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In retrospect, what made a good bar/bat mitzva present? What actually got used?

Also: for a less-observant Bar/Bat Mitzvah boy/girl, what's a good gift? How do you achieve the right balance of Jewishness vs. usability (without looking too ... missionary-like)?

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  • I understand the sentiment to close it as opinion based, but the fact that this question has about eleven votes (that's more than any of my questions) and about ten answers with decent ratings makes me think this is a valuable question that should be reopened.
    – Eliyahu
    Oct 5 '20 at 14:44
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When I was bar-mitzvah (in 1985), CDs of Torah texts - like Bar Ilan, Tanach Plus, etc. - were years in the future. State of the art then, for portable texts, was microfilm/microfiche. So someone got me a kit (the size of a briefcase) containing a handheld reader, and microfiche cards of a number of basic sefarim (Gemara, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, etc.); those came in handy quite often.

Another bar-mitzvah present (from my class), which I still use regularly, was a set of Kehati mishnayos.

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    wow, that is impressive. I have never heard of anyone with their own microfiche reader.
    – Jeremy
    Jun 10 '10 at 15:49
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    One of the B"M gifts I also use today the most is a Kehati set. I actually bought it second hand from somebody who got it for his bar mitzvah, then later upgraded to the Kehati+Bartenura set.
    – Jeremy
    Jun 10 '10 at 15:51
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I received a pearl necklace that I wore for many years. I also received travel candle holders which I have used for guests for Shabbos as well as when traveling.

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I enjoyed The Gameboy but I DO NOT SUGGEST IT!!

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  • Wow-that is exactly what I was going to say. For better or worse, that gameboy was probably the gift that I used more than any other in my life. and almost all of those hours were spent on one game: TETRIS!
    – Jeremy
    Jun 10 '10 at 15:52
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I used a nice pen that I received for 22 years afterward (Cross). I also use my seforim.

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To quote Judith Viorst's Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday (p. 7), "Mom says it isn't nice to say this - we like money. A lot."

If your goal is to give something the kid will use if not necessarily remember, money always works. It can be traded without complication for an effectively infinite array of goods and services.

I got a leather-bound siddur from one of my friends that I used daily for years. I even wrote "a gift from _ _ on my Bar Mitzvah" in it. I think that nice (fancy, feature-rich, or well-suited) versions of basic books (e.g. siddur, chumash, dictionary) are good choices.

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Do they still make atlases? I got a couple of those and really liked them, but I was kind of a geography nerd.

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Inspired by Jeremy's answer to another question, a pocket knife (e.g. Swiss Army) would be an awesome and much-appreciated gift by some kids. Of course, this depends on how responsible you deem the kid to be, and it may be worth checking with the parents first. I think I got my first knives a couple of years later, but believe me, I appreciated, kept, and used them!

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As far as most used from what I got:

  • A siddur (be careful, people get lots of these)
  • Artscroll English Chumash w/ Rashi (perfect for being maavir sedra w/ rashi). Like this one.
  • English Pirkei Avos

As far as good ideas:

  • Portable music player for shiurim (especially if preloaded w/ shiurim)
  • Artscroll Talmud (assuming one or two, anything else would be costly)
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    Many yeshivas frown on Artscroll Talmud, as they'd like to encourage development of textual skills.
    – Shalom
    Jun 11 '10 at 15:40
  • True. But it is wonderful if the recipient would like a go at a mesechta which most yeshivas don't learn (e.g. Brochos or Shabbos)
    – yydl
    Jun 11 '10 at 19:04
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    Artscroll English Humash with Rashi is a good suggestion but I do not recommend the Stone Edition for youngsters. It has basic mistranslations and an anthology with an agenda.
    – Yahu
    Jun 14 '10 at 20:22
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    @Yahu: Could you please elaborate on both claims in the last sentence of your comment? Please provide links to reliable sources if possible. May 11 '12 at 2:01
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I still use seforim I received for my bar mitzvah. One very useful gift I got was a carry on bag. Not every kid will appreciate the gift of luggage, but I certainly did.

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