What is an appropriate bat-mitzvah gift?

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.

From:

Carole P.

Dear Carole,

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

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8 thoughts on “What is an appropriate bat-mitzvah gift?”

  1. Wow-what a thoughtful way to think of gift giving-love all the consideration you gave in your answer to the question .

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    1. Liz, I wish that we always took the time to practice the principles we know to be true. Some people are masters at this.

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  2. This article touches my heart. I am blessed to have 3 wonderful granddaughters who are growing up much too fast. They visited over the weekend, we talked and laughed for hours! I always try to find gifts for them that expresses loving respect for who they are and how I see the treasure of God in them. Not easy to do, but your article has encouraged me. Thank you!

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  3. One of the greatest gifts that you could give a child is an account that will be used for a trip to Israel! There were about 60 people who were interested in the trip we took to Israel, but only seven people went! Living in Israel for the ten days enabled us to to see the beauty of the land with its gorgeous fruits, flowers and gorgeous scenery. To experience the foods and culture of Israel was fantastic! The trip was costly, but God provided for us! I rejoice everyday that we took the trip and saw so much history of the Bible especially in Jerusalem. Helping a child through their life to prepare for a trip to Israel is the most loving and meaningful gift anyone could give!

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  4. I am one of 12 grandchildren. Our grandmother created a book detailing the family history including when she first met my grandfather for each of us. My grandmother knitted an afghan for each of us over 40 years ago. It must have taken a very long time! I am very careful with mine. I was fortunate enough to live across the street from my grandparents. My grandfather had a small farm and taught me the work ethic that I still have today. My grandfather would pay me with Morgan silver dollars which I still have today. My grandparents led by example. They had a wonderful 68 year marriage, were active in their church, tithed, made wise investments and my grandfather would pray wonderful prayers at every family event. They lived during a unique time period in America which I wish we could go back to. Their gifts to our family are priceless!

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  5. What a beautiful way to look at both giving and receiving gifts.

    I stopped trying to give gifts years ago, because most people in my family were terrible gift receivers! They complained about the gifts as not good enough, instead of receiving them as gifts of love.

    They prefer cash, which seems empty and impersonal to me.

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    1. Janice, I’m sorry you had such a bad experience and that your family has an “it’s owed to me” mentality rather than one of gratitude. Let’s hope they recognize their mistake.

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