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B’nai Mitzvah Madness! 

Brooke Fisher, Director of Family Life

 

The B'nai Mitzvah journey can be meaningful, maddening, heart wrenching, beautiful, time consuming and a little expensive. However, at the heart of this time, is connection, rite of passage, celebration and autonomy. For children, it is a time of unknown and for parents, it is unknown combined with reflection on the years of growth that brought you and your child to this place. 

As both a parent of 5 (we had a B'nai Mitzvah every year for five years) and a Jewish educator, I've seen the many angles of this process for families. This blog is dedicated to the personal and transformative journey that can take place during this meaningful time. The articles in this blog will focus on the B'nai Mitzvah journey being maddening (driving you a bit crazy) to extremely exciting and full of madness! 

The Magical Tallit 

Our daughter used my husband’s tallit at her Bat Mitzvah. Actually, all our children used it as part of their rites of passage for a very special reason. My mom gave it to my husband as a gift. My mom, our children’s Bubbe, passed away when our youngest daughter was two years old. She does, however, have so many photos of Bubbe holding her and cuddling her. She feels as though she knows Bubbe. In this, using the tallit Bubbe gave her dad was very meaning for our daughter. 

However, it’s also meaningful to my husband…so it was headed back to him. In that, our daughter needed a tallit of her own.

Her older sister was studying in Israel on a gap year program and we planned a girls’ trip. While there, our daughter went tallit shopping in the ancient, mystical city of Tsfat. She watched them make tallitot at the loom, she tried on tallit after tallit and when she finally found hers, it took my breath away. It enveloped her and hugged her. She said it felt like home. 

The tallit whether passed down from a relative, chosen from a shop in Tsfat, made lovingly, picked out from an online store and gifted to your child from a friend or relative, is very important. It’s a comfort, a unique and individual representation of your child’s uniqueness. It’s a reminder that your child is part of the Jewish people.

The fringes or tzit tzit on the tallit share the same number as the commandments - 613 - contained in the Torah. It’s a reminder to us of the good they can bring our lives through doing our best to live by them. It is also a partner to us in worshipping and making a personal, spiritual connection.

In that, the tallit is spiritual and personal. It should be a beautiful partner, magically chosen to embrace the Bar or Bat Mitzvah on this special day and for years to come. 

Embracing the Madness through Middot 

Madness is craziness, foolishness and sometimes frenzy. The B’nai Mitzvah journey can be exactly this! No matter how organized you are or how much you prepare. For example, I once knew a family who was extremely meticulous in their planning but on the day of the service, the dad forgot his speech at home. It was written on a piece of paper near his desk. As he dashed home with 20 minutes to the service start, the power was off because they realized that in all their preparations, they’d not paid the bill. It can simply be madness.

However, if you can rest in the chaos of studying, invites, Religious School consistent attendance and finding the right tutor; this can be a phenomenal experience for you and yours. Let’s take a quick look at important middot (values) to find some relief to B’nai Mitzvah madness. 

Middah: Calmness

“The calm one is greater than a barrier, and the self-controlled is greater than a conquerer.” - Proverbs 16:32

Remaining calm and ultimately believing that everything will turn out for the better is essential. You are going to get there either way, being crazy in the moment or remaining calm, and remaining calm always achieves results more quickly. 

Middah: Patience

“You can train yourself to be patient. You can train yourself to open the space between the match and the fuse.” 

- Rabbi Yechiel Yitzchok Perr

Sometimes people do things in different ways and in their own timing. The thing to realize is that your timing might not be the same as your child’s or partner’s timing. Set reasonable goals together of what needs to get done and then work together to create a plan that everyone feels comfortable following. It might not be your time, but with teamwork and understanding, it will get done. 

Middah: Joy

“Delight and joy must accompany your every spiritual endeavor. Only when you delight an rejoice in each fine and positive deed will you have the enthusiasm to act in the most ideal manner and add to your deeds every day. Only when the delight and joy in your heart are bound to your fine and positive actions will they be anchored in you.” 

- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook 

This rite of passage is a very spiritual endeavor. It’s a celebration of your heritage and your child’s personal commitment to being part of that heritage. It would be very easy to approach this time stressed and overwhelmed. However, if you can find joy in every moment from studying to party planning, it will make a difference in the overall experience for both you and your child. 

Who am I? The Parent Role Post B'nai Mitzvah 

There is a traditional blessing said over a Bar or Bat Mitzvah by parents, that shares the idea that once the service is over, parents are no longer responsible for their child’s actions. What is so interesting is that saying these words seems like, “Phew! Finally, I can take a deep breath; my child is responsible for all his actions. I can take a break!”

