From aliens to Coachella, b’nai mitzvah party themes entertain

Alien-themed b'nai mitzvah celebration by Innovative Party Planners
Alien-themed b’nai mitzvah celebration by Innovative Party Planners (Geoffrey Baker)

In the more than 25 years that her company has been planning b’nai mitzvah, Heidi Hiller, the CEO and creative director of Innovative Party Planners, has quite possibly seen it all when it comes to different themes for bar and bat mitzvahs, from parties gravitating around extraterrestrial visitors to those centered on a particular brand of soda pop.

With much of the country vaccinated and COVID-19 case counts low, in-person b’nai mitzvah parties have returned. Party planners shared what trends and themes are popular for young teenagers marking this life cycle event.

At the start of 2021, Innovative Party Planners was doing a number of drive-by b’nai mitzvah or small outdoor events, said Hiller, a Jewish resident of Pikesville. They had their first indoor event in June of last year, though often with questions of vaccination status. Giving guests the option to attend the service virtually is also a common feature now.

Lorin Kotz, co-owner of Celebrations, LLC, a full planning and design business, noted that before the pandemic, the creation of brands or logos with a child’s name or initials for a b’nai mitzvah had become popular.

“The other thing that we were seeing a lot of was the popularity in swag,” Kotz continued. “And when I say ‘swag,’ I mean logoed t-shirts, logoed hats, anything you could logo.”

Sports, including football, was a popular theme for b’nai mitzvah parties pre-pandemic, said Kotz, a resident of Owings Mills and member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation. She added that the beach was also a popular motif.

Hiller also named sports as a popular b’nai mitzvah party theme, both today and before the pandemic. Others popular themes might revolve around travel and forms of entertainment like television shows, Broadway performances or video games, she said.

“For a baseball one, we’ve used real vintage baseballs, [and try to] really bring the theme as the experience from the second you walk into the room, so maybe you’re getting a baseball ticket that’s to a special seat,” said Carly Greenberg, an event producer at Innovative Party Planners. “And then, maybe we’ll use inspiration from the child’s favorite sports team. So if their favorite team is the Orioles, it’s orange and black everywhere.”

Sports-themed b’nai mitzvah might also feature a concessions stand in place of a buffet, continued Greenberg, a resident of Pikesville who attends Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Beth El Congregation of Baltimore, or a bar that serves “a grand slam martini.”

Broadway-themed b’nai mitzvah celebration by Innovative Party Planners
Broadway-themed b’nai mitzvah celebration by Innovative Party Planners (Michael Temchine)

A b’nai mitzvah party themed around Broadway, Greenberg said, might include a general feel of arriving in New York City, with a black-and-white motif to represent the checkered cabs, or playbills representing different shows. They might find a way to incorporate the mask from “Phantom of the Opera,” or have each table represent a specific Broadway show, while trying to avoid any trademark issues.

“We’ve done large marquees outside the building, like you would see walking down Broadway or 42nd Street, with the child’s name in lights,” Hiller said. “And another way to do it is, Broadway has the award show every year. We’ve actually done an event where each table was different awards, best actor, best actress. … For the candle lighting, we announced the winner of each category to come up and light a candle.”

B’nai mitzvah themed around music festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella have also become more prevalent, Kotz said.

At the same time, some families have chosen to move away from these kinds of themes for b’nai mitzvah parties.

“There’s also a trend to get away from themes, and just do color, we’ve done a lot of that,” Hiller said.

Greenberg said this is part of a trend to personalize a b’nai mitzvah event with a child’s favorite color or type of flower, something that began before the pandemic and continues today.

Regarding some of the less common, more unique b’nai mitzvah themes that Hiller has seen over the years, these have included one based around Diet Coke, while another was based around aliens and Roswell, N.M. The former featured Diet Coke cans that were cut up into flowers and used as centerpieces. She added that the cake took the form of a spinning Diet Coke can, while the bar featured Diet Coke with mixers like whiskey or rum. Meanwhile, the alien-themed party included a blow-up alien seated at each table.

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