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August 30, 2015 | 15th Elul 5775
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B'nei Mitzvah Ceremony: Family Participation


  1. Nov 2006 Digest 162

    1. When one is bringing one's child to services for (I would hope) the year preceding their bar or bat mitzvah--does the adult "listen" to the blessing over the Torah? (or does the adult just drop the kid off?)
    2. Most of the books have both the Hebrew and the transliteration. The blessing should be easy enough to pick up--if just by osmosis-- if the adult comes to Shabbat services with their child.
    3. Can the rabbi, cantor, educator have the adult come in—(as well as others who may be honored with an aliyah for a respective bar mitzvah) to be sure that they know the blessings?
    4. If uncle or grandpa don't live in town and don't attend services--there are blessings to listen to on the internet; there are CDs that can be burnt off and sent to the respective persons.

    All of the above, plus the "laminated 100-point font transliteration sitting next to the Torah" might do the trick.


  2. Nov 2006 Digest 162

    ...I know from experience, sometimes fear makes one slip up when just moments before, sitting in your seat, you could get the entire thing down pat. However, when it is obvious no preparation was done, it is embarrassing for everyone. The way we often try to circumvent this is also to have the cantor provide a CD to anyone who wishes, along with a copy of the aliyah as far in advance as possible so that families can practice...

    600+ Families

  3. Nov 2006 Digest 162

    Our people have been terribly scarred by assimilation. In the case of my family, neither my parents, nor my grandparents (nor, for that matter, my Jewish husband raised in a Reform synagogue) possessed a working level of prayer Hebrew. In many cases, the current generation of b’nei mitzvah is performing the great mitzvah of bringing their elders back to the bimah, back into the synagogue, back to an encounter with ritual, prayer, and Jewish community.

    So although I share your discomfort with readers who don't know and have not prepared the prayers, I urge compassion for these fellow Jews who grew up in a time and a Jewish culture much different from ours.

    If we want to place a premium on the Hebrew fluency of those who are offered aliyot, we should make that clear to the families of the b’nei mitzvah. Suggest other honors that they can offer to family members who do not know the Hebrew prayers, etc.

    But as one who has witnessed my children and nieces and nephews coaching grandma and grandpa in the Torah blessings on the eve of the service (albeit with limited success), I consider it a precious intergenerational bonding experience. My parents made a great effort to read the transliterated blessings because their grandkids asked them to, and they knew it meant a lot to those children that they try. They sounded terrible. They may have giggled or smirked in embarrassment. But I think we need to welcome these Jews where they are, and to recognize that this may be a moment of healing and connection for these families. And that healing may be more important than our discomfort.

    (60 households)

  4. Nov 2006 Digest 162

    I've seen people giggle, though it seems to be an involuntary reaction to nervousness and embarrassment. You “can” tell the difference, though, between the nervous and those who don't know. This is what really gets me. On a fairly regular basis I've seen parents who look like they've never been inside a synagogue before and have no idea what is supposed to be happening. In some cases, it's strictly true: They've spent almost zero time attending services, understanding what is about to happen to their child. It boggles my mind, the carelessness with which some parents treat this milestone; how is it to mean anything to the child if it means nothing to the parent?

    A cantor that I know meets with parents before b'nei mitzvah lessons, and one of the first questions he asks is, "Why did you join the synagogue?" Often, the answer is: "I wanted to give this to my children" or some variant. His response is: "How can you give to your children what isn't yours to give?" There are parents who don't take any ownership of their Judaism or the Bar/Bat Mitzvah of their child. I have no problems with a congregation bending their standards to meet the “needs” of a student with different abilities. I can't imagine a serious Jew who “wouldn't” be offended at the thought of compromising the standards to meet the desires of someone who is more interested in soccer practice or the like than in practicing and expressing their Judaism on/for an occasion which is meant to be so important.


  5. Nov 2006 Digest 163

    All too often at B'nei Mitzvah the family member selected to do hagbah is clueless. There is this awkward minute or two where the rabbi, at this dramatic moment, has to show the person what to do. And then it is done clumsily and without any kavanah. I think it is insulting. Another

    congregant and I have…a… solution…to give the person a quick lesson before the service. I pull him aside, bring him into the chapel, and we practice a few times. They always do it OK.

    500+ units

  6. Nov 2006 Digest 163

    One of the ways we encourage at least parental familiarity and comfort with the services is that parents are required to attend the same number of services that the b’nei mitzvah students are required to attend pre ceremony (they are supposed to attend together). Although I wish the number of services required was higher, at least the families unfamiliar with our temple's particular way of doing things get to learn this together.
    323 families

  7. Nov 2006 Digest 163

    As to the family members that don't know where to go or what to do--our cantor meets with everyone who has a part in the service twenty to thirty minutes before the service to do a "quicky" run through (you stand here, you take the Torah and walk there, after your aliyah, walk and stand here, Grandparents pass the Torah to the parents then to the b’nei mitzvah, etc.

    323 families

  8. Nov 2006 Digest 163

    It is awkward--both for the individual and for the congregation--when someone can not do the b'rachot properly. One option that no one has mentioned, and has a legitimate history in our Movement, is to do the b'rachot in English.

    Personally, I prefer Hebrew when possible, but it is better not to have an awkward situation and embarrass someone publicly, especially when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative.



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