One's life upon and after becoming a bar or bat mitzvah
Sub categories of "Bnei Mitzvah"
The main issue we continue to address is how to make the Bar Mitzvah service less of a "private" service and more of a community service. We believe it is important for a student who is becoming a Jewish adult to lead a service where he is surrounded by Jewish adults. "Double" services certainly increase the number of people attending services -- but don't necessarily increase the kavanah. Our current plan is to involve the family as much as possible in the life of the congregation well in advance of the Bar Mitzvah so that they get to know more of the congregational community. Then, we encourage the families to ask congregants to join them for worship on the day of the Bar Mitzvah.
Sanford 1375 Families
Our temple does not usually have Havdalah services, so the decision was made not to offer Havdalah bar/t mitzvahs as an option. The only exception, and this occurs only occasionally, is if a student has significant learning disabilities and reading his or her portion in our large sanctuary from the bimah would be overwhelming. In those cases, and only at the recommendation of the Director of Education, we allow a Havdalah bar/t mitzvah in the chapel. We make it clear that synagogue attire, as opposed to cocktail wear, is expected, and that this exception is made to accommodate special needs, not fancier celebrations.
Ronni 1800 units
Our synagogue is fortunate to have a large Religious School and has approximately 100 B?nei Mitzvah each year. To accommodate our families, we have been having Havdalah B?nei Mitzvah on a regular basis for many years. They work wonderfully. Families can choose to have as informal or elaborate celebration as they choose within or outside of the Temple following the service. Our service begins at 6:30 and usually ends before 8. It is very popular with parents who want a "single", since most of our B?nei Mitzvah "in season" are doubles. There is an additional charge for a Havdalah Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
Mayda 1000+ Families
In response to the query about who, what, why of b'nei mitzvah gifts. Here is our minhag [i.e. custom]. After the b?nei mitzvah has completed his/her speeches the rabbi says a few words to him/her and then presents the presenters. While the junior and senior youth group delegates used to present their own gifts these are now given by the person presenting for the C.R.E. Children's Religious Education committee (chair or designee).
The gifts are: a bookmark from the Jr. Youth Group, a mezuzah from the Senior Youth Group, and certificate of bar/bat mitzvah from the CRE. Then Sisterhood presents candlesticks or a Kiddish cup to the b'nei mitzvah, and the president presents the student with their copy of the siddur which has been "on loan" for study through the year. Since we are changing over from the old blue GOP to the gray GOP we now give a copy of that siddur also.
As president I have gotten to know these students and am given the privilege of saying a few words in addition to "good job". My comments usually include that while I am giving them something they have had for a year what I am really giving them is the right to now use it as a leader of a congregation in worship. I enjoy this and feedback has been positive. The choice of gifts was established a very long time ago and just seems to be Temple custom.
We present the student and their family with their Torah portion and siddur, at services on the bimah, as close as possible to the year before the actual bar/bat mitzvah. This was not an original idea with us. I would be interested in if and how other congregations are doing this.
Barbara 238 members
Our Congregation provides separate gifts from the Temple Board, Sisterhood and Brotherhood. Brotherhood gives a silver mezuzah necklace, Sisterhood gives a Tanach and the Temple gives an engraved Kiddush cup and certificate. The gifts are only given to our youth, not to adult b'nei mitzvah.
At our last Board meeting, we changed a long standing ritual of having a representative from each organization present their own gift to having just one representative of the congregation present all three. We also decided to give a Kiddush cup to both bar and bat mitzvah, instead of a Kiddush cup to the boys and candlesticks to the girls.
Randi 306 members
Regarding gifts for b?nei mitzvah, at Woodlands Community Temple we have three gifts for the celebrant. They have been agreed to by the rabbi, the Ritual Committee and the Board. They are presented by an active member of the temple leadership, most often a member of the Board. The three gifts are a Kiddush cup, which is presented full, and is used by the child to chant the Shabbat morning Kiddush; a gift certificate for $250 towards a high school trip to Israel and a tzedakah box, a really beautiful replica of an Italian synagogue. This is not per se from the Brotherhood/Sisterhood, but from the temple as a whole.
