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October 6, 2015 | 23rd Tishrei 5776
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B'nei Mitzvah: Parents' Blessings and Speeches


  1. Mar 2005 Digest 044

                …we have moved our parents' comments. Until recently (a few months ago) they happened at the end of the service, as part of the Clergy Blessings. Now, however, we have them during the Passing of the Torah, before the Sh’ma and hakafah. In most cases at that moment the child is holding the Torah.

    So the parents' blessings need to reflect the sanctity of the moment, an appreciation of the accomplishment, and an understanding that Judaism's past and future is now literally in the hands of the young. They also should be short--two minutes total is what we're aiming for…


    920 units
  2. Mar 2005 Digest 044

                At our congregation, the parents present the tallit to their child at the beginning of the service (after the rabbi's introductions and after the candle blessing when it's Friday night).


    650 families
  3. Mar 2005 Digest 044

                Check out the Parents' Blessing section of this model B'nei Mitzvah Guidelines Booklet:

    Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, Director

    Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living

    Union for Reform Judaism
  4. May 2006 Digest 083

                If parents want to speak, I would [suggest they] turn in their speech for approval before the service. Or maybe get rid of the speeches and print a parent's letter in a service sheet?

  5. May 2006 Digest 083

                Perhaps limiting them to one speech per family might be appropriate and let them choose who will speak for them but also having the rabbi approve it as well. Give them guidelines on what to talk about.

  6. May 2006 Digest 083

                We call them "Parents' Blessings". We don't have an enforcement mechanism, and the clergy do not review the parents' blessing beforehand, but during family meetings in the weeks before the b'nei mitzvah the rabbi points out that this is to be a blessing and not a speech. The "blessing" should express the parents' wishes for their child and perhaps thanks to G-d. The "speech" should be saved for the toasts at the celebration after the worship service, a more appropriate time to tell funny stories about the child growing up.

                The blessings are read after the Torah service rather than while the congregation is standing for the passing of the Torah scroll.

                This doesn't always work to eliminate the "I remember when you were five years old ..." stuff, but I think the rabbi's reminder that it is a blessing rather than a speech inspires many parents to consider the religious aspects rather than just "our little baby has grown up" sort of thing.

                Sometimes, I guess, it really does matter what you call things.


    935 Member Units
  7. May 2006 Digest 083

                …it is a matter of setting a policy, explaining the policy, asking that speeches be reviewed prior to the event and then accepting the fact that not everyone will follow the rules and some will run overtime.

  8. May 2006 Digest 085

                The better parent speeches--and even some of the not-so-good ones--have an emotional resonance that is often a moving part of a b'nei mitzvah service, and therefore should not be abolished. It is unfair, however, for the congregation to have to listen to these speeches while standing…At [our congregation], these speeches are given after all the readings and after the Torah has been returned to the ark, but before Aleinu, et al. And the congregation, seated or reclining, can relax and enjoy them.


    470+ Households
  9. May 2006 Digest 086

                At [our congregation], both parents give private blessings to their children before the ark and just before the rabbi gives them the traditional blessing publicly. The blessings from the parents are very brief (less than two minutes) and unheard by the congregation, yet extremely moving at this point in the service.

                Having heard public speeches at other congregations from parents during the ceremony, I was surprised to find the speeches to be similar and far less interesting than what the children offered about the weekly parashah or about their b'nei mitzvah experience.


    1900 families
  10. May 2006 Digest 087

                We are experimenting with another location in the process for the parents' blessings. We had them at the end of the service for some years, and felt it was getting out of hand. Too many parents were recounting the child's accomplishments in extensive detail, with lots of in-joke references that congregants (and, I believe, friends in the audience) did not know.

                About a year ago we moved the statements. We now have the parents speak during the transmission of Torah, in front of the Ark, with the child holding the Torah in his/her hands. We also changed the designation from "speech" to "blessing". We wrote an explanation for the parents. It included a reference to "speaking to God, and not to the audience," gave the families a length to aim for, and asked them to write their statements and rehearse them. The rabbis make a comment that "the Torah is heavy, both in physical weight and in significance," hoping that the parents will get the hint.

                So far, the results are far from perfect. We have had long and "insider" speeches, of course. But over the months I think the situation has improved. One of my fellow-regulars, who originally opposed the new timing, has at least partially come to agree. He admits that the parents are more concise and that they reflect a more reverent attitude.


    970 units
  11. Nov 2006 Digest 172

                At our temple we do have speeches by the parents; however, being small, we don't have pairings with other students. Speeches are also the choice of the parents. Sometimes one speaks, sometimes both. Sometimes the parents opt not to speak. It's their choice.

