Hearts are huge. Initials on anything and everything? Yes, please. And when it comes to a gift that never goes out of style, Apple rules.
As a busy Bar/Bat Mitzvah season kicks off, 13-year-olds have very definite ideas as to what’s at the top of their gift lists.
Cari Feiler Bender’s son, Max, was Bar Mitzvahed at Congregation Beth David in Gladwyne in June, with a party for about 40 kids following at North Bowl. Cari, who has shuttled Max to at least two dozen similar celebrations in the past few years, said her son had clear favorites when it came to presents.
“Of course, money is always appreciated — he opened a bank account and used a percentage of the gifts to buy himself an iPad,” said Bender, whose Relief Communications represents clients including Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program and Historic Philadelphia. On the high end, Max loved the SodaStream, a do-it-yourself soda maker that retails for about $100, making it a fun option for a shared present. Like every kid, Max loved getting Apple gift cards, which he used to buy apps and music for his new iPad and a cool new set of headphones.
Surprisingly, another of Max’s favorite gifts, and one that is definitely within most school-age friends’ budgets, was a magazine subscription to MacWorld and Wired. “He gets really excited about getting mail,” said his mom. “When you think about it, kids rarely get mail in their own names.” Max decided he liked old-school magazines so much that he gifted another pal of his with a subscription to Sports Illustrated.
Nina Greberman has been in the Big Day business for 18 years with her Penn Valley company, Gift Express, which specializes in invitations and party favors. She sees trends come and go, reflected first in the colors of the invitation. For example, purple and bright neons are currently the rage for girls, while boys stay loyal to their favorite sports team colors. Favors are as popular as ever, with monogrammed T-shirts or sweatpants still the must-haves.
Greberman, whose daughter, Sarah, was Bat Mitzvahed last New Year’s Eve, remembers when a gift certificate to Sam Goody was the ultimate gift. “It was like gold in our hands — we’d rush to the mall to pick out albums, or maybe even eight-track tapes.” Now her daughters have their own iTunes accounts, and it’s all about gift cards.
Greberman, whose record for chauffeuring her daughter to parties is three in one night, says that jewelry (especially a heart necklace from Tiffany) and gift certificates to clothing stores top the list for girls.
Debbie Wallace has been selling specialty jewelry as Bat Mitzvah gifts for close to 27 years in her Merion store, Barbara Ellick. Today, she finds herself helping many of those now-grown-up girls choose jewelry for their engagements and weddings, although she holds a special place in her heart for the Bat Mitzvah girls. In her jewel-box boutique, Wallace helps girls put together wish lists of favorite jewelry in a range of price points. Each wish list comes with its own gift from Wallace: a single sterling initial engraved with the Bat Mitzvah date for a special keepsake. A few of her most popular items include a three-initial monogram necklace in sterling or gold plate for $140. “Anything with a monogram or name plate is huge,” she says.
Need a few more ideas?
Monogrammed Zoubaby equestrian-style, weatherproof riding boots are perfect for a muddy paddock and puddle jumping through the mall parking lot. Choose from four monogram styles and eight colors. Designed by a Cincinnati mom who got tired of wearing out her leather-riding boots, Zoubaby boots retail for $98. Buy a pair and get children’s boots for half price through Jan. 1. www.zoubaby.com  and use the promotion code: Kids50.
New Orleans artist Judy DiGeorge Gamache makes time out of music. She’ll source a favorite song or artist in old school vinyl or 78s and create a customized wall clock that will dress up your son or daughter’s bedroom or any spot in the home. Sure to please any music fan. Prices start at $40 plus shipping.
Converse sneakers are always in fashion, and are made even better with a 13-year-old’s custom design. Do it all online choosing colors, fabric style and accents to make a truly one-of-a-kind pair of kicks. From $80. www.converse.com 
Personalized dry-erase boards ($40 to $160), great for posting notes, working out homework problems and jazzing up the bedroom, are top sellers for the Memphis-based shopconfections.com, said chief personalization officer Shara Danziger, who just wrapped up two of her three children’s B’nai Mitzvot. Also a huge hit: monogrammed iPhone covers ($55). www.shopconfections.com 
Daniel Cohn loves to cook, so it makes sense that two of the Harriton High School freshman’s fave Bar Mitzvah gifts were cooking lessons at the Viking Cooking School in Bryn Mawr (www.vikingcookingschool.com ) and a gift certificate to Fante’s (www.fantes.com ) in the Italian Market.
Tickets are always a perfect fit, tapping into a sports fan’s obsession or a theater lover’s passion. Also perfect for a budding actor or dancer: a subscription to Backstage, the film and performing arts industry publication that shows kids the business of entertainment and the hard work it takes to “make it big.” www.backstage.com/kids/ 
Sweet Mabel in Narberth offers fun art workshop experiences that let friends spend time together while creating inspired mosaics and wind chimes from found objects. www.sweetmabel.com 
Hanging out is an experience all kids relate to, and they’ll love doing it in the Bool, a super-cushy beanbag chair that is nothing like what you remember the iconic furniture that was so popular in the ’60s and ’70s. Stuffed with micro-beads, the Bool conforms to your body without making noise when you move. (LoopeeDesign.com).
Gifting Judaica speaks to the heart of the occasion, supporting the Jewish tradition of responsibility and reverence. Boys mark the passage by beginning to put on tefillin. Girls may start lighting a shabbat candle. Gifts of a tallit, an ornate yad or a set of candlesticks all signify a new chapter as a Jewish adult, and will be treasured for years to come. Bala Judaica and Jewelry owner Madelyn Heyman says that hand-painted candlesticks and jewelry from Israel are popular for boys and girls. In Cherry Hill, Mah Tov Gallery owners Penny Levitt and Sara Engel say that bookends, kiddush cups and tzedakah boxes are also in demand this year.
Beth D’Addono is a frequent contributor to Special Sections. This article originally appeared in a special "Mazel Tov" supplement to the Exponent.