Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Monday,
Sep 22nd
Home Columns Reflections Bar Mitzvah: When to push, when not to

Bar Mitzvah: When to push, when not to

E-mail Print PDF

I SAW the blinking light on my answering machine and listened to the frantic voice of my girlfriend, Debbie, as I put the groceries away.

“Heeeeeelp! Jason says he doesn’t want to have a Bar Mitzvah anymore. What should I do? We’ve got the date and the place and I’ve hired a DJ already. He’s making me crazy. Call me.”

Wow, what a bummer, I thought to myself. What would I do if my own son decided he just wasn’t into having a Bar Mitzvah? Would I force him to do it? Cajole him with promises of gifts and rewards? Guilt-trip him into having one because I know, deep down, he will be sorry later?

The honest answer is I would be tempted to do all of those things (plus a few zingers about how it would just kill his grandparents!).

But I would also use my best parenting skills to help him realize that sometimes the decisions we make are significant, not because they make us happy, but because they are connected to important values, like Jewish learning, tradition and family.

And yet, I also know that every child and each family is different, deserving a unique look at when the right time is for a meaningful Bar or Bat Mitzvah experience.

That truth was made clear to me a few years ago when I taught a group of college students, each of whom had never had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, but wanted one now that they were in college. Some, like Debbie’s son Jason, didn’t want one when they were younger because they weren’t ready to commit to the hard work and study. Others came from interfaith families where it wasn’t an option or from Jewish communities to which they didn’t feel connected.

After they left home, each of my students realized they had a personal desire to learn more about Judaism in order to understand their relationship to their faith, traditions, G-d and Israel.

As a teacher, I was honored and thrilled to be a part of their spiritual journey toward Jewish adulthood.  As a mother of a college student myself, I was rewarded by having this opportunity to learn about the struggles, fears, doubts and joys of college life and be able to offer my students a Jewish lens through which to view their lives.

EACH student approached the task with commitment, enthusiasm and a genuine intellectual curiosity that was palpable in our weekly hour and a half classes.

We studied Jewish history, holidays, ethics, rituals, and liturgy while building a trusting spiritual community. We shared holidays and birthday, news about boyfriends and pre-exam anxiety. In our effort to find meaning in and from Judaism, we struggled together with issues of faith, family, doubt and fear.

The year of study culminated in a Shabbat morning service where each student was called up to read from the Torah and offer a personal  teaching about something important they had learned or grappled with during the year.

It is true that “words from the heart, reach the heart” and anyone who had ever struggled with issues of faith, G-d or family was moved that Shabbat morning by the group on the bimah. Individually and as a community, they had engaged in the type of serious Jewish study that would now enable them to become responsible Jewish adults.

And that, in a nutshell, is at the heart of what it means to become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

I CALLED back my friend Debbie and we talked for a while about what she should do. I urged her to talk with Jason and try to understand what had caused him to change his mind. Perhaps it was the stress of learning the Torah portion, or the fear that he wouldn’t be able to participate in other school activities if he was busy with Hebrew school.

In the end, whatever the decision, I knew that it would have to be one that his family could accept.

Perhaps Jason and his family would be better served if they considered the words of the German Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig who, when asked if he put on tefillin each morning, responded, “Not yet.” Rosenzweig knew he was not ready to commit, but didn’t close the door on the possibility that someday he might be.

What a powerful message for Jews of all ages — to envision the potential that remains open to us throughout our lives to embrace meaningful Jewish living when we are ready.

Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Last Updated ( Friday, 19 October 2012 02:54 )  

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Polly Bergen, actress and singer, dies at 84

Marcy Oster Polly Bergen, who won accolades as a film, television and stage actress as well as a singer, has died. ... [Link]

Dozens of Jewish groups join People’s Climate March in NYC

Marcy Oster More than 100 Jewish organizations participated in the People’s Climate March in New York as part of the Jewish Climate Campaign. ... [Link]

Ex-Calif. synagogue director sentenced to jail for embezzlement

Marcy Oster The former executive director of a synagogue in La Jolla, Calif., was sentenced to 18 months in prison for embezzlement. ... [Link]

Op-Ed: To keep Jewish professionals, let them go

Julie Wiener The Jewish professional sector could be just as fluid and dynamic as some of the most competitive sectors in the world. Here’s how, writes a director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Found... [Link]

Israeli NGO sends team to Sierra Leone to help combat Ebola

Marcy Oster The Israeli nongovernmental relief organization IsraAID is sending medical professionals to Sierra Leone to help patients who have tested positive for the deadly Ebola virus. ... [Link]

Lady Gaga: White House provided assurances on Tel Aviv’s safety

Marcy Oster Lady Gaga said the White House assured her it would be safe in Tel Aviv when the American singer played there earlier this month. ... [Link]

Vienna Jewish Museum restitutes Nazi-looted painting

Marcy Oster The Vienna Jewish Museum restituted a Nazi-looted painting to the artist’s grandnieces. ... [Link]

Israel establishing national cyber defense authority

Marcy Oster Israel will launch a national cyber defense authority to defend civilians against cyber threats. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com