Celebrating Shabbat, Preparing for B’nai Mitzvah

One of the most exciting parts of being a rabbi is working with families as they prepare for b’nai mitzvah. It is possibly the most time I get to spend with a child and his or her family, and because of my involvement in Religious and Hebrew School, I have the honor of watching our young people transform from children to adults right before my eyes.

Our students and parents at the Metzgers' house.

Our students and parents at the Metzgers’ house.

This can be an exciting and a challenging process, and we are doing our best to keep it from becoming scary. Throughout this year, the 7th grade and their families will be meeting with me, and with each other, to engage in a conversation about what it means to become b’nai mitzvah and how we can best get ready.

This past Shabbat, our seventh grade class came together to celebrate and learn together. We began our morning by praying with Betty Gibbs as she became bat mitzvah. Betty took her responsibilities as a prayer leader very seriously and also led the service with joy, which set an incredible example for our 7th graders as they begin their journey to become b’nai mitzvah.

Over lunch at the Metzgers’ house, we looked at Pirke Avot 1:2: “The world stands on three things: on Torah (learning), on Avodah (prayer) and on Gemilut Chasadim (acts of lovingkindness).” This started a conversation on how each of these elements are a part of our own everyday lives, and how they are a part of becoming b’nai mitzvah.

Carolynn and Jeremy Frankel.

Carolynn and Jeremy Frankel.

Then each parent paired of with his/her own child(ren) to talk about what they had seen at the service and what they were excited for and nervous about for when it was their turn. Hearing their answers was a reminder of something incredibly important: that each student is so different, and that a bar or bat mitzvah experience–both the preparation and the ceremony–should reflect who each student is and what his or her family values.

This brought up a lot of great questions: Does it matter if I wear a suit and tie (or a dress and heels) if that’s really not my style? How can a tzedaka project create an ongoing, meaningful connection rather than just a one-time event? How do I make this special for both of my children when we are celebrating their b’nai mitzvah together? What role do I play as a parent if I never became bar or bat mitzvah myself? What if I don’t like to sing? What if I really like to sing?

Sam, Joel, and Mariel Kelson.

Sam, Joel, and Mariel Kelson.

Perhaps one of the most profound moments was when parents and students both answered the question: “How can I best support you and help you as you prepare for this moment?” The parents and students admitted that they thought they were in separate corners: the students preparing to read Torah and lead services, the parent planning a party and driving carpool to services and Hebrew School. Taking the time to spend Shabbat together reminded us that we are in this together, and that each person on the team needs to support the other as we prepare for this sacred moment.

And, as your rabbi, I’m excited to be a part of that team!

For more of Rabbi Berkowitz’s thoughts on b’nai mitzvah, read this article on Rabbi Berkowitz’s blog!

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