The Brit Mitzvah Program
The Tri-Valley Cultural Jews is proud of its coming of age program. This two-year process guides students through an exploration of their personal, cultural, and social Jewish heritage, introduces them to foundational works of Jewish literature, and exposes them to the reward of community service.
Rather than being commanded by a higher power, our brit mitzvah students must choose for themselves how to behave based on their own sense of morality. In this way, they truly become brit mitzvah–members of a community of good deeds and moral action.
Brit Mitzvah Projects
In our program, Brit Mitzvah students choose their own projects, allowing them to explore their personal, social, historical, and cultural connections to Judaism in a meaningful way. We want them to see themselves in the past, present, and future of the Jewish people. Just a few past projects have included:
- Jewish women doctors in central Asia
- Hungarian Jewish food
- Books by Jewish Authors
- Hebrew grammar
- Jews in the world of ballet
- A Japanese hero who saved Jews in World War II
These guided projects are designed by the students to be meaningful to their own relationship with Judaism. They are presented during their brit mitzvah ceremonies.
The entire Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is read each year, and each section has been assigned other books of the Bible (the Haftarah). Our students read, in, English, the Torah and Haftarah portions that would be read in the week of their 13th birthday.
Although our foundation is secular, we believe that the traditional reading of the Torah portion gives students a framework from which to view the foundational works of Jewish literature.
In their study, students are asked to answer critical thinking questions, such as
- If your portion is about laws, are these good rules for now, were they good rules for when they were written? Who did the rules benefit? What modern rules do you know that are like these?
- Do these readings remind you of other stories you know about?
- Which characters are behaving badly, and which are behaving well?
We encourage our students to read critically as they gain meaning from the text. It is a challenging task, and we are proud of the personal, social, and moral development we see in our students through this work.
A critical piece of the Brit Mitzvah program is a required 30 hours of community service. Students can choose from a variety of projects which are meaningful to them. Examples of community service include literacy work with libraries, tutoring, working in food pantries and with the homeless, and even working with the public on behalf of animal shelters.
We believe that this work helps introduce students to the power of serving their communities and understanding the social and cultural connections that bind us all.
Brit Mitzvah Ceremonies
Each Secular Humanistic Brit Mitzvah ceremony is different. The ceremonies are created by the students, the parents and TVCJ representatives to reflect the personality, interests and values of each student and each family. Ceremonies include songs, parental/family participation, and presentations by the student. Students also speak about the meaning of accepting the Brit Mitzvah, answering the questions: What is it that I am “commanded” to do by my conscience and my understanding of Jewish history? What is my responsibility as an adult in this Jewish community? What is my responsibility as a Jew in the world? The Secular movement encourages modest celebrations. Our tradition is for the community members to provide a dessert reception following the ceremony.
Why Brit Mitzvah and not Bar and Bat Mitzvah?
In our community, we use a non-gendered term for coming of age. Bar and bat mitzvah, meaning “son” and “daughter” of the commandment, defines people too narrowly and makes gender distinctions that don’t fit our value of honoring the full spectrum of gender identities.
Our Israeli counterparts in the secular and humanistic movement have begun using the term “brit mitzvah” or “covenant of the commandment,” and we have also adopted this term. Brit signifies a promise between mutual parties, much like a wedding. In our secular view, this promise is a covenant between the Jewish people and the individual, who should feel united with the history, varied cultures, and the ideas of all the Jews of the world, now and in the past.