By David Young
About two years ago, my friend and teacher Rabbi Peter Levi described his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah service. Instead of doing the early part of the morning blessings, they would sing a couple of introductory songs, leave the sanctuary, and enter the social hall for a social action project where they would pack boxes of grains and canned goods for the homeless. I admit that when I heard the idea, I was nonplussed. Seeing the look on my face, Rabbi Levi put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s called a Bat Mitzvah, not a Bat T’filah.”
My mind was opened.
He made me realize the whole issue I have with our B’nai Mitzvah rubric as it has been for years. We want to create engaged Jewish adults, and we are creating cookie-cutter kids who will be able to their their kids, “You’ll do it because I suffered through it, too,” just like we are telling ours. So after hearing Rabbi Levi’s simple sentence, I began to plan.
At Congregation B’nai Tzedek, we hold a semi-annual “B’nai Mitzvah Boot Camp,” where I gather the students who will become B’nai Mitzvah within the following nine to sixteen months. We discuss the four things a child has to accomplish before they can receive the title of Jewish Adult: Lead services, Teach through a D’var Torah, Commit to a Mitzvah, and Give Tzedakah. Lead, Teach, Mitzvah, Tzedakah. As much as this talk may inspire them, which I hope it does, it still leads to the same thing. The children lead a service, have a party, give tzedakah, and maybe remember to keep doing their mitzvah.
Some kids have an easy time with this they enjoy it, they love performing and they thrive on the bimah. Others struggle.
In thinking about Rabbi Levi’s words, I wanted to encourage our emerging Jewish adults to make their B’nai Mitzvah experience more personally meaningful. But first I needed a guinea pig.