                The speeches are given after the child finishes chanting the Torah and haftarah and gives his/her speech on the portion. At another temple, I have seen it done right before the child is given the Torah for the hakafah. It's a very touching moment and does break up the standing and talking a bit.

                True, it does add time, but it's often a very moving portion of the service. At my son's Bar Mitzvah this past May, my husband read a letter (on TWA stationery) that his father had written to him as my husband neared his Bar Mitzvah. Dad wrote about why he was proud to be a Jew and why he wanted to fully give that gift to my husband, his son.

                However, I can fully understand that parents would not be willing to share such things in front of a congregation where they only know half the people there…


    180 Families
  12. Nov 2006 Digest 172

                We have moved the timing of the parent's prayer (speech) from handing down the Torah to just before hagbah, after the child has read Torah. This passage is one of my own pet peeves. It is often moving and wonderful; it is more often just boring for those of us who are there regularly and do not know the family. It is on occasion horrifying. Most of it would be better said at the Kiddush or later party when the family and friends are gathered to celebrate the child's day. It is generally more relevant to that group.

                Presenting a history of the child from conception to yesterday merely breaks any sense of kavanah that one might have achieved. The Shabbat morning service is (ought to be) communal, and to permit the family to make it personal is to take something away from the community. I understand the desire of some to say something special to their child before the entire congregation, but I have never seen a way to moderate that presentation once the microphone is in their hands.

  13. Nov 2006 Digest 172

                The "parental kvell" is the single worst aspect of the bar/bat-mitzvah service, in my opinion. It drives the final nail into the coffin of "this service is about the family, not the congregation", and it's tedious and often poorly thought-out. It belongs at the party, where the parents can then go on at great length (if they like) to a room full of people predisposed to want to hear it.

                …I have no objection to--and quite a bit of support for—the “rabbi's” blessing or charge to the bar/bat mitzvah. I trust the rabbi to make it relevant to the whole congregation, and it's important for a representative of the congregation to address the student. The parents, however, are the farthest thing from representatives of the congregation, and their participation should consist of fixed parts of the service (aliyot, prayers from the siddur, or whatever is customary in the congregation)…

  14. Nov 2006 Digest 172

                …The speech is a means by which the parents publicly inform the congregation of their child's special accomplishment in coming to the Torah for this incredibly affirming ceremony. Of course the parents kvell! For many of the families getting the child (young adult) to this level of accomplishment is a struggle with the young adult's own identity as a Jew, and theirs as parents (and Jews themselves), and they are rightly proud of their child's (and their own) accomplishment. A great level of appreciation and affirmance of the family is expressed at this public interaction. Although many in the congregation are strangers to the family, seeing this affirmance, as expressed in the parents' speeches is gratifying and confirming of K'lal Yisrael.

                Of course we hear "boring" details of the b'nei mitvah's childhood. But we also hear stories of courage in overcoming obstacles, faith and family, and the often unique personality of the young person before us. Stories and insights we would not know if the speech were "merely" given at the party.

                My advice is to listen to speeches with fresh ears. You may learn something about the family and about what it truly means to be Jewish.


    330+ families
  15. Nov 2006 Digest 172

                …Does hearing about the Brotherhood or Sisterhood's person of the year during services bother you in the same way? Does a tribute to an underappreciated temple employee or honored congregant bother you in the same way? Give the parents a little leeway in expressing their joy that their child has chosen to embrace Judaism, rather than the newest generation gaming console. Also, why not be "part of the community" that welcomes him with his family, rather than separating them for expressing their joy? When you are fortunate enough (GD willing) to have a life cycle event, share it yourself with your congregation because they are also family…


    323 families
  16. Nov 2006 Digest 172

                …I have only rarely heard parents make religion a significant part of these speeches. Usually it's about sports, family in-references (meaningless to the rest of us), school clubs (that have nothing to do with Jewish ideals in particular), and stuff like that. The person who said something like "a chronicle from birth until yesterday" hit the nail on the head. These things may have a lot to do with a private 13th-birthday party, but they have nothing to do with a bar mitzvah. I think it commendable, not shameful, for parents to be encouraged to do such speeches at the party.

                If [a] congregation has solved this problem, and your parents talk primarily of Torah and Jewish accomplishments, please share with us how you did it…

  17. Nov 2006 Digest 172

                About 80% of ours are OK. Here is what I tell parents:

    1. This is not your day. It is the child's.
    2. Each parent may speak a maximum of two minutes each.
    3. Jokes about the kid are absolutely out of place.
    4. The content should include: How much we love you, how much joy you bring to our lives, and how proud we are of you because of the work required for this Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the Mitzvah project that you did which accompanied the preparation.
    5. I suggest that they end with the Shehekeanu, even in English translation (although this only rarely happens).
    6. If you desire to say more than your two minutes, please feel free to do so at either the luncheon or the party, but not at our congregational service.
  18. Nov 2006 Digest 173

                …There are moments in children's lives that stay with them. Memorable moments that stick throughout life. I believe that this is one of them.

