I’m headed to Vermont in a couple of weeks to attend my 13-year-old cousin’s bat mitzvah, the traditional service marking a Jewish child’s passage into adulthood. A highlight of many bat/bar mitzvah services is the short blessing or speech from the parents.
The best of these speeches are touching and often a little funny. They have stories that help the congregation get to know the young man or woman who has been studying hard to lead the congregation through that morning’s Shabbat service.
Along with my wife, I’ve written and delivered three of these two-minute b’nai mitzvah blessings. So if you’re not sure what to say, or if you’re a little nervous, here is our template that you can use to honor your young adult.
Opening Your Speech
Start by telling your daughter how proud you are. Then tell her and the congregation some of the personality traits about her that you most admire.
“[Insert first name of your child]. Your [mother/father] and I are so proud of how well you did today, leading the congregation in prayer this morning. But more than that, we’re proud of the wonderful young man/woman you’ve become. You’re a wonderful member of the Jewish community, a true mensch.”
“You’re [insert the positive qualities that you admire about your child. For example you might say “You’re sweet, and kind and responsible.” Or “You’re friendly and extremely outgoing!” Or “You’re hard working and generous with your time!” or “You’re not just a wonderful pitcher for the baseball team. You’re a warm and caring older brother.”]
Stories are the Best
Next, tell two or three short stories that illustrate your child’s wonderful qualities. Stories are what make these blessings great and memorable.
[I said that you are outgoing and friendly. I remember when we moved to Atlanta from New York. You were sad leaving behind your friends. But you didn’t waste time finding new friends. As soon as we settled into our neighborhood, you found the neighborhood directory and started calling up kids your age in the neighborhood. You said ‘Hi, I’m Elliott. I’m new to the neighborhood. Would you like to play sometime?’” You have to be the first child in history to cold call for friends. The funny thing is that it worked. Several of those friends are here today.”]
[I also said that you were hard working. I remember your first dance recital. You were up in front of a lot of people and you fell down. It was a little embarrassing and you told me so. But you didn’t get frustrated. Rather on the way home you just said to me ‘Dad, I think I need to practice more.’ And that evening, I heard you in the basement, practicing. Now you’re one of the best dancers on the dance team and you’re teaching us moves that we’ve never seen. You’ve even started teaching dance to younger kids at the JCC. Of course you bring that same determination to your studies and to your preparation for this day.]
If you want to add a third story, knock yourself out. But remember that no one wants to hear a long speech. When the Rabbi says “Keep it to two minutes,” he or she really wants it short. Remember, this is not your day. It’s your son or daughter’s day.
End by Going for the Heartstrings
Finish with a sincere pronouncement of love and admiration.
[Of course, we are proud of how you performed today. But that’s not nearly as important as the fact that were are incredibly proud of the young man/young woman that you’ve become. We love you.]
Don’t Forget to Practice . . . A Lot
Once you have the speech written, practice. My wife and I practiced enough so that we could recite it without notes. Lots of practice will help you overcome the natural nerves you’re going to feel.
If you feel you have to use notes, that’s OK. Just read with gusto. You want it to sound like you’re just telling stories at a dinner table.
Practice hard and your son or daughter will be as proud of you as you are of them.
Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at www.speechworks.net