February 26, 2024 -
Today I am a man!” It is immediately recognizable. It is a cultural phenomenon. It is a term known to Jews and non-Jews alike and a source of endless jokes, of too-frequent and ostentatious excess, of caricature and misunderstanding. It has become so ubiquitous in the media that both The Simpsons and Frasier have featured episodes with the topic. It has spawned everything from “bark” mitzvah celebrations for dogs, to bar and bat mitzvah pseudo-experiences for non-Jews.
In fact, non-Jews may know very little about Judaism, but they have heard the term Bar Mitzvah and they know that a Bar Mitzvah is characterized by a big party with lots of gifts.
We are fortunate at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. Our students celebrate becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah through an educational process and in the context of a worship service that is inextricably tied to our spiritual, educational, and communal goals and the values and mission of our congregation.
And yet… we know that there is more that we can do. We know that there are shortcomings, contradictions, and even failures in our Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. We know what kind of Jewish community we want to be, what kind of vibrant, engaged, committed, and educated young people we want to guide, teach, and develop, and we know that we sometimes succeed. Far too often, the values we seek to transmit, the goals we strive to develop, and the passion for Judaism we fervently hope to inspire, are not adequately absorbed, personalized, assimilated, or understood.
We are not alone!
One of the strengths of being part of an historic people and of a Reform movement of Jews who share similar goals and aspirations, is that a concern or difficulty in Cleveland may be shared by a congregation in St. Louis or San Diego or Chicago or Brookline, MA. In fact, because our entire movement is crucially concerned with our future – and specifically, with the young people who either will or will not make that future possible, the Reform Movement has given its highest priority to the Campaign for Youth Engagement.
As part of that larger initiative (in which our Rabbi Nosanchuk is fully involved) the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution was conceived as an exploratory/experimental initiative whereby every facet of the current Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience will be researched, analyzed, and evaluated.
Over 40 congregations throughout the United States applied to be part of this groundbreaking initiative. Only 14 were chosen through a rigorous application and selection process. We are proud to report that Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple was chosen as one of the test sites to explore the nature of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience as it currently exists and to institute transformative changes that will deepen, enrich and make more enduring the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience for every one of our students and their families.
We have assembled a core team to begin the process of research and exploration that will ultimately involve a large representative sampling of all the interested parties in our congregation. After two preliminary meetings, the team will travel to Reisterstown, MD, November 11-12 for a B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Conference at which all 14 congregations will be represented and the process will begin!
We will look forward to sharing with you our findings, our goals, and our evolving vision for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah process that is part of a constantly deepening, ever-widening, and continuously enriching Jewish life for every member of our congregational family.
Cantor Sarah Sager