“We at Temple Beth Emet feel that any parent who brings us their child is a MAJOR donor!”
“I love Judaism because it gives me unlimited arguing privileges.”
(Thank you, Jim Mattis Z”L)
Last month at the last session of the Confirmation class, I asked the students which they liked better, when we did text, specifically, Pirke Avot, the Talmudic book on Ethics or the more freewheeling, when they asked me questions, usually, more or less ‘what does Judaism say about…’ They chose the latter overwhelmingly!
I remember learning about the plan for Confirmation Programs done by the Reform movement so many years ago. While Bar/ Bat Mitzvahs are much older ceremonies, going back to when we were agrarians, their age related ceremonies leave much to be desired in this post-industrial world. We send our children out to the world as Jewish Adults as age 13, it was originally 12 for girls, and expect them to be able to do well in a world full of complexities. So, the question asked is,” Would you send your child out to the world with only a 7th grade secular education?” Of course, the answer is, a resounding, “No”. However, the Jewish non- Orthodox community does just that.
Further mis- communication has led to parents believing you had to be Bar/Bat Mitzvah by 13. No, the minimum age is 13, corresponding to the child physically being an Adult. We, at Temple, long ago found that the 7th-8th grade with all its pressures makes Bar/Bat Mitzvah training sometimes too much for the student. We have had students do both Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation studies simultaneously. The Confirmation program usually ends at age 15 or the end of 10th grade, where the child is much more mature.
Another thing that makes us unique along with our small Hebrew 6th and 7th grade classes and small group tutoring is we don’t set a date for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs until the child completes the packet of prayers that constitute 90% of the religious service they are going to lead. It is presented to them when they enter 6th grade. When they read the prayers in the packet fluently, not quickly, but smoothly, we then ask for a minimum of 6 months to prepare the melodies, the Torah portion and the Speech. Two months before the date, I meet with them additionally, once a week in the Sanctuary so they feel ‘at home’ there.
Some people find this problematic, what with travel arrangements, caterers, etc. But my aim in the Child’s knowledge that the Temple has his/her best interests at heart.
Let me relate an incident from before I came to Temple Beth Emet. The other synagogue where I taught had a policy that when you registered the child they gave you a Bar/ Bat Mitzvah date. Being they required a 5 year commitment, it was 5 years in the future. I had a student in my 7th grade religious school class who was called in by the Cantor. It was 6 months before his Bar mitzvah and the Cantor wanted to know how his Hebrew reading was. In a word it was terrible! So, the Cantor told the parents, who were very involved with their Temple, that their son would need strenuous tutoring. The parents, of course, agreed and the tutoring began. The son did well at his Bar Mitzvah, but what he told his parents greatly affected me.
He said, “I did this (the Bar Mitzvah training) because I am a loyal son and I love you both, BUT I AM NEVER GOING BACK TO THAT CRAZY PLACE”.
I have taken his comment to heart. We all should
That is why we don’t set a date for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service when the parents first register in the school. Most importantly, that is why we encourage the students to go at their own pace. Part of the Confirmation program is tutoring the 6th-7th graders. Over the years many of our former students come back to us as teachers. This year we had three. Unfortunately for us, two are leaving. Good-bye, Josh and Olivia! We will truly miss you and your efforts with our students.
Please remember, we are playing for our children’s whole life! We want them to feel that this is their house, a house of Truth. We must continue to do so, or else the Truth is we will lose the next generation.