By: Aviva Blumstein
It should be a moment of nachas and joy: your child’s simcha. But instead, you’re sweating, feeling slightly queasy, and half-wishing the event was over. All because of a conspiracy of poised, eloquent parents who, years ago, made a “parent speech” standard for Jewish events of note. Even if you’re usually a good writer, for some reason here you can’t find the right words. Your emotions overwhelm you. My child is so special and this event is so important, you think – either consciously or subconsciously. How can I do it justice in a speech? So it’s entirely normal – and even a sign of your connection to your child and the day – that you’re having writer’s block.
But you don’t just want to know that you’re normal, right? You want a speech! One that will make your child feel loved and appreciated, and keep your listeners inspired, touched, and amused.
Let’s take a look together at some common elements of successful simcha speeches.
Four principles for a great simcha speech:
Short is sweet
Ever heard a speech at a simcha and thought, “Wow – that was too short. He should have spoken for longer”? No? How surprising. Most of the clients I work with want to keep it short anyway (as speaking does not top the list of their favourite activities). But on occasion it’s tempting to go longer. There are so many people to thank, and you keep thinking of another point that you want to make, and another joke you want to put it… Err on the side of being too short. You’ll thank yourself for it.
Start out with a laugh
This well-known piece of advice is at least as old as the Gemara in Shabbos 30b (and probably as old as the first speech ever. Or, at least the second one, after the first speech put everyone to sleep). You don’t have to be a natural comedian. Don’t force it. If nothing comes to you as you’re writing your speech, go over it afterwards and think about where you can add a little levity. If nothing else, you can always fall back on making light of your nervousness: “You did a great job this morning reading the Torah, son. I’m glad it was you and not me, because all I have to do is stand up for 5 minutes and speak in English, and I’ve had butterflies in my stomach all day.”
Put your child on a pedestal
That’s not as self-aggrandising as it sounds. You’re not trying to make people jealous. You’re trying to build up your child. It’s his day, whether he’s embarking on a life as a Jewish adult or starting to build a life and home with his new spouse. Say positive things. Build him up. Make him feel capable, appreciated, and loved. Mention his strengths – not his weaknesses. This would seem to be an obvious point, but sometimes the child is sacrificed to the goal of humour. Don’t make that mistake. Even if poking fun is acceptable as banter around the house, it has no place in a speech. Don’t knock him down for any price.
Keep the peace
No family is perfect. Messy divorces, difficult parents… often it overshadows the simcha and makes it difficult to write the speech. Conflicting parties externally and conflicting emotions internally can leave you staring at a blank piece of paper for hours. Use the principle: “ha’emes v’ha’shalom ehavu (love truth and peace).” Don’t say things that are patently untrue, if only because the parties involved will know that they are untrue. Do make a concerted effort to find positives that you can acknowledge. Do give compliments even-handedly. Several of my clients had much closer, more positive relationships with their in-laws than with their parents. We thought and thought until we were able to find points to praise even in the more difficult set of parents and toned down our compliments to the other side so both sides would feel they were given equal billing. Stick to the truth – with the perspective of peace.
Pick a simcha, any simcha
The above are four principles that will serve you well no matter which simcha you are speaking at. However, each simcha has its own nuances and speech structure. Let’s go through them one by one, so you’ll have the whole framework in hand for your next speaking occasion.
In many circles, either the father or the mother of the bar/bat mitzvah will speak. They might also share the speech, and on occasion both parties will speak.
What to say?
Start out your speech planning by listing the outstanding traits of your child as she is now. What are the characteristics and middos (qualities) that you admire in her? Write everything that comes to mind. For every middah, give anecdotes and examples from where you’ve seen this middah expressed.
Who do you want your child to be?
Next, write down the messages that you’d like to send her as she begins her life as a Jewish adult. What do you want her to think about? What perspective do you want her to have? What values do you want her taking into her journey through life?
Lastly, see if you can connect at least one of the middos or messages to a theme in the parsha, or, if your child’s bar/bat mitzvah falls out around a chag, a connection to that chag.
Now put it together.
In many circles, either the father or the mother of the chosson/kallah will speak. Chances are they will not both speak, as there are significantly more potential speakers involved at such a simcha.
What to say?
Remember, you’re speaking about both the chosson and the kallah. Obviously you’ll have more to say about your child’s special traits, but make sure you spend time (if not equal time) speaking about the outstanding middos of your new child-in-law. And point out what you think makes them a wonderful couple as well – shared values, complementary qualities. (Be careful over here that you remain positive and not disparaging. It’s not usually the place for a joke about how messy your son is and how his ultra-fastidious new wife will have her hands full.)
What are your wishes for them?
Your child is starting a new life. What blessings and wishes do you have for him and his spouse? What pieces of advice do you want them to take and apply in the home they are building together?
Is there a piece of Torah that connects to one of your wishes for them or to one of the pieces of advice?
Now put it together.
In almost every circle, it’s the father. I had never really thought about that until a mother called me the day before her son’s bris in desperate need of help with the speech. It then occurred to me: she’s a week after birth, that’s why mothers don’t speak at the bris.
What to say?
Well, the child is probably an expert crier, hopefully a decent eater, and it would be nice if he were an accomplished sleeper (but he’s usually not). He does have a name now, however. If he was named after someone, whether a relative or a Torah figure, you can speak about the choice of name, as well as that individual and the individual’s outstanding character traits. If he was named after a concept, speak about how you feel that concept reflects your son, his birth, and your hopes for his future.
What are your wishes for him?
Your child has his whole life ahead of him. What do you wish for him? What do you want him to know? You can speak in third-person, about him, or in second person, as if you’re addressing him.
Is there a concept from the parsha that relates to your wishes for your son? Or a Torah thought about raising children that you connect to?
Now put it together.
Your speech will be unique – because your child is. That’s what I love about being a speechwriter for simchas. Chazal tell us that “anyone who upholds the life of a Jew, the Torah considers it as if he has upheld an entire world”. Each person is special. Each person is an entire world. You just need to get to know them. And there is no better way to do that than seeing them through their parents’ eyes.
Aviva Blumstein grew up in the United States, lives in Israel, and has helped write simcha speeches for people on every continent (except Antarctica). She can be contacted through her company website: yourjewishspeech.com, or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Zechariah 9:19
 Sanhedrin 4:5