Jonathan 400 members
At my synagogue the child who has become a bar/bat mitzvah is presented with 3 gifts: a Kiddush cup (boys) or candlesticks (girls) which are a gift from our Brotherhood & Women of Reform Judaism; a copy of On the Doorposts of Your House from our Board of Trustees; and a $250 gift certificate towards a NFTY trip to Israel from the UAHC.
How the items were determined I am not sure. The ritual items are a long-standing custom - a message to take on the responsibility for these rituals. Our Board used to give a copy of our prayer book. But when On the Doorposts of Your House came out it was felt that a book emphasizing home rituals could, potentially, be a more useful resource. The UAHC gift certificate came into being about 3 years ago. (An interesting note to that: thanks to the forward thinking and support of a family in our synagogue - and others who add to it - those students who continue on to Confirmation receive much more support for an Israel trip - consequently, a high percentage of our students go on to Confirmation and over 1/2 of our Confirmation students head off to Israel every year.)
The three gifts are all presented by 1 person - a member of our Board of Trustees. All trustees are expected to sign up for at least 1 presentation.
Iris 824 members
At Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, our Board of Trustees presents a copy of The Jewish Encyclopedia; the Brotherhood presents one of several other books --generally a guide to maintaining Jewish practices in the home -- and the Women of Reform Judaism presents a Kiddush cup. At each b'nei mitzvah service, a member of the Board of Trustees sits on the bimah, and at the appropriate time the rabbi calls upon him or her to make a short presentation speech; similarly, representatives of the other two organizations are called from the congregation. It adds perhaps three to five minutes to the ceremony, but we use it to underscore the importance of community in the life of every Jew.
Ed 850 members
At both my former congregation on the west coast and my current congregation on the east coast, the bar/bat mitzvah receives gifts from the Sisterhood and Men's Club. Typically, a representative from either the Board or the Sisterhood/Men's Club is present on the bimah to present the gifts at the end of the service. If I recall correctly, the girls used to receive candlesticks, and the boys received Kiddush cups, but I actually think it's nicer if they each receive both (a little gender neutrality). The cantor presented a Tanach -- it gave her/him a chance to personally acknowledge the relationship that was developed while studying together.
In my present congregation, a certificate for the planting of a tree in Israel as well as an acknowledgment of a scholarship to participate during the student's confirmation year in a trip to Israel has also been given. These presentations are usually short and sweet, but I think they provide the students a chance to wind down after the tremendous pressure of the service is over. I've known many students who say they can't remember a thing that's said during these presentations, but it's like a decompression time before they are whisked into the whirlwind of greetings and partying. And I think these tangible reminders of the experience are something they look at in the quiet of their rooms when everyone goes home and the last of the friends and relatives have left. A Tanach, a Kiddush cup, a pair of candlesticks -- all speak silently about what their synagogue community feels is important as they go on through college and setting up their own households -- and these same items are the very things we see when we visit Ellis Island or any display of everyday artifacts that define a Jewish life.
Our congregation had to go to double b?nei mitzvah about three years ago. We debated the matter long and passionately in the Ritual Committee. In the end we had to just bow to the inevitable and do it. It is still possible to have a single bar/bat mitzvah at our synagogue if you are willing to have it on a holiday (a way to get a minyan at the festival morning service) or a Shabbat which is not popular for some reason--dead of winter, school vacation, etc. One of the benefits of doubles is that our clergy do not have to do a morning and a Minchah bar/bat mitzvah most of the time. We have been careful about matching the students as to their maturity and abilities and their families. Most of the time it works. Of course, only one family can have the social hall for lunch, so the other family has to make other arrangements.
