Hearts are huge. Initials on anything? Yes, please. And when it comes to a gift that never goes out of style, Apple rules.
As a busy Bar and Bat Mitzvah season kicks off, 13-year-olds have very definite ideas as to what’s on the top of their gift list.
Cari Feiler Bender’s son Max was Bar Mitzvahed at Congregation Beth David in Gladwyne in June 2012, with a party for about 40 kids following at North Bowl in Northern Liberties. Cari, who has shuttled Max to at least two dozen mitzvah celebrations in the past few years, said her son had clear favorites when it came to presents.
“Of course, money is always appreciated, and 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 friends’ budgets, was magazine subscriptions 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 business of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs 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 — 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 and sweatpants still the front-runners.
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 Apple gift cards.
Greberman, whose all-time record for chauffeuring her daughter to parties is three in one night, says that jewelry, especially a heart necklace from Tiffany or 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, and now finds herself helping grown up girls choose jewelry for their engagement and weddings. In her jewel box of a boutique, Wallace helps girls put together wish lists of favorite jewelry hitting 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 emphasizes.
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 retails for $98.
New Orleans artist Judy DiGeorge Gamache makes time out of music. She’ll source a favorite song or artist in old school vinyl or 78’s 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. judydigeorge.weebly.com 
Converse sneakers are always in fashion, 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 show. From $80. www.converse.com 
A personalized dry erase board ($40-$160) for posting notes, working out homework problems and jazzing up the bedroom is a top seller from the Memphis-based shopconfections.com , said chief personalization officer Shara Danziger, who just wrapped up two of her three children’s B’nai Mitzvahs. Also a huge hit: monogrammed iPhone covers ($55).
Daniel Cohn loves to cook. Two of the Harriton High School freshman’s fave Bar Mitzvah gifts were cooking lessons at Viking 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 magazine, 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 and plenty of bling. www.sweetmabel.com 
Hanging out is an experience all kids relate to, and they’ll love doing it in the Belgian-designed Bool, a super cushy beanbag chair for their room that is nothing like the beanbag chairs from the ’70s. Stuffed with micro-beads, the Bool conforms to your body without making noise when you move. Bools come in 20 different color combinations and washable covers, and at $190-$250, make for a fun group gift. LoopeeDesign.com 
For the closest family members, gifting Judaica speaks to the heart of the occasion, supporting the Jewish traditions of responsibility and reverence. At Bala Judaica and Jewelry, in business for more than 40 years, owner Madelyn Heyman says that hand-painted candlesticks and jewelry from Israeli is popular for both boys and girls.
In Cherry Hill, Mah Tov Gallery owners Penny Levitt and Sara Engel find Judaica jewelry to be a popular gift this season as well. Candlesticks, bookends, kiddush cups and artsy tzedakah boxes are also favored ways to mark the occasion. www.mahtovgallery.com 
Beth D’Addono is a frequent contributor to Special Sections. This article originally appeared in "Simchas," a Jewish Exponent special section.