Here’s how to involve virtual guests in a hybrid bar or bat mitzvah

(Grace Yagel via JTA)

By Holly Lebowitz Rossi

Fully virtual bar and bat mitzvahs are, happily, no longer a necessity for the most part. Whether you are including a few people in an IRL event, or even hosting a small crowd in, say, your backyard, most families are still likely to have guests who are only able to attend — or are only comfortable attending — a bar or bat mitzvah via a virtual platform like Zoom.

Does this scenario have your head spinning? Fear not! You don’t need to plan two separate events. But you do want to include your on-screen guests in the ceremony and celebration so everyone can feel fully present on the day.

Start with these tips to involve every guest in your family’s milestone day.

Include virtual guests in photo montages

If you are showing a video montage of photos or video clips — or celebrating with a “virtual hora” — invite your online guests to send materials ahead of time. Try to share the finished products while the virtual guests are still “there” at the celebration. You can also ask guests to send photos of themselves attending the bar or bat mitzvah virtually for an album afterward.

Send “mitzvah boxes”

Gather items from the event, and send or deliver them to the doorsteps of the virtual guests as care packages. You might include a kippah; a printed program or a prayer guide; candy or treats; plus any party favors you are giving in-person guests. You can even include a set of Shabbat candles so they can add their light to your family’s joy.

Protect everyone’s view

Test-run your tech setup to know for sure that the virtual guests can see and hear the proceedings without blocking the view of your in-person guests (or vice-versa). Take into consideration camera locations, as well as sound equipment like microphones and speakers when mapping out your ceremony and celebration plan. If you have a complicated setup, you might want to hire an audiovisual company to help.

Assign honors to virtual guests

There are many ways to honor guests at a bar or bat mitzvah, from aliyah blessings before and after the Torah reading, to English readings during the service, to the blessings over the wine/juice and challah (kiddush and motzi). Ask a combination of in-person and virtual guests to honor your family by participating in the service. Be sure you and your in-person guests can hear the Zoom participants through an adequate sound setup.

Think of Zoom as a “table” to visit

The time-honored tradition of table visits by the hosts and guest of honor can help your virtual guests feel seen and included. Just as you’d stop by each table at an in-person celebration to visit with your guests, plan a specific time to “stop by” the Zoom room to greet and thank those who have dialed in.

Use the chat function as a virtual guest book

Leave open the chat function in your virtual platform before and after the service to enable your virtual guests to leave messages of love and congratulations, share special memories with the bar or bat mitzvah child, and otherwise mark their presence at the milestone moment. Let your guests know ahead of time that you’ll be saving the chat as a virtual “guest book” to print as a treasured keepsake.

Set a clear time expectation

Your celebration might last for several hours — but Zoom calls should not. While you can of course leave the meeting open for anyone who wants to hang out and watch the in-person fun, set an expectation with your virtual guests that you hope they will attend the service and stay for a greeting or any other special events early in the celebration, but that you are not asking them to spend the whole day in cyberspace.

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