Saturday, February 15, 2014

B'nai Mitzvah - Ritual or Spiritual

As I have written before, I look back at my daughter's bat mitzvah as a pivotal experience for my family.   Following the bat mitzvah, I accepted the role of Chair of our synagogue's B'nai Mitzvah committee.  Right now, there is such collective wisdom and questioning about how to give our teens an appropriate and meaningful experience.  But how do we do that when parents and teens have very different perspectives about what is an appropriate and meaningful experience?

In the past few months, I've participated in a number of conversations including last week's collaborative "lunch and learn" spearheaded by JEDLAB's Yechiel Hoffman, Adat Ari El's Johannah Sohn, BJE's Phil Liff Greif and BJE Impact's Alisha Pedowitz.  With so many great educators and those invested in the identifying impactful ways to mark this time in our teens' life, it is clear to me that my goal at Temple Beth Am is to help the family design and implement a learning experience.   As I have mentioned before, if a parent's passion is baseball or theater, it is a joy to introduce and teach the love of the game or the show to one's child.  So using this model, parents would need to have a love, passion, or at the least, some interest in learning with the child about their upcoming day.   At our first meeting with the Rabbi, he asked my husband and I about our b'nai mitzvah experience, and as we answered, we realized it was probably the first time we were sharing this with our daughter.  I was terrified and excited.  My bat mitzvah was at 42 and around it swirled a whole host of adult emotions.  My husband had his own experiences which he shared.  Both of us reflected on the feeling of being alone in the experience meaning no one learns with you.  You are taught to prepare and then present.

My proposal is easy - the entire family should be invested in the bar or bat mitzvah.  While studying trope or the meaning of the torah portion may be tedious for the teen, with support and sharing of ideas, teens and parents (and other family members) can learn together through a partnership with and guidance from the synagogue.  My husband and I learn best when we are in a group.  I watch my daughter and see that her best and most gratifying learning has been on school projects or team learning.   And as this is the time that teens are developmentally separating from parents, this gives the family an opportunity to continue on the bridge toward adulthood together.  With guidance and discussion from the clergy, the parents are team members rather than task masters.  In partnership with the clergy, parents can elevate the day and create a new dynamic in the growth of their relationship with their child.  The clergy further develops the relationship with the family which will help the family stay engaged past the b'nai mitzvah dates.

My hope is that our b'nei mitzvah committee will act as a coaching system and peer support for families approaching their special day.  Our goal is to help the families create a beautiful and meaningful day for all members of the family.  We want to help the families navigate the spiritual institution and assure them that the anxiety and stress doesn't have to cloud the better parts of the experience.  There are great opportunities in our community for shared knowledge, best practices and even new partnerships.  It is an exciting time and I'm thrilled to be part of it.

Stay tuned for more on the growth of our b'nai mitzvah committee.

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