                How better to retain a connection with your child than in a holy space and time? Such a holy moment is not easily forgotten as a child moves into teenagehood (where they 'forget' their parents love them!) and into adulthood. A simple few minutes speech is a statement of love and, in my humble opinion, love has a place on the bimah...

  19. Nov 2006 Digest 173

                Personally, I look forward to the parents speeches. I love when parents tell their children, in front of family, friends and peers, just how much they are loved, and how proud they are of them. (Yes, this should be done everyday, but doesn't always happen.) It is what every child needs to hear from their parents at a time when they are beginning their teen years. It is rare that we have parents get up and say stupid things to embarrass their child. I have had many parents come up and tell me how much it meant to them to think about what they were going to say to  their child and how good it felt to say it to them. I wish this affirmation of love between parents and children was seen as a positive and not a negative.


    250 families
  20. Nov 2006 Digest 173

                Some people may be annoyed listening to the in-family humor, the kvelling about the kid who single-handedly performed a feat worthy of headlines, and the like, but the fact that these were given during a public service, one at which non-family or non-friends were present, indicates that the community is involved if, at the very least, as a "spectator"…


    ~500 families

    Nov 2006 Digest 173

                …Let us make a distinction between a blessing and an honoring. I have no problem with giving people a special blessing (e.g., birthdays, baby namings, or other life cycle events).

                Honoring someone for a specific individual achievement is honoring the self, the me. That is what I object to. I think you could achieve this type of honoring at the oneg or some other type of social gathering at the synagogue.

                Again, with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, I think the emphasis should be upon the welcoming the child to the community and blessing them upon their adult journey.

                It all comes back to the point…about the intrusion of secular materialism into our lives and how it is eroding the sense of community in our congregations. The achievements of the self are put first, and it gets played out in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah drama. If a parent wants to bless the 

    child--fine, or offer a prayer, fine--that is part of the service. And what better way to show love than a blessing?

  21. Nov 2006 Digest 173

                …I like so many other of my colleagues, also not only permit this [parental speeches] but encourage it because I find it extremely powerful…

                There is something else that I do which has a tremendous impact upon the parents and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and also affects the nature of the public remarks. Five minutes before the service, I bring the parents and child into my study. I dim the lights to give it a more intimate feeling. There, I invite the parents to make private remarks to the child; remarks that they might choose not to make in public, before the assembled guests. Here I see a certain amount of tears and gushing. Indeed, there are tidbits revealed that I wish that I could use in my own remarks, but know I cannot. Aside from creating this powerful personal moment, I believe that this experience helps the parents better focus on the differences between private and public remarks.

  22. Nov 2006 Digest 173

                Personally, I *enjoy* the parent speeches. It gives me an opportunity to know a little better the child-now-adult standing before me, through the eyes of those who will know him/her best. In contrast, the speeches by the rabbi can be strained, as the rabbi really *doesn't* know the kid all that well in many cases…

                For those who think that the parental speech has no place in the service, I would invite you to look at it differently. If the service is indeed supposed to be something owned by the entire community, then why is the child not considered part of that community, someone who is being honored that day? Instead of seeing "that kid up there" how about "one of *our* kids" with whom we are celebrating? Why are the parents the least representative of the community? Is the family some sort of "other" entity, outside of the community? What message do we send when we say that parents are not welcome to honor their child in front of the community?

  23. Nov 2006 Digest 174

                Just a thought--perhaps there would be no controversy over the parents speaking if instead of "making a speech" they blessed their child. Blessings are about the future and our hopes/dreams/wishes. That would move parents away from the child's past and the problems that entails.

    Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman

    Dept. of Worship, Music and Religious Living
  24. Nov 2006 Digest 174

                …If I really had my way…I'd rather honor and bless my children at that time by doing, rather than speechifying…Rather than give a long (or short) speech, I'd rather honor and bless my child with a short d'var, or by reading Torah (especially if I could make the logistics work to do it with my child.) I can't think of a better way to share with my child what I think a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is really all about: Taking one's place in Klal Yisrael, taking responsibility for one's (Jewish) life, taking one's place in our communal worship and starting on a lifelong journey of Jewish learning and practice.

                At this point one might be inclined to say something like, "But wouldn't that take away from my child's day?" It isn't my child's day, though. It is Shabbos, which belongs to us all, and that my child might take her or his place among us by becoming Shaliach Tzibbur and Ba'al Koreh/Korah doesn't make the Shabbos, it merely makes it sweeter...


    1100+ units


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