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How to Host a Gender Inclusive Bar/Bat Mitzvah

How to Host a Gender Inclusive Bar/Bat Mitzvah

By Vered Ornstein

By the time teens reach bar/bat mitzvah age, many of them have already begun to explore their identity and self-presentation by experimenting with clothing, hair and makeup styles, and other means of expression. Whether your teen identifies as genderqueer, nonbinary, or nonconforming, or if they simply wish to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, there are many ways to incorporate gender inclusivity into their big day. Here are some simple tips to get you started:

Use Gender-Neutral Language

Hebrew is an inherently gendered language. For a teen who does not feel completely comfortable identifying as either male or female, having to use gendered terms like “bar” and “bat” may feel alienating or awkward. The term “b’nai mitzvah” is traditionally used when multiple people are having their ceremonies at once, such as for a set of twins. Because of that, it can be seen as the Hebrew equivalent of someone using they/them pronouns, and it is a great option for an alternative title to bar or bat mitzvah.

Additionally, some synagogues have done away with the traditional Hebrew terms altogether in recent years, choosing to simply call all ceremonies “B-Mitzvahs”. Some other non-traditional titles could include “simchat mitzvah” (meaning a joyous celebration), “brit mitzvah” (a celebration of the covenant), or even a “they mitzvah”. This subtle change in terminology may seem small, but it can have a huge impact on a teen’s level of comfort and confidence as they celebrate their journey into Jewish adulthood.

 

Gift Unisex Party Favors

Party favors and swag are one of the most fun parts of attending a party, but being gender inclusive can feel tricky when clothing and sizing comes into play. Instead of having “boys” and “girls” options for party swag (for example, having tank tops for girls and t-shirts for boys), instead pick something that is uniform in cut and sizing, like a sweater or a baseball cap.

If you choose to have variations of swag, let the guests choose for themselves what type of clothing they’d like to take home, rather than assuming what they might want. Having open-ended options for gifts will make sure your party is one to talk about for years to come.

Ask for Pronouns

A person’s pronouns may differ from how they present and dress themselves, so it’s important to never assume what one’s might be. An easy way to make sure you know your guests’ preferred pronouns is to have a spot for them on your RSVPs. If your teen uses pronouns different from the ones they were assigned at birth, ask them if they’d like for that to be included in the invitations as well.

If you’d like to take pronoun inclusion to the next level, incorporate guests’ pronouns wherever their names are written (with their permission, of course). This could include seating chart cards, the service program, and anywhere else names might come up. If your party includes something unique, like a crafting station, consider having pronoun pins as one of the crafts.

As pronouns are a very personal part of one’s identity, it’s possible not everyone will feel comfortable sharing theirs with a large group of people. If this is the case, don’t sweat it! What matters most is that your guests and your teen are comfortable and having fun.

Check Your Venue’s Accommodations

Having to choose which restroom to use can potentially cause a nonbinary or gender nonconforming person stress and anxiety. If possible, always check with your synagogue and party venue if they have an all-gender restroom that is easily accessible for guests to use. This ensures that everyone feels safe, comfortable, and welcome when they come to celebrate with you!
While planning a bar/bat/b’nai mitzvah is a daunting task, making it gender inclusive doesn’t have to be! Allowing a teen to be their authentic and genuine self is a huge part of making their mitzvah a special and memorable day. For more information on gender, sexuality, and Judaism, check out Keshet, an organization dedicated to promoting LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Jewish community.

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