Bar/Bat Mitzvah Education
Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Shir Tikvah
Welcome to this wonderful opportunity to learn and grow as a family. This is a chance for your child to begin to experiment with the sense of what it means to be a responsible Jewish adult, and it is a chance for the parent/s to deepen your own understanding of your personal sense of Jewish identity and belonging. The purpose of this ceremony, which was instituted for boys in Europe in the Middle Ages and for girls barely a century ago, is to demonstrate the community’s welcome of its newest member.
We invite your participation with our Nashira program and Shir Tikvah’s cohort of children now preparing to become Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah. Celebrate with us.
Click here for the pdf of our Parent Guide
The celebration of becoming a Bat Mitzvah or Bar Mitzvah at Shir Tikvah is not necessarily similar to what you may be familiar with at other congregations. Please don’t assume anything based on prior experience elsewhere! We are always ready to explain, and you will learn a lot simply by your participation in our Shabbat morning services.
Bat/Bar Mitzvah Timeline
1. One and a half – two years before the ceremony (usually held in the general proximity of the child’s 13th birthday)
a) Schedule a meeting with Rabbi Ariel. At this meeting you and Rabbi will fix a date for the ceremony, and the Rabbi will talk with you about the process of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Shir Tikvah. For a list of FAQ, see our Parent Guide
b) Rabbi will make the initial contact to connect you with the tutor you agree upon. All tutors need to be familiar with Shir Tikvah’s minhag (customary ritual). Please help us make sure that your tutor has received a copy of the Shir Tikvah tutoring guidelines. Schedule an initial meeting with your tutor, and then work out a mutually convenient (usually weekly at first, possibly becoming bi-weekly) schedule to follow. The tutors are independent contractors and are to be paid by the Bat/Bar Mitzvah family. When feasible, it is certainly possible, even recommended, for two students to prepare their Hebrew together with a tutor. The amount of time a student will spend bringing his or her ability to read Hebrew up to par will depend on the individual, and the amount of time spent with the tutor will reflect that. Some students also opt to learn some conversational Hebrew as well; others prefer to deepen their understanding of the prayer Hebrew and their expertise in singing the different chanted melodies.
2. A year before your ceremony
Schedule a meeting with Rabbi. At this meeting the candidate will discuss the Mitzvah project. In addition you will receive your Torah and Haftarah readings. Usually the same tutor will guide you through learning them.
3. A year before your date (or sooner)
Begin attending Saturday morning Shabbat services on a regular basis. The more you become a part of the community, the more meaningful it will be when it is your turn to lead them in prayer. You will need to be quite comfortable with the structure, choreography, and tunes of the regular Saturday morning service. This will require attendance on at least 10 or more occasions. You are also more than welcome to begin attending the adult Torah Study which immediately precedes the service.
4. Nine months to a year before your date
Contact the office to discuss any Kiddush lunch you may wish to have immediately following services. Be ready to support other families that are in the same process as you: setting up and serving wine, juice and hallah just after their services. They will be ready to support you when it’s your turn!
5. Six months before your date
Schedule a meeting with the Rabbi for guidance in writing your d’var Torah. This is your opportunity to share your thoughts about your Torah portion with the congregation.
6. Three months before your date
You should be well into the process and feel that you are on track. Feel free to schedule a meeting with the Rabbi if you feel it’s necessary. Parents are called to the Torah for the next-to-last aliyah (blessing the Torah), so you may need to learn or review the Torah blessings.
7. One month before your date
a) Discuss with Rabbi the various honors you might choose to offer to family and friends, such as an aliyah (being called up to the Torah), hagba’ah, lifting the Torah for the congregation to see, and gelilah, dressing the Torah in its vestments. Usually parents (other family members can also be included) are honored with candle lighting and Kiddush at Erev Shabbat services the night before the ceremony.
b) Call the office to schedule a rehearsal at the Bridgeport Church. You will have the chance to walk through the service with Rabbi and practice reading from the actual Torah scroll at that time. Your fee for associated costs is due by the date of the rehearsal.
