Bar/Bat Mitzvah

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For many Jewish families, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is one of the most significant events in their lives, shared with dear ones and friends, long planned for and long anticipated. The period of preparation should be a time of increased interest in Judaism, a learning experience that will remain with the student for life, along with the memories of the ceremony and celebration. However, that is not always the way things transpire. Most young people find Bar/Bat Mitzvah “training” to be tedious, and an imposition of their time. is increasingly true since most young people have very busy lives. This is especially unfortunate because it squanders a precious opportunity to motivate students to enjoy Judaism and desire it to be an important and permanent part of their lives. At Temple Beth El, we continue to believe in the value of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience but that it is time for a new and more worthwhile approach.

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Traditionally, the greatest time commitment is devoted to learning and/or chanting the various prayers, a portion of the Torah and Haftarah. Mostly, this involves much repetition until the young person can “perform” nicely at the service. A large amount of time is spent on perfecting the Torah and Haftarah portions, never to be used again after the big day. We do not doubt the significance and sanctity of Hebrew, the historic and universal sacred language of the Jewish people. But we wonder: what is the point of rote learning of a skill that will rarely if ever be called upon again. Yes, it is true that the basic Hebrew prayers that most young people learn are part of almost all Jewish worship services but, to be perfectly candid, how many attend such services very often? As an aside, most contemporary siddurs (prayerbooks) have the prayers both in Hebrew and transliteration.

We believe in addressing these concerns rather than just taking the approach: “I disliked Hebrew school and you will too if you want to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.”

We believe that the most important aspect of Bar/Bat Mitzvah study is learning how to live a Jewish life. This includes learning such elements as our history and the reasons for our practices. It definitely should emphasize Jewish ethical living, best accomplished by one-on-one learning with teachers and with their parents.  In the months leading up to the service, we hope for the family to share learning experiences together. This is especially important for the many interfaith families, where one parent has not grown up Jewish and may continue to identify with the faith tradition in which they were raised. This is a reality that needs to be embraced, rather than regarded as confusing or deleterious. 

 

We feel these are the most important elements

to be combined in the learning experience: 

  • An appreciation for Hebrew and Torah

  • Developing a Jewish identity

  • Continuity of Jewish tradition

  • Traditional Blessings and prayers

  • Mitzvot – Jewish Ethics

  • Being part of the community 

  • Taking a strong interest in Israel.​

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We offer individualized instruction to meet the needs of the family. We believe that Bar/Bat Mitzvah learning should not be a “cookie cutter” experience. There are some who believe that Hebrew is essential and others for whom it is simply not as important. At Beth El, we believe that Jewish ethical living supersedes, but does not necessarily eliminate Hebrew learning. We are very willing to allow each Bar/Bat Mitzvah family to decide with the rabbi on the course of learning. Our intent is not to lessen the time commitment but rather to maximize the impact of these learning sessions. In the end, our hope is that the full experience combining learning with celebration will have a lasting and positive impact..

We encourage all prospective Bar/Bat Mitzvah families to meet with our rabbi to design a learning program that will be edifying and enjoyable. Of course, we look forward to doing everything we can to make the entire experience, from beginning through the service itself memorable and of lasting significance.

 

We do have certain expectations of your family and your son/daughter;

 

  • A minimum of one year of Temple membership leading up to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

  • A minimum of one year, ideally two years of study in our religious school, with consistent attendance.

  • Weekly individualized study sessions with a tutor approved by the rabbi.

  • Study sessions with the rabbi and/or cantor.

  • Participating in our Shabbat Eve or Shabbat morning services, plus the High Holy Days, services no less than seven times before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah,

  • Participation in at least two family Shabbat services.