Orthodox Bar Mitzvah gift?
July 23, 2012 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Appropriate gift for an Orthodox Bar Mitzvah, preferably something that can be easily purchased and shipped from western Europe?

We live in Europe, and have been invited to a Bar Mitzvah for a lovely boy from an orthodox family in Chicago. We won't be able to attend because of the distance, but I would like to send a nice present.

I would love for the present to be something distinctive that I can get here and that would maybe be less accessible in Chicago, but I don't know what that would be. I am also a bit unsure of what an appropriate gift would be in the orthodox tradition. This is family that is very active in their community in Chicago, but also very much a part of the "wider world," if that makes a difference.

I am willing to make something, ship something to me here or to the US, or go to a regular shop. I have access to brick and mortar shops in Switzerland and Lyon, and Paris or Northern Italy if there is something really cool there. I have about 3 weeks to organize this, budget around €70 max.

Thanks in advance for the suggestions!
posted by ohio to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total)
Does that budget include shipping?
posted by griphus at 10:46 AM on July 23, 2012

Also, you can call the rabbi and ask them what would make a good gift for the kid.
posted by griphus at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2012

The super traditional bar mitzvah gift (amongst conservative and reform, at least) is a nice fountain pen. I'm not sure this would be the case with an extremely secular-shunning Ortho sect, but with a more modern one it might still be a good thing. Calling or emailing the rabbi would definitely a good idea.

Also, and I am aware that it may seem tacky to outsiders, cash gifts have always been acceptable, particularly in multiples of $18.
posted by elizardbits at 10:53 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

For my Orthodox bar mitzvah, I got (Orthodox!) Jewish books, checks for various multiples of $18, and a couple of Israel bonds. If you want something notably European, perhaps some nice piece of Judaica. Just make sure they are Orthodox-approved if they are supposed to be used as religious objects.

I think something secular like a nice pen would be fine, too.
posted by callmejay at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go to a Judaica bookstore wherever you are (in Europe) and pick out an older (1930s) but not too expensive volume of a standard work for a bar mitzvah boy (ask the owner). For, you know, obvious reasons, it's not easy to get prewar European Judaica in the U.S., even if it's not rare as such. Pick one with an inscription. Don't be afraid to ask for a referral to a more down-market store if the only one in town is for true collectors.

He may not have a historical consciousness now, but it'll develop as he gets older! I recommend this even if he is not European by extraction. If you were staying in Turkey now, you'd get him a Turkish thing even if his great-grandparents were from Germany.
posted by skbw at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

If there is no antiquarian Judaica dealer (outside of the big cities, of course), then, if you are identifiably Jewish yourself, you could call up the local synagogue and explain that you would like to make a donation in exchange for an older volume (1930s prayerbook, etc.) for an American bar mitzvah boy. Even if you are identifiably Jewish, the reception will probably be pretty chilly, but you'll get an actual remnant of a destroyed civilization for him, so perhaps worth the awkwardness.
posted by skbw at 11:04 AM on July 23, 2012

Raised Conservadox here. Honestly, I'd ask his parents, who will not be fazed by a question about what he'd like. My inclination would be to buy him something secular and cool and grownup, but I would check with the parents first about what is appropriate in their community. (Hey, could you open a Swiss bank account for him with the amount of money you have in mind? A 13 year old American boy would likely love to have those bragging rights. )
posted by Wordwoman at 11:42 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The super traditional bar mitzvah gift (amongst conservative and reform, at least) is a nice fountain pen. I'm not sure this would be the case with an extremely secular-shunning Ortho sect, but with a more modern one it might still be a good thing. Calling or emailing the rabbi would definitely a good idea.

Also, this fits squarely in the category of 'things that are easier to get in Europe than in Chicago'. The pens you can buy for €10-€15 in any random European shop that sells pens are $25-$35 in the US and you have to go out of your way to find them. Certainly €50-€70 could get you quite a nice pen or a pen/pencil or fountain pen/ballpoint set. (He might appreciate a set--a fountain pen is probably intimidating to an American 13 year old, but nicer ballpoints and rollerballs were things I saved up for when I was that age. Admittedly, I'm weird.)

Trying to buy something off a synagogue strikes me as all kinds of inappropriate, but what do I know?
posted by hoyland at 11:50 AM on July 23, 2012

I feel like the "traditional fountain pen" gift is traditional 1940s, not present day. There are some lovely Judaica stores in the Marais in Paris (and probably in the other towns you mention as well) - you might be able to find a nice Kiddush cup or something that is distinctive and special.
posted by judith at 12:07 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I second judith's thought. A nice kiddush cup goes a long way. Perhaps something funky and not the usual silver-adorned-with-grapes. I'm sure you can find some nice ones in Europe, or on Etsy.

Various other traditional gifts:

-A 'yad' or pointer. Not particularly useful to have more than one. If he's like most kids, he probably won't ever read from the Torah after his bar mitzvah, so it may sit in a closet somewhere.

-A menorah. Nice ones can be pricey.

-Savings bonds.
posted by greatgefilte at 3:44 PM on July 23, 2012

I totally agree with all the regular gifts...my feeling is just, if you're physically located in Europe, why get something you can just as well find in the US and/or on Amazon? He will get a lot of regular kiddush cups and stuff.

At 13 I would far rather have had the 70 euros than another kiddush cup. Whether you wish to go the historical route is up to you.

Every little half-defunct synagogue in Europe is different. This is not like scoring an extra copy of the Artscroll standard prayerbook from the Young Israel of Greater Lyon. YMMV.
posted by skbw at 5:14 PM on July 23, 2012

Keep in mind you're getting a gift for a 12 year old, who probably doesn't care at all if the his gift is from france, or if it's not available in Chicago. Awesomeness for 12 year olds = things his friends already think is awesome.

He'll probably be happy to get things that are traditional and valuable (like the fountain pen or various items of judaica), or things that 12 years olds generally think are awesome (like an ipad, or video games).
posted by Kololo at 5:24 PM on July 23, 2012

Also, at my (reform) bat mitvah in 1989, the best gifts were (1)a baseball jacket from Roots, because it was a major fashion status symbol, (2)a stereo. I got plenty of fountain pens and grown up jewellery and savings bonds, and i pretty much instantly forgot about them once i'd written my thank you notes. My brother's fancy kiddush cups might as well have come with a layer of dust already on it.

Get the kid something cool, if you want to impress him. Get him a big check if you want to impress his parents.
posted by Kololo at 5:29 PM on July 23, 2012

Dark chocolate from an independent Swiss chocolatier.
posted by brujita at 10:27 PM on July 23, 2012

Respectfully differ on the chocolate. There are definitely chocolates made in Switzerland that are kosher enough for anyone. But you don't want to make it your problem to figure out which ones they are. A brand like Schmerling that is kosher by the strictest standard you can probably get in Chicago, anyway.
posted by skbw at 8:20 AM on July 24, 2012

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