by Noah King
During the course of my family’s time in TVCJ, both of my children went through the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. As they were getting started, I was excited in anticipation of watching each of them prepare for their “big day”. In my mind, I was comparing the work they were about to undertake with the preparation I did at their age in a reform congregation. For me, learning Hebrew, memorizing my Torah portion, and writing my speech were all means to an end; stepping stones to help me achieve my goal of becoming a successful Bar Mitzvah when the day came.
Very quickly it became apparent that the work my kids were doing was different. The work WAS the goal in and of itself, with the “big day” simply being a culmination and sharing of all the growth they had both made while going through the entire process. My daughter got in touch with distant Jewish relatives of ours in Brazil to learn about their culture, and she researched Jews in the history of the ballet. My son prepared an authentic Jewish Hungarian meal, read a novel about the holocaust, and created an online informational map of the concentration camps the main character was sent to. Both of them put in several hours of community service with a local food kitchen providing meals for those in need. These are just a few examples of the many projects they invested their time in. And that work wasn’t in preparation for what was to come… the work itself molded who they were, and the adults they were growing to become. The lessons learned by doing these projects guided their development. When their “big days” finally came, the work was already done, and all that was left was the joyous occasion of sharing their experiences with friends and family.
And this, I came to realize, was so much more fulfilling for them both. Our more religious relatives who came to the ceremonies commented on how evident it was that the students in our Brit Mitzvah program were getting a much more meaningful experience than we had received in our own, more traditional, Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs. My mother commented on her surprise over how “Jewish” the entire experience was. As a parent, watching my children live and grow into adulthood, I was extremely grateful for the opportunities provided them by our program. I would highly recommend it to other parents who are looking for a meaningful and valuable experience for their own children.