8. One week before
Now is not the time to learn anything new! Your d’var Torah should be written, the prayers, Torah, and Haftarah portion learned. Spend some time reviewing. Also review your logistics: do family members and friends who will participate have a clear idea of what they will be doing? If you are hosting a lunch immediately following the ceremony at Bridgeport, what are the arrangements for Kiddush and haMotzi?
Don’t forget your rehearsal!
9. The day before
Rest and relax. Enjoy a Shabbat dinner with your friends and family. You’ll do great!
THE MEANING OF THE CEREMONY
The terms bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah mean “liable to the commandments”. According to Jewish tradition, a girl reaches this status at the age of twelve and a half, and a boy at the age of thirteen. Generally, this is considered to be the age at which one develops the ability to take responsibility for one’s own ethical behavior. Thus, one is eligible to become a member of the Jewish religious community in one’s own right. One is NOT “bar-mitzvahed” or “bat-mitzvahed”. It does not happen TO one; one must CHOOSE to become a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah.
It is worth taking a moment to consider what it means to become a Bat or Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Shir Tikvah. At Shir Tikvah, we are conscious that the historical reason for the ceremony of bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah is a response to the child’s personal decision to commit him or herself to participation in the Jewish community in general, and in the Shir Tikvah community in particular. The ceremony is an important moment in the life of the community, but the ceremony is not what makes the child a bar or bat mitzvah. The ceremony of calling your child up to the Torah marks our communal recognition of the new member in our midst, and a celebration of that fact. As a way of recognizing the child who has chosen to participate in the Jewish community and to live life consciously as a Jew, she or he is offered the honor of participating in the regular congregational prayers, including the reading of the Torah and Haftarah, on a Shabbat morning. As well, the child is invited to participate in our congregation’s love of Torah study by preparing a d’var Torah, a short presentation usually offered before the Torah reading in which the child speaks of his or her own understanding of the story s/he is about to read from the scroll. In addition, each child is invited to give thanks for this celebration in the traditional Jewish way of doing tzedakah in the form of a mitzvah project. While this act of tzedakah may take the form of giving a percentage of one’s gifts away, or asking all guests to send a contribution to the fund of the child’s choice, it should engage the child’s hands and heart as well. Children can choose from any number of service projects, including those offered in their schools. Any project can be interpreted from the point of view of Jewish ethics for the purpose of deepening the meaning of a bat or bar mitzvah celebration.
The ceremony of Bat Mitzvah or Bar Mitzvah is not a graduation from religious education, nor is it a performance into which so much should be invested that it can never be equaled. The ceremony is a metaphor for a door opening into the adult level of Jewish ritual life. Preparation for the Shabbat morning on which the child will participate in the prayers, the Torah reading, and the learning should be seen as the development of basic Jewish literacy skills in these classical areas of Jewish communal life. At Shir Tikvah, we take pride in the growing number of post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah members of our congregation, of all ages, who enjoy helping to ensure that the Torah is read respectfully and beautifully each week during our Shabbat prayers.
The celebration, then, is manifold: the congregation celebrates that another young person is demonstrating her commitment to our shared way of life; the parent/s celebrate that this child has reached an important level of ethical understanding about what it means to be connected to a community; and the child celebrates the first steps into Jewish ritual equality with the adult members of the congregation, and the promise of what it means to belong. We take this seriously as a time which can be very meaningful for the child, for the family, and for the congregation of which you are a part, and which embraces you in this journey.
Parent/s and children should make the decision together that marking your child’s commitment to becoming an adult member of the Jewish community in general, and the Shir Tikvah community in particular, through the ceremony of Bat/Bar Mitzvah, is something that the entire family finds meaningful. It is worthwhile to carefully consider the reality of the work involved, including the juggling of schedules that will occur, and make sure the family is ready to support the child in reaching this goal.
Shir Tikvah Bar/Bat Mitzvah in a Nutshell: A Guide for Non Jews