I can just imagine what my great grandmother would say about the world we live in today. She saw many changes in her ninety-six years, and I’m pretty sure the evolution of the Bar Mitzvah would shock and disappoint her. I know I am frequently disturbed by the changes that have occurred since my Bat Mitzvah in 1979 – in particular, the lost focus of what Bar Mitzvah actually means. I’d like to propose a revolution to bring the Bar and Bat Mitzvah back to its natural state.
Let’s help our children – soon to be ‘adults’ – understand the true meaning of their Bar or Bat Mitzvah day. We have come to enjoy the parties and the celebrations more than the actual experience of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Notice the word becoming. We become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah; we don’t have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Arriving at twelve (for girls) or thirteen (for boys) years old is a coming of age. It is a transition in Jewish living. It is a time for the young adult to become “Jewishly responsible” and to take on more mitzvot. We are not celebrating the end of our Jewish studies, but the next phase of our learning.
Use your money wisely.
Consider the good that could be done if we spent a little less on party decorations and favors and, instead, made a significant contribution to a charitable organization. The parties we have grown accustomed to are huge money drainers and void of the spiritual significance of the day. Consider honoring your Bar or Bat Mitzvah with a lavish Kiddush or Shabbat lunch following the Synagogue service.
The inclusion of a lavish party to celebrate is a modern custom. Our children’s anticipation of their big day often becomes centered on the party. Parents have become entrapped in this communal competition to have the bigger and better party. But, what are we partying for? There are ways to make the celebrating meaningful beyond the photographer capturing the memories. At a Bat Mitzvah I recently attended, they used homemade Tzedakah boxes as their table cards. In her D’var Torah, the Bat Mitzvah shared her hope that we would fill the boxes and return them to Remember Us, an organization that helps a Bar/Bat Mitzvah honor a child who lost his or her life in the Holocaust and never had the opportunity to become a Jewish adult.
Many young, Jewish adults today engage in community service in order to fulfill a portion of readiness for their big day. Many of our young learners truly embrace the experience and become engaged in lifelong charity work. Let’s teach our children the Jewish concepts behind helping others. Tie it to their roots and make it more meaningful, something that becomes a part of them.
Commit to Continued Learning
Preparing for the Bat/Bar Mitzvah takes a strong commitment. Many of our B’nai Mitzvah children spend the year engaged in learning – preparing for the reading of the Haftorah and Torah, reciting the proper blessings, and leading additional parts of the Shabbat morning service. Many children are thrilled when it’s over because they “finished learning”. Let’s help our children develop a passion for learning. Follow their curiosity and encourage them to learn more after they have become Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
The hullabaloo attached to the modern day Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebration is far removed from the true and deeper meaning of this day. Our children have worked hard and deserve to be celebrated and honored, but they are also entitled to be taught and turned on to the genuine significance of what it means to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.