A Bar Mitzvah only happens once in a person's life so it is an opportunity for the friends and relatives to give gifts that will last his lifetime. It is not always easy to choose something or to know what is suitable, especially if you don't know the young man very well. Here is where we can help you out.
Tips on Bar or Bat Mitzvah Gift buying:
People often buy books or send checks for Bar Mitzvah gifts, but if you are the kind of person who wants to make a more personal touch, we have some ideas for you. We believe that gifts should be treasured and that they can last a lifetime. My brother has gifts that he received at his Bar Mitzvah in 1980 and he still uses and displays them today. Actually, I think his favorite gift was the 5 stocks in Chrysler that someone gave him. That was a creative choice.
Find out whether the Bar Mitzvah boy understands Hebrew. If so, a gift with Hebrew words in it, or his name in Hebrew (such as on a prayer book or picture frame) would be appreciated.
If the Bar Mitzvah boy has been to Israel already then he probably has fond memories of being there. Artwork and Judaica with Jerusalem themes would then be a great choice as it will remind him of Jerusalem whenever he sees it. Any gift from Israel would also be meaningful to someone who is active in the Jewish community.
When in doubt, a Hanukkia (Menorah) is always a safe choice as almost all Jewish households celebrate Hanukkah. You can find menorahs that take candles or oil. If the family is religiously observant make sure to get a "kosher" menorah one where all of the candles are in a row and at the same height.
Once a boy is the age of Bar Mitzvah he will be eligible to be called up to the Torah to recite the blessings before and after the Torah reading. He will be required to wear a Tallit (Prayer shawl) and kippa (yarmulke or skullcap) when he goes up to the bima. Tallitot today come in many styles and colors, so much more than when I was growing up. The most beautiful designs from Israel today are created by artist Yair Emanuel. He has created tallitot with themes such as the Etz Chayim or "Tree of Life" design as well as the tallitot with the skyline of Jerusalem or the twelve tribes and their symbols. They are also available in different sizes, smaller ones for small men and wider ones for wider men. Most of the tallitot also come with matching kippot which completes the look.
Another nice Judaica gift is a yad or "Torah pointer" which the Bar Mitzvah boy can use to read his Torah portion with. This is best given to the boy before his ceremony so that he can use it at the synagogue.
If the boy comes from a family very involved in helping the community and in local charities, a "tzedaka" box would be appreciated. These come in all shapes and sizes these days.
A Kiddish cup (wine goblet) is something that every Bar Mitzvah boy can use over a lifetime of Shabbats and holidays. It is more traditional to buy a silver kiddish cup but the painted wooden cups by Yair Emanuel have also become popular and are considerably less expensive than silver.