When my daughter became a Bat Mitzvah last year I chose to speak during her service and my husband spoke during the party. This gave us both an opportunity to share our own perspectives and memories about her while staying true to our individual personalities and speaking styles. Both speeches were effective at painting a descriptive picture of our daughter’s character, but overall, they could not have been more different. The underlying reason was this: a service speech shouldn’t follow the same rules as a party speech. Here’s why:
Different setting means different tone.
Let’s face it, the inside of a synagogue and the inside of a party space (even if you are hosting your party at the synagogue) feel different—and for a reason. The place where you host your service should feel sacred and hold a certain weight commensurate with the milestone your child has reached. As a result, your service speech should reflect a more serious tone. This is not to say that your speech cannot incorporate humor; rather if there was a pie chart showing the ratio of humor to heartfelt, the speech should err more heavily on heartfelt. This sentimentality is often articulated through memories, stories and other anecdotes about your child that reflect his/her own unique spirit and character.
Judaism should be more than a passing comment.
Since religion takes center stage at the service, Judaism should be part of your speech. While it doesn't need to be a major focus, it should be more than a passing remark. Think about the Jewish values or principles that mean something to you and your family, and share them. Think about your child's D'var Torah and if there is a way you can tie into those teachings. Think about your child's Hebrew school experience and Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation and how that has made an impact on your child or your family. Even if you're not overly observant or knowledgeable about Judaism, there is something you can say to make Judaism part of your story. If you're really stumped, don't be afraid to ask your rabbi, cantor, or even your child, for ideas.
Your job is not to entertain.
Unlike the party speech, which should be entertaining (see Five Tips For Giving a Great Bar or Bat Mitzvah Toast for ideas), the service speech is meant to be more inspirational in nature. This is your chance to give your friends and family (and maybe other members of your congregation) an explanation of just what makes your child special. Perhaps more importantly, this is your chance to speak to your child directly, whether it's to express your pride and joy, what you've learned from being his/her parent, or your future hopes and dreams. Your role is to connect with the audience, inclusive of your child, leaving them feeling whatever emotions you projected throughout your speech.
If you do choose to speak during the service, respect the sanctity of the occasion and how hard your child has worked to prepare. Save the one-liners for the party and choose your words wisely. This is one of those rare times when your child is actually listening to what you have to say-- make it count!