This one is low key, local, casual, friendly and inexpensive - but it was a lot of fun, very meaningful, and everything went off perfectly well. Little Joshie (no longer so little) had a marvelous time and did very well.
Here's a link to the photos - had permission from family and rabbi to take pictures as long as they weren't blatant (flashes).
Simcha, Photobucket required a password for the album.
I far prefer low key bnei mitzvah. I've been to a few that probably cost double what my wedding did and I enjoy them less than the simple ones. In part because I don't enjoy loud music and the hyper antics of the dance and activity leaders associated with the sound and light show are not that appealing to me. We had a klezmer band at my children's bat and bar mitzvah parties, and the one I liked was the smaller quieter one. I was not happy when the other band refused to turn down the volume which was hurting my ears which have not already been deafened by too much loud music.
I find that the simpler celebrations are more clearly focused on the service itself and indicate an understanding in that importance by the child, rather than the service being seen as a necessary difficult obstacle forced to be endured for the real fun which is the expensive and elaborate party. Sorry if I seem a too judgmental.
Of course the proof of the pudding to me is what happens after the bar mitzvah. The kids who just want the party often never step inside shul again---some of them at the Hebrew school my kids used to attend, immediately stopped ever going to Hebrew school as soon as they got their bnei mitzvah parties. Of course, I really think shame on the parents for supporting such a poor attitude.
I've been so impressed by a recent bar mitzvah boy from my primary minyan: since his bar mitzvah about about a year and a half ago, he led Musaf, chanted a chapter of Esther for Purim, and had a few other smaller parts in the services. Another boy whose bar mitzvah parashah was Shlelach Lecha almost two years ago, decided that as a "Jewish adult" he should take on adult member responsibilities like coordinating services---and has done so a couple of times now.
Hmm - that's odd - I checked it out by clicking to the link without being logged in at photobucket, and it took me straight into the slideshow - - I had another link just to the album itself and that one DID require signing in. I thought this one didn't - it doesn't for me.
oh well - if you want to see the photos, go ahead and 'sign up' - it's totally free and they never send me any mail as far as I recall. There are fifty photos and I didn't want to load them all in here!
But I could grab half a dozen of them and post them in here - if someone(s) would like that instead...
This is Josh. He is 13. He just put on his first tallit - his parents gave it to him before the Torah service. Then he helps lead the Torah services and carries the Torah scroll around the congregation. Next he reads from the Torah. After the Torah reading, Josh also reads the Haftarah (a selection from Prophets) using a Tanakh).
Now it's after the services and we have a little challah and wine - Josh's first 'now I am a grown up' cup of wine! then we had a buffet luncheon with decorations - blue and white balloons and seasonal table decorations. After lunch there was a DJ with recorded music and most people - adults and teens - danced. Josh's parents presented him with his 'major' gift: a good set of drums.
Thanks for posting the photos. I do have a Photobucket account, but the site was demanding a different password specifically for that album. I tried your link both while logged in and logged out of Photobucket.
Looks like a nice bar mitzvah and every one is happy.
Our minyanim are too traditional to allow photography on Shabbat, so for my daughter's simcha we have only some photos of her practicing her Torah reading some days before the event and then later at the post-Havdalah dessert and dancing party. But a benefit of celebrating my son's bar mitzvah on a weekday morning (last Memorial Day) was that we could have photos of the service itself. It was a lot easier for our very observant friends too. (For my daughter's bat mitzvah some of our minyan friends hosted our Orthodox friends who live too far to walk for all of Shabbat.)
Makes me wonder why we didn't try to look for a similar date for my daughter (a Rosh Chodesh on a Sunday works well too). After all we didn't hold it on either her 12th (traditional for girls) or 13th (egalitarian) birthday, but split the difference and did it when she was 12.5 for the same Torah portion as for my husband's bar mitzvah. That put it in winter and about a dozen guests couldn't fly in because their flights were cancelled due to a snow storm, and about a dozen had to rebook for later flights---one minyan member even flew in on a red-eye Friday night flight after his original business trip flight home was cancelled, even though he would normally not fly on Shabbat, but he didn't want to miss the bat mitzvah.
As for photography - this is our local chavurah, which is quite small and unaffiliated. Practically nobody is 'observant' even a little - I'm probably 'it' and that's sad, really. But the rabbi - we were her 'internship' - is 'renewal' and on the liberal end of that - so when she is here, we have full Torah services - and tambourines!
Like I said, this is an unaffiliated/liberal group, and I did ask ahead of time about pictures - the only restriction was 'no flash' and not being too obtrusive during the actual service. The party afterward was a party - notice it's still daylight - and of course everybody drove.
