A coming of age: Jewish youth embark upon bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah journey

Many cultures have ceremonies marking the passage of a child into adulthood, and for those of the Jewish faith, the coming of age is celebrated with a bat mitzvah or a bar mitzvah.

 

“In the Jewish tradition, we celebrate the circle of life. When a child is coming into the world, we have a baby naming and bris for boys. At 12 or 13, we have another Jewish ceremony, saying as a community, as a group of people, until now, you were a child, but now you are responsible,” said Rabbi Shai Beloosesky of the Congregation Children of Israel, who is leading three children through the process this year: Judah Breland, who attends John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School; Jessica Rosenblum, who attends Augusta Preparatory Day School; and Ali Punshon, who attends Riverside Middle School.

The bat or bar mitzvah is the culmination of months of preparation.

Bar mitzvah literally means “son of mitzvah” with bat mitzvah meaning “daughter of mitzvah” and the word “mitzvah” can be translated as a command or a good deed, according to the Jewish information site, www.chabad.org.

During the months of preparation, they meet with the rabbi on a weekly basis. They learn more of the Torah and learn how to read from a scroll. They also learn to sing special songs in Hebrew. They research a Holocaust victim and participate in a service project.

At the bar or bat mitzvah, they show what they’ve learned to their family and friends. And they must write a speech from a text in the Torah and deliver it. The elements of the ceremony itself can vary. After the ceremony, there’s a party.

Judah Breland was the first of the three to finish the process. He celebrated his bar mitzvah on May 27. He also took part in the weekly Shabbat service on May 26.

“To me, it’s about keeping the tradition going,” said Judah, who spoke from a text about the counting of the people in Israel and Judea. He talked about accountability, now that he is of that age, and he talked about having a voice and a name.

For centuries, Jewish boys have read from the Torah to mark their coming of age, but it’s only been in recent years that girls have had the same type of opportunity.

The first bat mitzvah held in America was in 1922, according to the Jewish Women’s Archive website, www.jwa.org. Judith Kaplan Eisenstein, the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is considered to be the first female to have a bat mitzvah in the United States. But the practice didn’t gain ground for many years. There are some Jews who do not observe it. And it’s still uncommon in Israel, according to Beloosesky, who is originally from Israel.

“Kaplan’s 1922 innovation had few immediate followers. A decade later, only a handful of synagogues had adopted the rite. By 1948, though, some form of bat mitzvah ceremony was held in about one-third of Conservative congregations, and by the 1960s, it had become a regular feature within the movement. Until the 1980s and 1990s, the ritual was most often not a precise parallel of the bar mitzvah,” according to www.jwa.org.

In August 2016, six area women who did not have the opportunity to go through a bat mitzvah at the age of 12 had a B’Not Mitzvah. They went through months of preparation just as they would have had they been preparing for their bat mitzvah.

Jessica Rosenblum is following in the footsteps of her three older siblings and is still early in her process.

“Memorizing and learning the song” has been the hardest part of her journey so far, she said, but she’ll have plenty of time to learn it before her Aug. 12 bat mitzvah.

Now that his bar mitzvah has passed, Judah said he’ll miss his Saturday sessions with the rabbi.

“I like seeing Rabbi,” he said. “We’d talk about life. We spent 40 minutes talking, about 15 actually practicing.”

 

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