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Suit or Sweats: Navigating the Tricky World of B’nei Mitz’vah Attire
By Gutenstein Family ISJL Education Fellow Becca Leaman
The idea of entering into a new prayer space for some can be daunting, and sometimes most worrisome of all is the age old question: What do I wear?
For non-Jewish guests there can be a lot of uncertainty when attending b’nei mitz’vah, especially for the first time. With teens and tweens being hyper-conscious about what they wear, making sure they have a clear understanding of what’s expected and appropriate is important. However, while we may think someone is purposefully being disrespectful with their dress, they might be wearing attire that we don’t approve up simply because no one has explained the expectation in a way that they understand.
Often, there can be frustration for “regular attendees” at services when a slew of new people show up in attire that feels inappropriate. Teens have a tendency to want to do things their way, meaning that getting them to dress more “modestly” may be a struggle. Conflict may even arise when the standard of what is expected by peers and the standard of what may be appropriate for this occasion don’t always overlap.
But how are the standards of appropriateness decided? Are they strict guidelines set into place, or what we as a community feel is appropriate? When it comes to what is appropriate there seems to be a general standard of what is expected, and then depending on the synagogue that standard may differ according to comfort. But how does one deal with a group of kids coming into a space they are unfamiliar with and whatever attire they decide.
I remember going to the b’nei mitz’vah of friends and classmates of mine, and I always saw the “cool kids” dressed down for the occasion. Maybe it was a button-down shirt and jeans, a skirt that may have been shorter than I would be allowed to wear, or even bare shoulders (GASP). As an attendee of a b’nei mitz’vah who may be uncomfortable with the attire of some of the others guests, what should we do?
Some synagogues have released specific dress code guidelines, trying to ensure that people who attend not only follow what the community is used to or comfortable with, but also can help ease some of the anxieties of those less familiar with the customs. The difficulty sometimes is that, even within a single synagogue, modesty and comfort can vary between families.
Having a discussion with families beforehand about ways to make both their guests and the community members more comfortable when it comes to attire could help ease some concerns. Even writing a quick blurb that families could include to help define what is traditionally appropriate to wear in your community could help ensure comfort all around.
Most important to keep in mind, however, is that this is a ceremony to celebrate those who are becoming b’nei mitz’vah. While attire and dress codes may be important, the most important thing is showing love and support for the b’nei mitz’vah students.