However, that’s not really true. You will still say “no” to sleepovers that are on a school night, help your child plan to study for finals and help talk with your child about friendship drama. You are still that person your child needs, but in a very different way. 

On this journey, you become the parent who listens, helps guides, listens more and helps your child navigate a personal and unique path supported by you. It means that with your child you work out a schedule to practice his Torah portion, but don’t nag. It means that you involve your child in picking out all parts of the service, including the readings, and you honor her opinion. 

After the big day, you speak to your child like a friend or an adult, and be there to listen when there’s been a bad day. You offer advice or create boundaries if your child is struggling and needs order, but without yelling or making it about you. You won’t yell, it never works anyways, and you’ll be sure to make time to listen; even if it’s about Instagram posts or the drama that day during history class. It’s all part of the story. 

You will become your child’s partner in life, but your child’s choices are her own. Her life is her own. His story is his own. Your story just happens to be parallel in this life - that’s amazing! In this part of the service where you give your blessing, you are celebrating your child and her individual journey in connection to yours. It’s important to note the difference. 

 

Food Trucks, Ice Sculptures and the DJ...It's Maddening! 

Students spend months and even years preparing for their B’nai Mitzvah service. Parallel to the study and preparation are invitations, party plans, outfits and planning. To some, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah party can be the controversial part of this experience; many would say that it is just a frill or even takes away from the true meaning. I disagree. 

Becoming a B’nai Mitzvah (Bar or Bat Mitzvah) is a journey. It’s a process of finding yourself, whether you are the parent or the child. It can be a maddening and busy time, but absolutely in a life-changing way. It’s a time to dig a little deeper into how we think, feel and embrace ourselves as Jews. It’s an invitation for Tikkun Olam, bringing healing to our world. It’s a chance to contemplate, celebrate, connect and practice radical hospitality. All of these things come together through the B’nai Mitzvah process, including the party. 

Let’s take a look at words that bring meaning to the B’nai Mitzvah journey and how the learning, tutoring, service, preparations and party all play an important role towards meaningful growth: 

Contemplate

  • Religious School learning should offer focus to learn about the meanings of the prayers, developing personal kavannot or intention for each prayer shared in the service
  • Wrestling with the chosen parasha whether in a Religious School class setting, with the Rabbi, tutor or parents in an important part of feeling empowered to develop one’s own ideas and share them
  • Hebrew is a beautiful and mystical language. Contemplating the roots, meanings and connections of the words (plus learning Trope to chant Hebrew) is a powerful experience

Celebrate 

  • The community singing the shechiyanu after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah first reads from Torah is a strengthening experience
  • Planning an oneg for after the service that both feeds your guests and gives them an opportunity to connect to others is all about the value of “hachnasat orchim,” – welcoming guests
  • Creating a celebration that reflects the Bar or Bat Mitzvah’s loves and creates an experience for guests to enjoy can be a very meaningful part of the process. Whether a backyard BBQ, Luau Party or dance party, this time can create memories that will last a lifetime. Those memories spark reflection of the entire experience; that is important to remember

Connect

  • Developing community between the Religious School class community and parents is vital (and a beautiful part) of this journey. It has to be cultivated with intention but has the power to become a very meaningful part of the process, impacting one’s Jewish life/community connection for years to come
  • Creating a partnership with the tutor, Rabbi and/or cantor is developing a circle of l’dor v’dor and the Bar or Bat Mitzvah’s own personal connection to the community. This is very valuable, especially if cultivated authentically
  • Family can come together during this time! Whether it’s siblings helping with practicing, car rides to and from tutoring, brainstorming the celebration together, taking family education classes at the synagogue or digging a little deeper into the Torah portion with your child; this is an amazing time to cultivate family connection. Plus, if extended family is available to visit, having them be part of the service and enjoying the party together can be a meaningful time for families
  • Welcoming guests and guiding them through the service can be an honor for each Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Even if students are generally shy in front of a crowd, they always shine at their service
  • If this process is truly about the Bar or Bat Mitzvah and this child is able to be authentic in sharing ideas, it is remarkably cool for them to think that each person there (whether Jewish or non-Jewish) is their to celebrate and hear from them. It is about knowing that their voice matters, especially as they become their own person in the Jewish community 

Radical Hospitality

With this intention as the base in planning all parts of this process, it can be an exceptional part of the journey

  • The Bar or Bat Mitzvah welcoming each person to the service; creating a program that both explains the service to people and helps them to know their presence is appreciated
  • Designing a celebration that brings in fun, yummy foods, blessings and enjoyment combined with the heart of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah can be memorable for everyone. Celebrations create lasting memories! 

