A thoughtful ditty can make any candlelighting witty

I always maintained that my children would not have to suffer through the b'nai mitzvah candlelighting ceremony.

Because I had a business that depended in large part on writing the ceremony for my clients, I began to see the whole thing as an ordeal for the child to go through. After all, I figured, the poor kid had to learn a Torah portion, lead most of the service, write and give a d'var Torah, and be on display for all those people — many of whom are strangers — at a very fragile stage of adolescence. Why add another ceremony to the reception?

Then my daughter became a bat mitzvah.

Up until a few weeks before the bat mitzvah, I insisted that I would not have a candlelighting ceremony, and had even gone so far as to make special arrangements. Candles would be placed on each table. One person at each table would light the candle as a representative of the guests at that table.

Then, to my surprise and delight, my daughter decided that she would not only prefer to do a candlelighting ceremony, but would write it as well.

Unfortunately, writing the ceremony takes time, and we didn't have much of it. I usually tell my clients to allow two months for the writing.

We didn't have that leeway, yet the ceremony was written in time and delivered with all the stage presence of a seasoned actress.

For those planning to write your own candlelighting ceremonies, here are some suggestions:

*Decide if you want the ceremony to be rhymed. While good rhyming sounds pleasant and makes the ceremony easy to follow, poor meter and difficult rhymes can be frustrating to both reader and listener.

*If you do decide to rhyme, consider borrowing a rhyming dictionary from your library. When you have to rhyme something with "Aunt Loretta," it will prove invaluable.

*Make a list of the people you want to honor, in the order you intend to have them read. The usual number of candles is 14 (13 and one for good luck…remember, this is a birthday).

The usual order for the ceremony is (from the child's point of view):

maternal grandparents

paternal grandparents

maternal great-aunts and -uncles

paternal great-aunts and -uncles

maternal aunts and uncles

paternal aunts and uncles

maternal cousins

paternal cousins

parents' special friends

my special friends

my siblings

my parents


And, if there's one left, one for good luck or peace.

*Try to keep each candle to one or two stanzas. And if you have a lot of people to honor, try putting a few together on the same candle. For instance, putting three aunts and uncles about whom you know little on one candle eliminates the necessity of trying to say something different about them. Not only have you found a good way to reduce three candles to one, but you will have all the aunts and uncles in one picture, as the photographer captures the moment on film.

*After the ceremony is written, have the child read it aloud. Listen for places where the meter is off, or for names that are hard to pronounce. Changes may have to be made to make it go smoothly.

*Cut the page into stanzas and attach to index cards with numbers on them. This way, as each card is read, the child can put it down and not worry about repeating a candle. The numbers will help keep them in the right order in case the cards are dropped.

*If you have access to a video camera, tape the child practicing the ceremony. He or she will be able to polish the reading by adjusting volume, increasing eye contact, or just from seeing how others may react.

*If you want a candlelighting ceremony, but the guest of honor refuses to read it, ask the DJ or band leader to do it. Then be sure it is not written from the point of view of the child.

Above all, keep in mind that the child will have already accomplished the main purpose of the day. This part is just some of the icing on the cake.