Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ask the Expert - Elisa Helman on Bar/Bat Mitzvah's

Ask the Expert!

Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s

I have asked Elisa Helman, of Elisa in Balloonland Jerusalem to share some of her expertise when it comes to Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s.

Elisa Helman, Elisa in Balloonland Jerusalem

Firstly can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a second generation balloon artist.  My mom and her business partner started doing balloons 23 years ago.  
It started when we wanted to have balloons at my brother’s Bar Mitzvah.  I had seen “Back to Cool” written out in balloons at a local shopping mall and I decided we needed to have something similar.  
We looked all over Boston and there was no one that was doing anything creative or unusual with balloons.  We contacted the mall and we went to New Hampshire to meet the balloon artists.  They were ahead of their time and we were hooked. 
They made my brother’s name in balloons, they made a spiral arch that went over the kids table and they attached balloons to the centerpieces that we made. 

We decided that we were going to try making balloons at my mother’s friend’s (soon to be business partner’s) daughter’s Bat Mitzvah a few months later.  The balloons fell in the middle of the event.  Someone saw the centerpieces from my brother’s Bar Mitzvah and our friend’s Bat Mitzvah and decided Mom and her friend had to decorate her son’s Bar Mitzvah!  They said no, but she was presistent and kept calling.  They finally broke down and agreed to decorate her the event. 
They went to a local Qualatex Balloon distributor and he gave them some tips.  The Bar Mitzvah party was Saturday night and the next Sunday morning they had three orders.  I was in high school and I remember the phone calls back and forth deciding wether they were going to do this.  They agreed to do the events that were scheduled for  the spring.

By luck IBAC (International Balloon Arts Convention) was in Boston that winter and Mom and her friend decided to go.  They were amazed at what they saw from Gary Wells’ fantasy flowers, Bruce Walden’s Pinocchio, a dragon sculpture that was breathing smoke, exploding balloons and more.  Within 24 hours Dad was packing all the kids into the car and off we were to Boston to see balloons every night for a week!

Bruce Walden
PINOCCHIO - created by Bruce Walden  CBA

When I moved to Israel after college, I did one party for a friend, word of mouth spread and within a year I had a full time decor business.  The balloon distributors in Israel laughed at me that I would never make it, that no one would pay those prices.  14 years later, not only do I have over 5,000 decor clients, I have been distributing Qualatex balloons for the last 8 years.

Elisa Helman
Gumball Centrepieces by Elisa Helman

What is a Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s?

A Bar and Bat Mitzvah is a coming of age within the Jewish community.  It is when a Jewish child takes on the responsibilities of being an adult in the community.  A Bar Mitzvah is for a boy, this happens when he is 13 years old.  A Bat Mitzvah is for a girl, this happens when she is 12, though there will be some streams of Judaism that will celebrate when they are 13. To celebrate the occasion, a religious ceremony is held in accordance with each stream of Judaism’s laws and congregational rules.  In most cases, the young adult is called to the Torah (Bible) to read.  Following the religious ceremony there is a celebratory meal.  

Elisa Helman
Ceiling Decor by Elisa Helman

Are all Bar/BatMitzvah’s the same, or can they vary?

All Bar/Bat Mitzvahs can be different.  They can vary in the number of celebrations, the days of the week that they are celebrated, the size, etc.  There is no set pattern.
Also, the celebrations can vary.  It can be mainly a ceremony where the child reads from the Torah and then there is a small lunch after.  That can also be followed by a large, sit down dinner with dancing.  Or there can be a child’s party with a dj and pizza.  Or there can be all of these celebrations for the same child.  Outside of Israel the large parties tend to be held on Saturday nights, after the Sabbath ends.  Balloons can be needed for more than one event.  I have had Bar Mitzvahs where I have decorated up to four events for the same child!  

Elisa Helman
Shai's Bar MItzvah - by Elisa Helman

Are there any ‘rules’ or definite no-no’s when it comes to designing a Bar/BatMitzvah party?

Again the rules and no-no’s will depend on the community.  If the event is in a location where they keep the Sabbath, then all preparations would need to be made Friday before sundown.  On our Sabbath, Friday at sundown till Saturday at sundown, there is no work done.  If it is in a location that keeps kashrut (Jewish Dietary Laws, kosher) then you have to check if certain candies and foods are allowed.  

Elisa Helman
Shai's Bar MItzvah- by Elisa Helman

What are popular themes for a Bar/BatMitzvah party?

It is interesting, in the US, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs almost always have a theme from sports, dance, theatre, film, shopping, animals, etc. At our big parties in the evening mine was ballet, my brother’s was the Celtics.  In Israel there is usually not a theme, though sometimes you will find a sport theme, animal theme or as recently someone approached me for a Willy Wonka’s candy theme.  

Elisa Helman
Rainbow Garland Arch by Elisa Helman

In observant circles, the theme of a party can be related to the portion of the Torah (Bible) that the child is reading or something related to Jerusalem or the state of Israel.  It could be a theme like creation, Noah’s Ark, the cities of Israel, etc. 

This was a Bat Mitzvah ceremony, the actually reading of the Torah.  The men and women sit separately amongst the Orthodox, so the balloon flowers actually served as a divider:

Elisa Helman
Shai's Bar MItzvah - By Elisa Helman

How can a decorator market themselves specifically for Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s?

First, learn in depth what a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is and all the events that are related to it.  This is a brief introduction.  It takes time to learn it all and the difference in the Jewish communities.

There can be a kiddush (light meal) after the reading of the Torah or a lunch after a child puts on phylactaries for the first time.  There can be a party where there could be a candle lighting ceremony, cake ceremony, there can be a dance floor, a kids table, a dais for the rabbis and learned scholars, there could be a stage where speeches are made, etc. etc. 

I think it is important to learn what type of community you are near.  Is it a Conservative community where the child is called up to the Torah and has a light meal after the service and then a big, black tie party in the evening for adults and kids?  Or are you near an observant community where there are events of 300 people coming?

It may be that you are near many different types of communities, as I am.

In that case you need to have a range of ideas.  Price ranges and ideas that will suit everyone.  

I recommend trying to introduce yourself to the local synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and private schools.  Once one person has employed you, your name will get around.  

Elisa Helman
Elisa wearing a Balloon Car! - one of the great classes taught by Dom Cassidy and Keith  Stirman at Balloonland Event 2012!

Balloonland Event 2013...January 27-29, 2013 with Alberto Falcone and Patrick Van De Ven in Jerusalem.  Three great days of learning and fun.  More information is available at elisaballoonland.co.il or at info@balloonland.co.il; you can vouch for us Sue that it is a great event!!!

"Yes I certainly can Elisa! The Balloonland Event was wonderful! Israel is such a beautiful country with truly amazing people! So many great opportunities to learn balloon art skills, from some of the best instructors - Alberto & Patrick are awesome! All classes are taught in English!"

Balloonland 2012

Having fun at the Dead Sea - Elisa, Keith Stirman and Dom Cassidy!

Thank you Elisa! It has been very enlightening for me as someone who has never decorated a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to understand a little more of the background information, I am sure that this will help others to approach a whole new market with many great opportunities!

Happy Ballooning!


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