At Chicago Sinai Congregation, becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a choice—not a requirement—for a young person and his or her family to make. Our young people who put in the time and dedication to prepare for this this ritual have found their B’nai Mitzvah services vital and meaningful to their spiritual growth. Families and friends experience these services as beautiful and moving.
Our young people who do celebrate this ritual have found their B’nai Mitzvah services vital and meaningful to their spiritual growth.
B’nai Mitzvah at Chicago Sinai Congregation occur in the context of community: we celebrate these ceremonies for young people who participate in our religious school (or who attend a Jewish day school), and expect that our B’nai Mitzvah will continue religious school through Confirmation. This allows our teenagers to consider Judaism from a more mature perspective, to share the exploration of its crucial issues with their peers, and to begin to apply the nuances of our Jewish tradition to the complexities of their lives. It also provides our teenagers with another safe haven for exploring their choices at a time when they are least likely to listen to their family!
Becoming B’nai Mitzvah includes leading the congregation in worship and reading in Hebrew from the Torah scroll. At Sinai, every student’s grounding in Jewish history, ethics, and sacred texts in English is emphasized over mechanical Hebrew skills. Although preparation for the B’nai Mitzvah at Sinai requires developing a competency in Hebrew to read the essential prayers and specific Torah portion, we feel the greater emphasis should be placed on becoming a knowledgeable Jew and an active participant in Jewish life and society at large, through personal deeds and tzedakah (acts of justice).
Bar/Bat Mitzvah – The Service
Our B’nai Mitzvah services take place at 10:30 am on Sabbath mornings. The child normally conducts almost all of the service, including reading prayers in Hebrew and English, as well as reading part of the weekly Torah portion. Highlighting the service is the young person’s d’var Torah: words of teaching the congregation an important aspect of the student’s own understanding of the Torah. Parents, grandparents, and siblings of the young person may also participate in the service. Many of our young people are children of parents from differing religious backgrounds.We are committed to the complete inclusion of non-Jewish parents and other family members in the service. We make no distinction between the roles and honors bestowed upon Jewish or non-Jewish family members and friends.
We expect families to keep the joy of the day in balance with its transcendent religious meaning and purpose. Large, lavish celebrations are strongly discouraged.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah – Preparation
We begin the year of preparing to become B’nai Mitzvah with a special family retreat in the fall. This dedicated time helps families focus on the meanings and method of the work and celebrations ahead. We focus our time reflecting on values passed from generation to generation, learning the intricacies of Torah study, and understanding the expectations and possibilities of young people becoming B’nai Mitzvah.
Another major part of preparing for an adult Jewish life is taking the time to bring greater justice to our world. All of our B’nai Mitzvah students commit themselves to a longer-term mitzvah project during the course of their time of preparation. Many undertake this effort together with their families, and many families continue these commitments well beyond the service.
When it comes to mastering the skills for leading a service and reading from the Torah, our young people work closely with a tutor (supervised by our Director of Education) throughout the period of study – about nine to twelve months, depending on the student’s needs. Toward the end of their studies, students will also meet individually with one of our Rabbis to prepare the D’var Torah (words of teaching Torah) that they will share with the congregation. Our students also participate fully in their religious school grade during the same year. We will work with the family to identify an appropriate Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor (usually one of religious school teachers). Families are responsible for tutoring costs.
At the conclusion of the service, families who wish to celebrate here at Sinai are very welcome to do so.