On Becoming a Bat/Bar Mitzvah

Reflections

March 11, 2000. The day I became a Bat Mitzvah. The Torah portion was Pekudei, the very last Torah portion in the book of Exodus. I chanted both my Torah and Haftarah, and then I delivered my very first d’var Torah. My Torah portion was about building the Tabernacle and all of the details needed to set its foundation. That morning I shared with my family and friends that my Bat Mitzvah was the foundation of my Tabernacle, for it was only the beginning of my Jewish journey… I was only 12 years old.

Over the past two years, I have officiated a little over 20 Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies and attended countless others. Each Saturday morning, I find myself proud of the young man or young woman as they lead the congregation in worship, read from the Torah and deliver their d’var Torah. The liturgy for Shabbat morning, stays the same week to week, but the young man or woman leading the service changes. Each student brings his own sense of self, her own connection to Judaism, his own insight and wisdom. Our young people continue to impress me — the way they articulate how their Torah portion is relevant today, or how it’s not relevant and why the Torah is at times troubling.

People often ask me what I love most about being a rabbi. I always answer, that without a doubt, working with Bar and Bat Mitzvah students is at the top of my list. But it’s not only about working with 12 and 13 year olds. For the past 18 months, I have had the sincere joy and pleasure to study, to learn with, and to teach, a wonderful class of six adults who will all become Bar or Bat Mitzvah on May 12th.

Each adult student comes to this important and meaningful life cycle ritual for his or her own reason. Whether Bat Mitzvah wasn’t available when they were 13 years old or whether they came to Judaism later in their life, each student in this adult B’nai Mitzvah class has studied and actively engaged in Judaism for the past 18 months, and perhaps taken on the most difficult of challenges — learning a new language.

A few weeks ago, when we began rehearsing for the ceremony, I watched each student read from the Torah for the very first time — they might not admit it, but I could see the pride in each student’s face as he or she accomplished the task of reading from the scroll, no vowels, all on their own.

I began to think back to my own Bat Mitzvah, reading the Torah for my very first time. I, too, remember feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment. But I also felt a part of something greater — as I chanted the words from Pekudei, I thought about all those who chanted those words before me, all of those who read from Torah before me. And in the moment that I watched these adults read from the Torah, these adults who chose to become Bar and Bat Mitzvah later in their lives, I thought back to that same chain of tradition I felt so much a part of the morning I became Bat Mitzvah, and I began to reflect on how the chain continues.

For becoming Bar and Bat Mitzvah, especially in the Reform Movement, is not at all about having a 12th or 13th birthday party. It’s about something much greater, something much more meaningful. It’s about becoming a part of chain, of generations past and generations yet to come. So whether you are 12, 13, 50, or even 80, it’s never too late to become a part of this chain.

The Jewish singer/songwriter Josh Nelson captures the essence of this ritual, of becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah, regardless of age, so perfectly, in his song L’dor Vador:

We are gifts and we are blessings,
we are history in song
We are hope and we are healing,
we are learning to be strong
We are words and we are stories,
we are pictures of the past
We are carriers of wisdom, not the first
and not the last

L’dor vador nagid godlecha
L’dor vador… we protect this chain
From generation to generation
L’dor vador, these lips will praise Your name


 

A House of Prayer for All People

The place to connect, to learn, and to make a difference.

Become a Member