An obvious answer to doubles is Monday/Thursday b'nei mitzvah. It has been done in our congregation for one child. Good luck. Just remember that this is not really a "problem" but an opportunity to connect all these young people to a lifelong love of Judaism and study.
Robin 1100+ members
Regarding doubling up on bar/bat mitzvah services, we usually have more b'nei mitzvah than available Saturdays. We opted for doubling up where necessary. The celebrants both take part in the services (which includes leading a few Friday night prayers as well as Saturday) and each is called separately to the Torah and reads his/her own portion. However, they split the haftarah portion.
I think some people were not happy about doubling up the first year we did it, but now I think it's been generally accepted and things seem to have worked out fine. A lot may depend on how well the paired families work together; usually the two celebrants are classmates in the religious school so they and their families have had the opportunity to get to know each other.
David 440 members
We have 55 plus or minus b'nei mitzvah a year for the next several years. We will in a month with five Fridays schedule a Friday night single bar or bat mitzvah. I attend services most Friday nights and I can?t remember the last time that has happened.
We will schedule doubles. Singles will be done for special needs. With the schedule we now have a single will be at 9 AM on Saturday with the normal Service at 11 AM.
We define special needs as:
Some sort of learning disability where it would be unfair to team a child up with another.
Extremely large crowd where one family would fill the sanctuary on their own.
Other special circumstance, not just they want their child to do it alone.
Our clergy is opposed to Havdalah services. They claim and we have not disputed them that it leads to clergy burn out. They have also brought up that based on discussion with other clergy that do it the party immediately following and the fashion show of people dressed for an evening party take too much away from what the prime purpose of a bar/bat is supposed to be. If you look at the schedule for clergy its true that they have little enough time to call their own. Hope this helps, its working for us.
Stuart 717 members
Our 1000+ congregation has 90 b?nei mitzvah this year, and over 100 next year. All are scheduled in the ten months between September and June. Dates are assigned in fifth grade, as children turn 10. First choice among the available slots is given based on seniority within the congregation.
Our regular Shabbat morning service is at 11 a.m. When there are two for a particular date, this is made into a double. Typically, both Rabbis officiate at this one. After that, we either schedule a single at a 9 a.m. service (with one Rabbi) or one during the Friday night service.
Several years ago, the Rituals and Practices committee came up with a formal policy that limits Friday night bar/bat Mitzvah to a maximum of one per month, ten per year. This is because [many of our congregants avoid attending a Friday night service with a bar/bat mitzvah]. With family services and all the other theme Shabbats, this is perceived as yet another Friday night that isn't just plain Shabbat.
Incidentally, we do not permit private receptions following a Friday night bar/bat mitzvah. Whatever the family does must be open to the entire congregation. Our clergy are opposed to adding services when we would not otherwise have them. That is why we do not have Havdalah bar/bat mitzvah. Further, we are concerned about sanctuary dress and decorum when people are arriving for a service and then going directly to the evening party. We do not want to encourage cocktail dresses in the sanctuary, and certainly not on the bimah.
Janet 1,000+ members
Our congregation (2800 families) offers Shabbat morning and Shabbat Havdalah services. We never have two children at the same service because we try to make the experience an intensely personal one. Both services are very flexible with regard to style and content and are largely designed by the student and family with the rabbi. Our four rabbis distribute the students.
The afternoon service is usually identical to the morning service except that Havdalah is added. Many families prefer the afternoon service for logistical reasons. In our synagogue, the Havdalah ceremony is just a small part of the bar/bat mitzvah process. Although it is the focal part, I think that both the children and their families come to view the service as part of the whole experience and, in general, accept their assigned time.
The assignment process is performed by a staff person who oversees life cycle events and appears arbitrary to the congregants. (This may sound uncomfortable but the almost hidden nature of the process seems to create the feeling that one's date and time are what they are and that is it. Requests are accepted and considered in publishing the schedule.)
