After months (and often years) of planning, your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah day is finally here. You may be asked to give a speech during the service to acknowledge how hard your child has worked to prepare for this milestone. Like many of my clients, you may feel eager to give this type of speech, but struggle with how to put your thoughts together in speech form. You worry about what stories to share, how to avoid sounding generic and how to hold your emotions together on such a special day. When it’s time to craft your speech, keep these five tips in mind:
1. Think about tie to Judaism. Nowadays families can get so swept up in the details of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah party that the importance of the service can often play second fiddle. The parent’s speech is an opportunity to acknowledge the spiritual and religious significance of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah itself. You can consider talking about the role that Judaism plays in your child’s life or what Jewish values you prioritize at home. If you are not particularly observant, there’s no need to exaggerate, but finding one Jewish theme or teaching is a good way to remind your child of why he/she is having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in the first place.
2. Be proud, but not too proud. When it comes to your child, it is expected that you will share your pride and joy with the family and friends who have gathered for the service. This is your opportunity to share just how exceptional your child really is. Just be cautious that your whole speech doesn’t become a bragging fest. It’s perfectly okay to talk about Jacob’s piano talents or Hannah’s prowess on the soccer friend, but do so in moderation. And make sure that you’re not sharing a laundry list of accomplishments. Your guests will be much more interested to hear about your child’s character or the unique relationship you have with your child.
3. Capture the highlights, not the full story. Think of your speech like a highlights reel rather than a documentary. Since you only have about five minutes to deliver your speech, you don’t have time to tell your child’s entire life story. Pick one or two heartwarming or funny stories that truly capture the spirit of your child. It may be tempting to share inside jokes, but remember that you want everyone in the room to be able to relate to what you are saying. Opt for the memories that will resonate beyond those “in the know.”
4. Make a wish. This is a turning point in your child’s life as he/she finds the delicate balance between adolescence and adulthood. It’s natural for you to look ahead and express your future hopes and dreams for your child. This is a nice way to wrap up your speech. At the same time, try to avoid using generic language so that you can end on a high note. Be specific. Let’s say your child loves ice cream. Consider saying something like, “May your life be filled the happiness that a mint chocolate chip, cookie dough ice cream sundae with extra fudge can provide.” This is much more impactful than saying, “My biggest wish is that your life is happy.”
5. Address your child directly. Toward the end of the speech, talk directly to your child. Say his/her name and make eye contact. This is the time to express or reiterate the two or three things you want your child to remember and take with him/her long after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah has ended. This is your moment to connect one-on-one with your child despite being in front of a larger audience. Make it count.
When it’s time to deliver your speech, know that you can’t go wrong with words from the heart. A parent’s love for a child is such a beautiful thing to express, so go with it. And if your emotions start to show, it’s okay. Trust me, your child will still be proud of you.