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What did you get for your bar mitzvah?

I was bar mitzvahd many years ago, but I still remember some of the gifts given to me. Since I come from a relatively poor family I used to gasp in horror when I realized that it was perfectly normal for someone to get a $500 check from their grandparents or parents business partners. The most I got from any single person was $100 and I think my dad used the money to pay the caterer, redneck indeed.

I remember getting a lot of books I would never use, Hebrew books with fancy covers, things like full sets of mishna bruras and mekraos gedolos, I always wondered why on earth someone would give their 13 year old modern orthodox nephew a set of Hebrew books he couldn’t use. I always wished they had ebay back then, or I knew how to return books to a seforim store.

I wonder if kids return seforim? Do they mosy on into Eichlers and ask for retail on this set of books with their sticker on the back? That would most likely bankrupt any seforim store, I think they rely on cousins buying cousins bar mitzvah presents, why didn’t my frummy cousins ever give money as gifts.

I go a bunch of watches, a few parker pens – they were cool back in the day and one hand held television which is the only present I really used. I used it with headphones under my covers at yeshiva and it felt really cool, even though there was never anything on.

But beyond all of my memory stand one memory and it holds true for almost everyone I know. Great Jews in Sports was that one gift that I received multiple copies from people too cheap to give me cash yet too stupid to figure out that every other secular Jewish person would buy the same gift.

This was in the days before kitschy gifts like hipster Jewish shirts that said What would the Rebbe do? Or Boro Park is for lovers. This was way before matzo ball soap and Adam Sandler, so what else was there besides for Great Jews in Sports?

I remember receiving at least 4 copies of this book which was made into gifts for 3 other bar mitzvahs. My brother also received a ton of these books, its funny because every time I see the book in anyone’s house I always comment that their cousin with the bright orange yarmulke named Harvey must have given it to them.

{ 35 comments… add one }
  • tesyaa December 30, 2008, 11:45 AM

    Our frum yeshiva going daughters (who have to learn Torah before we let them have a bas mitzvah party) get a few small checks, while totally assimilated kids in Short Hills, NJ are clearing $20 grand at their disco traif party

  • Dofan Akuma December 30, 2008, 11:48 AM

    i got one copy of great jews in sports. in my utter frumkeit i quipped with the incisiveness of a sage, ‘it shouldn’t be great jews in sports, but rather great sports in jews.’
    does the whole world remind you of chelm, or is it just me?

  • Frum Satire December 30, 2008, 12:00 PM

    No definitely some Kelm going on in that one. You should have said it should be Helige Yidden in Gemara – I think that big gadol hador picture book is the competition.

  • Phil December 30, 2008, 12:37 PM

    I got mainly cash, and a few seforim (some that I still haven’t opened).

    The odd present was $26 worth of lottery tickets which ended up winning a total of $70, got them from my second grade rabbi.

  • JMB December 30, 2008, 12:59 PM

    The one gift that seems totally useless that alot of people I know got was the Chronicles, which are basically torah stories in news format.

  • Ed Greenberg December 30, 2008, 1:16 PM

    I was Bar Mitzvah in 1978. I cleared a chunk of cash, that was saved for college, a chunk of savings and Israel bonds, and some books and things. Nothing stands out except a menorah, that I use to this day, which came from the Rabbi of Young Israel of Eastern Parkway.

  • Baal Tshuva Slowly December 30, 2008, 1:48 PM

    I’ve got my Bris Mila for my bar mitzvah

  • Texgator December 30, 2008, 2:20 PM

    I got a Nintendo game system…the original one. With Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. It was the bestest present ever. I also got a bunch of cash and bonds. A gold ID bracelet….which broke almost immediately. No seforim…but then again I was raised in a Reform family, so that’s not sh0cking.

  • Batya December 30, 2008, 2:26 PM

    Obviously, I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, but I did have a Bat Mitzvah and almost had two, but my Uncle Donny was too sick even to got to a nearby Brooklyn shul from the hospital.

    I hate getting gifts for kids, because it’s such a tough call to make. Nobody’s going to stay 12 or 13 forever, or at least I hope not. After I gave a kid a gift certificate for a sports store, my husband took over and buys books he likes.

    I let my daughters have their ears pierced so they could get earrings for their Bat Mitzvah. Not recommended for the boys.

  • veebee December 30, 2008, 2:32 PM

    I took almost all the useless seforim I got and exchanged them in my book store (using store credit) for a few useful items like an etrog box and a menorah.

  • Joe December 30, 2008, 3:09 PM

    I used to hear stories of kids who got thousands. I just got a couple hundred which i never saw. Like you it was used to pay for the Bar mitzvah (which wasnt even catered)
    I got a couple of seforim which are still in their shrink wrap.
    The best gift was a build your own robot kit, even though I never finished building it, you had to put together all the wiring.

  • MoFo December 30, 2008, 3:52 PM

    You can live on the West Side and still be poor?

  • Anonymous December 30, 2008, 4:38 PM

    I got a lot of cash, much of which went to pay the caterer, and seforim–all of which are used. I loved my bar mitzva. It was a great day that I still look back to as a milestone. My whole life changed since.

  • Neil Harris December 30, 2008, 4:38 PM

    great jews in sports, the complete Sherlock Holmes, an atlas, an atari 5200, a FM Sony Walkman, a Parker pen, two Cross pens, a Hertz Chumash (from the shul)
    I was Bar Mitzvah’ed in 1983 (just had the anniversary this past Shabbos Kodesh).

