Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah
Bar/Bat Mitzvah means “son/daughter of the commandment” in the sense of becoming a full member of the Jewish people, the people committed to the commandments of Torah. In Reform Judaism women are regarded as equal and entitled to the same privileges traditionally extended to men, including leading worship and reading Torah. So as either a young man or woman is reaching 13 years of age Bar/Bat Mitzvah symbolizes that they are leaving childhood behind and beginning to take on adult responsibilities—including for worship and tikun olam (“repairing the world,” each of us doing our part as God’s partner to make the world a better place). The magic of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah process is that it not only symbolizes, but contributes to, the young person’s maturation. Some students do a little more and some a little less; the point is that each should do his or her best and feel good about what they have achieved.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony at Beth-El is observed during a normal Friday night or Saturday morning Shabbat service. Each January the Rabbi opens the calendar another Jewish- and school year out, and thus Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies may be scheduled approximately 2 years in advance of your child becoming 13. So please call the Rabbi for scheduling. The service need not be during the exact week of the 13th birthday (in fact we rarely schedule them in the middle of summer because the rabbi needs to be able to take some time off). Students do approximately the same things—leading much of the service, reading Torah and Haftarah, giving a brief speech—whether Friday or Saturday, and the Rabbi will be happy to discuss with you how those services differ and how you can make the service special for your loved ones and friends as well as your child.
The first step is providing your child a Jewish education. This should begin several years in advance both so that the candidate will understand the importance of the ceremony and so that he or she has time to master basic Hebrew reading. We work on most of the prayers for the service during Sunday Religious School and midweek Hebrew School. Six months to a year in advance of the actual date the student begins with a tutor to learn to read or chant (the latter is optional) the actual Torah and Haftarah (additional reading from later in the Bible) portions for his or her service. Our Educator and Rabbi have names of potential tutors. In addition, we ask each student to put Judaism into practice with a mitzvah project during the year prior to Bar/Bat Mitzvah. As the date approaches, the Rabbi will want to meet with your child several months in advance and give the candidate some experience reading from the actual Torah and on the bimah, as well as discussing the significance of the portions and the occasion.
At an annual Bar/Bat Mitzvah Family Education Session the year before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah our Educator and Rabbi will go over lots more details with you. In addition, many families want to use our fine banquet facilities for parties, and if that is of interest you should talk to our Administrator, Suzie Koonsman. Be aware, too, that Women of Reform Judaism sells discounted invitations through our Judaica Shop. For these and lots more details, do not miss that meeting—but also feel free and encouraged to call any of our staff including the Rabbi with your questions. Our goal is for this to be a deeply meaningful occasion, not a stressful one.
You should be pleased to know that the social excesses not uncommon in some cities are rare at Beth-El. We ask members to please keep in mind that this is a sacred occasion, and keep the focus more on the service than the celebration.