to reintroduce the story. We asked Hannah what she would want enough to sacrifice something big for, and what she'd be willing to sacrifice. She said she'd be willing to sacrifice for us, but she'd never give us up. That led to a big discussion on human sovereignty and sacrifices in history. As I said, Hannah was growing up.
We also talked about Hannah's whispered prayer. We explained that women talking directly to G-d was looked down on in her day, and we asked her what people looked down on women for doing now.
Hannah thought about that for a while. Then, one day, she came home from school really quiet. (Now, I can tell who here knows Hannah best, because all of you are looking very surprised right now.) Yes, she was quiet – because she'd witnessed sexism first hand, for the first time.
A Lesson in Fairness
A girl in her class had been sent home for violating the dress code. The principal said her clothes were “distracting” and too revealing. She said that as she was leaving school, she saw two boys playing football outside without shirts on. She'd never seen that kind of double standard before.
So the next day, Hannah and her friends petitioned the school to rethink the dress code. Four of them stood outside the door with signs and shouted slogans – nothing vulgar, just phrases like “let girls learn.” The principal tried to give them detention, but their teachers stood up for them.
Over to You, Hannah
Well, now it's time for me to turn the mic over to Hannah because this incident is the inspiration for her own speech. She wants to talk to you about a woman's right to think, to dress herself, to be angry if she feels angry ... well, let's let Hannah put it in her own words. Hannah, my girl – I love you so much, I'm so proud of you, and I'm behind you all the way, forever.
Call the Experts
If you're still having trouble with writing a bat mitzvah speech, don't feel guilty. You have plenty to do to prepare for your daughter's big cay, and adding one more thing might be too much.
It's OK to ask for help! Connect with the speechwriters of Compose.ly, who will work with you one-on-one to create a speech that is as loving and full of pride as one you would write yourself.
This post was written by Compose.ly writer Laura DeCesare.