Just as in everything life offers us: we generally get out of it what we put into it. Use the B’nai Mitzvah journey as a time for growth, connectedness and being part of the traditions of our people. 

My Child's B'nai Mitzvah: Why It's Not All About Me 

In the book, “God’s To-Do List,” Dr. Ron Wolfson opens up the book with two verses: 

“I am but dust and ashes.” Genesis 18:27

“For my sake, the world was created.” Sanhedrin 37A

This shares understanding that we are all created from dust and ashes (also one day returning to that same place). We are also all uniquely special and important. Finding this balance is essential in feeling as though we belong; we matter. This concept is important for your children to understand as they become “individuals” in our bigger Jewish family. 

We want our children to embrace the balance of these two verses for their growth and developing self esteem. We all come from the same place, love some of the same things and share our differences. We also have to remember that in that, we each sometimes struggle with different things, smaller and greater. Whether as a parent to your child or a human to human, how can we remain compassionate towards those who are struggling, even when we just don’t understand?

We remember, that just as we were all created from dust and ashes, the world is also created for each of us. That means you on your best and worst days; same as me. Same as our children. We each have our own individual journeys, even if we are connected as family, community or friends. We help in the creation of our world, just as, it is continuously and beautifully created uniquely for each of us. 

So, as a parent, remember that your child’s B’nai Mitzvah journey is parallel to yours. It is not yours, however, and that can be one of the biggest realizations. You will have your own path to take during this time and I encourage you to embrace that path. Love yourself as a parent with your best days and your worst moments. Love your child the same.

If your child doesn’t practice her Torah reading one day, it’ll be alright. If you think your child should wear a suit and he really wants to go a little more casual, the world will still spin. If you cry your eyes out during the speech, it is ok. This time was created for you to grow. It is created for your child to grow. You come from the same place but are autonomously different. Embrace that individual uniqueness and rest in the flow; it is in that place where we truly embrace the magical expanse of what becoming a B’nai Mitzvah truly means. 

Our Mitzvah Journey: Growing into Good (even better) Humans

I recently read the book, “God’s To-Do List,” by Dr. Ron Wolfson. While this isn’t necessarily a mesmerizing read for students, it is a fabulous read for parents. Not only does it remind us as parents to focus on the “becoming a great human” part of the B’nai Mitzvah journey, but gives applicable advice on connecting with your child through Jewish values. This journey can be a time to enjoy, get to know and actively do with your child. 

The book is styled after the idea that we do what God does; that each of us can “activate the spark of divinity within,” (page 6) to do God’s work in our daily lives. The concept of “God’s To-Do List” is to chose something to do each day that furthers God’s work and shares tikkun olam, bringing healing to the world. 

Each chapter theme is based around us being “like God,” and following the examples of what God does. The first chapter, “Create,” is one of the first characteristics of God found in the first book of the Torah, Bereshit (Genesis). God creates and so we create. The chapter shares verses and a variety of stories with examples on how we can create in our own lives. At the end of the chapter, a “to-do list” is provided with line items such as, “Gather friends and create a community mural to brighten a neighborhood,” or “Use your God-given gift of creativity–paint, draw, sculpt, photograph, compose, dance, write, cook or bake.” One thing I appreciate about those “to-do’s” are that they incorporate not only what we can do for others but also to care for ourselves. The key phrase defining this chapter is: “God is the creator, you can be a creator, too,” (pages 26-27).

The chapter themes covered in this book are: Create, Bless, Rest, Call, Comfort, Care, Repair, Wrestle, Give, Forgive and then an invitation to create your own “God’s To-Do List” under each category. 

Let’s take a look at “Comfort.” One of the points made in this chapter is practicing “Radical Hospitality.” What a great theme for your family to practice during this time since the B’nai Mitzvah service, luncheon and/or parties should ooze with radical hospitality. 

How can you practice radical hospitality together? Wolfson shares some ideas:

- Host a family crafty night and create a “Welcome” or "Shalom" sign for your front door.

- Visit a senior center or retirement community and play games with the residents.

- Create “cheery” baskets to share with others who are having a difficult time. 

- Pay it forward for another person’s cup of coffee at the local coffee shop. 

Wed, November 14 2018 6 Kislev 5779