Richard 2800 members
The question of where to place b'nei mitzvah as numbers overwhelm the calendar, refreshes the drive to decrease the exuberance that greets b'nei mitzvah, and reclaim the service for the congregation. If the students are not the only focus and reason to be in services, then we can normalize our relationship to this wonderful ceremony. However, to do this requires a real and deep cultural shift for the American Jewish community and that comes about slowly and through great leadership and will power.
I suggest this philosophical argument here because your "good" problem in your congregation offers an opportunity to create change as a means to resolve an on-going issue. Historically, the idea of b'nei mitzvah can be fulfilled at any service at which Torah is read, weekday, holiday, new moon, Shabbat, Shacharit or Minchah. If your congregation reads Friday evenings, then that fills the bill in Reform. I would discourage Friday evening: it deprives the congregation of the only service which belongs to the entire k?hilah (congregation). If your rabbinic/cantorial strength permits Minchah, it is viable, but ground rules for decorum and limits on the kind of affair may be necessary to prevent the late afternoon affair from becoming more bar than mitzvah.
In our smaller congregation, Minchah/ Maariv is an option. We have some, but in each case, the Bar/bat Mitzvah does the following to make it workable. At the Minchah service he/she reads Torah, often all three aliyot that begin the next Torah portion, and reads haftarah complete with the blessings. He or she leads the Minchah service that follows, including the Amidah to the k?dushah, and leads the Maariv service. The family leads the Havdalah that concludes the service. The service time for this is nearly identical with that for Shacharit, and the preparation for the student provides the Jewish literacy that Bar/Bat Mitzvah should reflect.
Robert 209 members
In our Temple we have portable screens which can close off the luncheon area from the entrance to the room where we have a Kiddush for all service attendees. After Kiddush, invited guests are seated at the luncheon tables. It works well. A separate room or area, separate from the luncheon area might be made available for Kiddush.
Since I have five children, I am familiar with the question of the Kiddush after the service (five times!!!) Where I attend, all congregants come to the Kiddush after the b'nei mitzvah. It is up to the family of the b'nei mitzvah to decide if they have a congregational luncheon that we refer to as extended luncheon or full luncheon depending on the size. If the luncheon is at the Temple, but the congregants are not invited, then there are large wooded dividers behind the Kiddush table.
Some families just service sweets to the congregants, while others add veggies and fruit. When it is an open affair, the dividers are not there, and after the blessings over wine and challah, everyone is able to eat.
The Temple offers packages to each family. Extended luncheons include about 6 to 10 tables with chairs and cost less than luncheons that require more tables. The Temple supplies the wine. The family is responsible for the food. As for how many to expect, the custom at our temple has been the number of guests invited plus about 30 congregation members. The first bar mitzvah we did, we over estimated. That got a bit expensive, since we had a caterer that charged per person. There are always those who say they are coming, but who do not or cannot. Kids do not eat much. It is always a guessing game, but I found it best to underestimate a bit.
Families do as much or as little as they can. At the least, they can provide just cookies or they can provide tea and coffee with sweets for an additional cost. Our Shabbat services including our b'nei mitzvah services have regular attendees as well as the families and their guests. The services are geared for everyone, not just the b'nei mitzvah families. The feeling at our temple is that the Shabbat service must be inclusive and not just for the family since others come for yahrzeit and for Shabbat. We have one service erev Shabbat and one on Shabbat morning.
Ellen 1300 members
Mar 2005 Digest 044
In our primarily lay-led congregation, I am pleased to say, our post-b'nei mitzvah teens are encouraged to continue to help lead our Shabbat and holiday services and to continue to read Torah for us--and not just on the anniversaries of their mitzvah celebration. Several of our teens do read Torah for us throughout the year; others choose to do so only during our High Holy Days services. And, as we have no special "family" or "children's" service on either Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur, our teens honor our entire congregation with their reading and their various other holiday leadership roles and, by so doing, additionally become wonderful role models for our younger children (some of whom also take small roles in our Shabbat and holiday worship services).