DAY 615: Reflecting On the Purpose of Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

March 7, 2014
By bethmordecai
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DAY 615: Reflecting On the Purpose of Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah

Dear Hevreh,

If you take a look around the internet or ask a number of Jewish leaders, you might get the feeling that a bar or bat mitzvah (plural = b’nei mitzvah) is not such a good thing. Too much time focused on the party, too little emphasis on the meaning of “coming of age,” too much memorization of random words and phrases in Hebrew of uninspiring Torah and Haftarah portions. If you listen to enough of the noise about b’nei mitzvah you might get the impression that they signal the decline of Jewish life. 
I admit that I often agreed with these sentiments, perhaps because when I became a bar mitzvah I wanted to do and lead much more of the ritual service than my peers, including reading all of this week’s Torah portion of Vayikra. I was excited to be counted in a minyan, to wear a tallit, and to be a full fledged participant of the Jewish religious experience. It seemed to me that many of my peers brushed aside the ritual as a means to get to the party and when I got a little older I learned about how some parents reinforce this notion that the emphasis of the bar mitzvah is on the celebration of the party afterwards.
Now though I realize that I was wrong. 
I have had too many conversations with people, too many opportunities teaching kids and parents alike to see how the act of spending time to learn a part of the Jewish ritual no matter what the motivation enhances their Jewish identity and helps them be proud of being Jewish. Of course this is all the more so when a bar or bat mitzvah experience is a catalyst for deeper Jewish learning and stronger Jewish engagement, but even if all we have is the memory of memorizing or learning a portion of the Torah or of the Prophets, that memory will always provide the spark we need to remember the most important thing that becoming a bar or bat mitzvah does for us: that we are proud to be Jewish.

Join us tonight at 8 pm to share some of your memories from your bar or bat mitzvah experience (or from being a participant at a bar or bat mitzvah) as I share a few memories from my own bar mitzvah in honor of my bar mitzvah Torah portion of Vayikra.
There will be a kiddush to follow sponsored by Anita and Bob Krentar in honor of the yahrtzeit of Anita’s father.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Saks

Category : Bar and Bat Mitzvah Rabbi Rabbi's Journal Shabbat
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