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Ask A Pro: B'nai mitzvah ceremony is a celebration and a commitment to Judaism

Ask A Pro: The Temple-Tifereth Israel | Beachwood

Temple clergy | The Temple-Tifereth Israel | Beachwood

What is the most important thing to get right?

The b’nai mitzvah ceremony is the culmination and celebration of a process of learning, of reflection and of personal growth. During the service, our b’nai mitzvah will lead us in prayer, teach us and tell us about themselves and their journey. Yet, this moment is not just the culmination of personal learning, reflection and growth: it is also a statement of commitment to a community of heritage and values we hold dear.

What can the ceremony say about a child?

The ceremony “announces” to their community that these young people have prepared and are committed to taking their first steps into Jewish adulthood. While we cannot expect a 13-year-old to take on all responsibilities of adult life (Jewish or otherwise), it is a time for them to look inward and explore (with our help) the areas where they can grow and mature as they enter into a lifelong quest of Jewish learning and living. As clergy, we like to tell our students and their families that this ceremony and celebration is just one of many special moments in a lifetime of Jewish moments. Nevertheless, in the end we all know how important this one day can be for all of us.

What is often overlooked when planning?

Planning the ceremony. Many b’nai mitzvah receive their dates three years in advance. However, they may not start thinking about the actual ceremony until they begin their official b’nai mitzvah training. Families can help their students by making sure that the ceremony and the hard work it will take to prepare for it doesn’t take a backseat to planning for the party or celebration.

What trends are you seeing in ceremonies?

Instead of using the word “trend,” we might like to use the phrase “newer traditions.” Here at The Temple-Tifereth Israel, when we have a b’nai mitzvah student who feels musically confident, we encourage them to find a way to express their feelings for their Jewish heritage through music. Over the years, we’ve had students play “Oseh Shalom” or other Jewish pieces on guitar, cello, harp, violin, bass and trumpet, just to name a few. We have also invited several students who have a love of singing to lead prayers or songs that would normally be sung or chanted by the cantor.

When should parents start planning the ceremony?

Our students receive their b’nai mitzvah dates three years in advance. Discussions about the ceremony can begin that early. The planning process also gives parents and grandparents an opportunity to discuss values with the child – the values of our tradition, the values the family embraces, the way in which the child’s grandparents, especially, model or have modeled these values.

Why is this a critical aspect of a mitzvah?

It is upon us to encourage all families – those with children preparing to become a b’nai mitzvah, those with young children still years away from becoming b’nai mitzvah and those whose children have already satisfied the mitzvah – to emphasize the importance of maintaining a connection to their Jewish community. The significance of this experience is for the student, with the support of their family, clergy and congregation, to feel like they are becoming part of something bigger than themselves and to understand that they are a legacy and our gift to the future. 

This interview was edited for brevity. The responses were given by The Temple-Tifereth Israel’s clergy team: Senior Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, Rabbi Roger Klein, Rabbi Stacy Schlein and Cantor Kathryn Wolfe Sebo.