My granddaughter is going to have a Bat Mitzvah. I am a Christian. I would like to know what is an appropriate gift for her.
The value of a gift flows from three sources and the best gifts hit all three hot spots. These sources are the person receiving the gift, the gift giver, and the gift itself.
Let’s use a few examples to help clarify this. When our children were young, we did not overwhelm them with candy. A candy bar might be divided into seven pieces (eight for practical purposes and, hey, if Mommy got a piece too, what was wrong with that?) and child-size ice cream scoops were the order of the day. On one memorable occasion, visiting friends brought each and every one of our children, down to the four-year-old, his or her very own Haagen-Dazs ice cream bar. This raised the bar (pun intended) on ice-cream in both quantity and quality. (Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. L.) The delight on our children’s faces, as well as the chocolate mess was priceless. However, as much as they liked the gift-givers, they would have been equally delighted had the bonanza come from someone else.
In contrast with this, a few weeks ago, an artistically inclined dear friend of my mother’s (Susan here) gave me a necklace that she had made. My mother has been gone for over 20 years and was friends with this woman from childhood on. The same necklace from anyone else would be nice, but from this cherished friend, it is priceless. In this case, the relationship between the gift-giver and me is more important than the object. When the gift marks an important and memorable occasion, again, the gift itself is not as important as the memories it evokes.
Bat-mitzvah literally means, “the age of commandments.” This sounds outrageous in a day when many 25-year-olds present as immature adolescents. However, when a Jewish girl turns 12 she becomes responsible for her own religious decisions and relationship with God. She now has the obligation of observing the commandments that pertain to her life. For boys, this age of commandments comes at 13.
In reality, except in the comparatively small Torah-observant part of the Jewish community (and sadly, sometimes even there) the religious significance of the occasion has been largely abandoned. Nowadays, the most important part of a bat-mitzvah or bar-mitzvah has become the opportunity to throw a party, and too frequently, even this is done in ways that violate Jewish values, such as featuring non-kosher food. Instead of being the culmination of maturation, growth and learning about and preparing to play a committed role as a God-fearing Jew, it has become almost the equivalent of a sweet-sixteen party four years too early.
A safe gift would be a piece of jewelry or a similar item suitable for that age. A religiously meaningful gift such as a book of Psalms might be something that she treasures and uses for the rest of her life while feeling enveloped in your love, or it could be meaningless to her. It depends on her family’s religious commitment and her own awakening sense of spirituality. If you have a favorite verse from Scripture that also would be meaningful to your granddaughter, you might give her an artistic rendition as a wall hanging. (Our daughter creates wall art like this.) Depending on your finances, the start of a savings account that you and she can both add to over the years to be used for a trip to Israel might be another idea.
In the Lord’s language, the word for giving is NaTaN and, as you can see, it is palindromic; it reads the same from either direction. The meaning of this is that bestowing a gift on someone can do as much for the giver as for the receiver. Ideally, it is a relationship-strengthener.
Carole, the influence of a grandmother is boundless. Your relationship and your valuing of your granddaughter’s Jewish heritage are the most important parts of any gift you may choose. She is fortunate to have you.
Mazal tov on this milestone,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
God gave us the gift of His language.
Have you unpacked that gift?
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