  • Chavi December 30, 2008, 4:52 PM

    Okay, I know this isn’t super legit, but I was bat mitzvahed by a couple Chabad rabbis on Masada last week … and what did I get? NOTHING! It was awesome 🙂

  • MoFo December 30, 2008, 4:53 PM

    I got a gift card to Hooters.

  • rena December 30, 2008, 4:59 PM

    The worst gift i got was a leather bound monogramed dictionary/thesaurus set from a very eccentric cousin.

    I got four sets of The Book Of Our Heritage, which were never used and I ended up donating them to some organization.

    The most under appreciated gifts that I received as a twelve year old were savings bonds. Couldn’t imagine waiting all the years till they would mature. Well 18 years later they matured and i used the cash for a vacation in the Bahamas this past summer. Definatly the most appreciated Bat Mitzvah gifts an a thirty year old !!

  • Faith December 30, 2008, 5:32 PM

    Wow! I got the Chronicles! What a blast from the past. I spent every dime I received for my Bat Mitzvah on an Apple IIc brand new. And now you know how old I am.

  • Shira Salamone December 30, 2008, 6:47 PM

    MoFo, i lived on the upper west side b4 it became gentrified. there was a time only about 25 yrs. ago when poor people could afford 2 live there. i should know. my salary was pathetic. of course, considering the cheap non-profit i work 4 now, i’m not much richer. but hardly any1 without $ can afford 2 live on the uws now, which is y i moved over 20 yrs. ago

    bat mitzvah presents? 2 long ago 2 remember. reception at my grandparents’ home–rich, we weren’t

    pls pardon poor typing–2 broken wrists

  • Joe December 30, 2008, 8:46 PM

    I also got some bonds from my grandmother but my parents cashed them out early (with penalty) and I never saw the money.

  • Anonymous December 30, 2008, 9:15 PM

    I got a kiss from a girl who I really really liked. I wasn’t raised in an observant home obviously but I can say that the girl who kissed me is now my wife 20 years later.

  • Frum Satire December 30, 2008, 11:32 PM

    MoFo the upper west siders of yore are regular folks – it only started getting pricey in the last 15 years or so.

    Go see the movie Deathwish with Charles Bronson and then you’l see the real UWS

  • Aziz Punim December 31, 2008, 12:36 PM

    I was BarMitzvahed in the armpit of earth, Manchester, England. My dad, who was too cheap to pay for postage stamps figured he would send me traipsing all over town delivering my invitations. My dad encuraged me by telling me that remember, every invitation you deliver means another present you’ll receive.

    Turns out, this was just another of the totally untrue things my dad told me, and about 99% of the fat chazerim who stuffed their faces at my kiddush never gave me a penny. I got a handful of seforim, which 20 years later, remain unused on my dad’s seforim shelf.

  • Mark December 31, 2008, 9:11 PM

    I had a small Bar Mitzvah, shabbat was at a small shul (in the house of the Rabbi) after which we had a small kiddush with some cake, cookies, and a little schnapps. Then on Sunday, my parents had a sort of open house with some food set out, and people came by for a few hours in the afternoon. Presents? Nothing much, one $50 US savings bond, a few $25 US savings bonds (I cashed those all in to pay for some books in college). A little cash, maybe $150-200 in total. A few trees planted in Israel (those were big back then). A bunch of seforim, a mikraot gedolot, a set of nach, 3 out of 5 books of Ramban translated into English, and a few others. I think I got one pen, maybe a Parker.

  • David January 1, 2009, 2:09 PM

    If anyone has any bar mitzvah seforim that they’d like to part with, I’d be willing to take them. Email UHaveARay@yahoo.com

  • RE January 2, 2009, 3:09 PM

    My brother got a suitcase…What a 13 year-old is supposed to do with that, we may never know. Talk about blatant re-gifting!

  • Der Nister January 4, 2009, 6:18 AM

    I feel better knowing I am not the only one who recieved a lot of seforim that were never used and whose folks used my cash gifts to pay for the “party”. It was a Sunday brunch buffet in the backyard. I wore a lime green leisure suit and brown and tan quiana (key-anna) shirt. Jewish sports heroes would have been a step up. Irecieved a Mikrot Gedolot set with very tiny print and an obscure and prolix book by a local shul member dealing with Rambam. I also received a samsonite suitcase which was veryy cool (not!) on later shabbatonim.

  • A. ben A. January 4, 2009, 9:51 PM

    My son’s bar mitzvah had three parts: leyning; kiddush lunch for congregation (our nickel, around $2200); party in the back-yard for family and a few friends (catering by Mum). He was not super-social then. What did he get? Hmmm. $1000 from one of my brothers, to invest; the physical presence of anuddah bruddah, who lives very far away and is strapped for cash; some books; some other small gifts; and maybe another $1000 in cheques, from which he deducted $200 to give to tzedakah along with the $300 he had raised by organizing a lecture series at the shul. He got nachas, I guess.

  • Bodhi Small January 29, 2013, 5:48 PM

    I am becoming barmitzvah in 4 months and I came here to see what to expect. Well, I can always hope for the best(Anonymous)

  • Brad Hanks July 19, 2018, 5:27 AM

    My great grandfather was a multimillionaire Jew. He absconded from my grandfather when he was 2. AND took all the money. Returned 25 YEARS later broke. Three generations of suffering due to his betrayal

    I realized this at young age and built my own empire with no help. Made me smart and resourceful. So I have mixed emotions on my Jewish heritage. As u can imagine

  • _GrEedYkIke69_ September 13, 2018, 5:14 PM

    Yeah I only get a measly 100gs at my bar mitzvah i cant believe they would hold out on me like that.

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