Also I have a VERY good, quiet camera with great zoom - most of those closeups during the service are from quite a ways away, zoomed in and then cropped as well - came out nice, didn't they?
At our Conservative synagogue, they allow - or used to anyway - people to set up a video camera at the back, programmed to come on at a certain time and just record. Nobody was allowed to touch it or move it or adjust it or anything during Shabbat - you took your chances. Otherwise, no cameras. We chose not to make those arrangements and we don't have any photos of our girls at their b'nei mitzvah.
At a couple of Reform b'nei mitzvah I've attended, the rabbi allowed photos but not actually during the service - but they'd come in and post with the kid on the bima with tallit and Torah after the service for photos, even professional ones with floods and everything.
Other people schedule the event for one of the other days the Torah is read - a Monday or Thursday - but that does make it hard for any guests.
The fight against technology is a losing one, but the synagogues are doing their best to get people to put those cell phones and digital cameras etc away for at LEAST a few hours, if not a whole day of the week.
As for scheduling - anytime after a boy is 13 and anytime after a girls is 12 is okay - some congregations set 13 for both. Ideally, as soon as possible after that birthday, in practice, it depends on the size of the congregation and family concerns - one synagogue I know, which a friend of ours attends, sets dates 12 to 18 MONTHS ahead and some weekends they have two kids at once - it is VERY big.
I don't like that, it turns 'Shabbat morning service' into too much of an 'event' every single week.
Probably a majority of members of my minyanim are Shomer Shabbat in a traditional sense (not using Conservative leniencies) and don't drive, turn on/off lights, etc on Shabbat. My primary minyan also has a family who is Orthodox (because we are accepting of the various "special needs" members of their family), and a couple with one Orthodox spouse (one of whom has a grown son who grew up in the minyan was ordained by YU last year as an Orthodox rabbi), as well as past Orthodox members. Some of the non-Orthodox members have also sent their children to the Orthodox high school, and some still do even now that there is an excellent Conservative Jewish high school too. So for being a "non-Orthodox" minyan, it's pretty "frum". But I like how that aspect has encouraged us to increase our own observance. It was a major incentive for us to make our kitchen fully kosher that it made it easier to invite minyan friends to our house for meals and more able to bring cooked food to potlucks.
The policy of the Reform shuls you mention to allow professional flash photography on Shabbat, but just not during the service is interesting because it indicates a different non-traditional rationale for not allowing it during the service---that it can be distracting and detract from the solemnity of the service. I suppose this is similar to the way that many Conservative women, married or single, cover their heads for the same reason that men cover their heads in shul rather than for the more traditional reason of tziniut ("modesty"). I'd basically count myself in the camp of those CJ women, except that I also cover my head (with a variety of head coverings, but never a traditional "male" kippah) and always wear skirts to shul due to a sense of "tradition".
I agree that I would not like a shul where nearly every Shabbat was a simcha. My husband's bar mitzvah was a "double header" because he belonged to an enormous shul. In some ways that reinforces the notion that High Holidays and semachot are the only reasons to go to shul.
In contrast to that, last year there was an "un-bat-mitzvah" at my primary minyan in which at the request of the girl, the family simply coordinated services as they would for an ordinary rotation of that duty (as I am doing now for the first day of Shavuot), and she did one or more of leading a service reading Torah and/or Haftarah (maybe not all three because she is very quiet and had real stage fright) and they provided a nicer than average, but not elaborate kiddush (once again, something that all families do on rotation for our lay-led minyan). She had been really turned off by some of the "over-the-top" expensive and showy bnei mitzvah of kids from her day school. I was disappointed to miss it, but I think we were out of town for another simcha that Shabbat.
That sounds like what we did with our girls, really. Very low key. Neither one of us had any family that could be there. We couldn't afford a big party. The girls were called up for an aliyah and actually read/chanted at least one aliyah (oldest girl read the most, middle girl the least) and then each read the haftarah, and each participated otherwise in the service (carried the Torah). Oldest gave the shortest 'speech' (just thank you's actually) and youngest had the most to say. Other than that, we arranged a more elaborate kiddush luncheon with actual tablecloths and centerpieces. That was really all we did. We arranged a pool party at our hotel for middle daughter and some friends. Joshie's parents had a catered buffet luncheon with a live DJ and music and dancing - it was a lot of fun, and still didn't cost a fortune.
Bar/Bat mitzvah parties are like weddings: you can spend a fortune and have a major event, or you can spend a little and be quieter - it doesn't matter afterwards so much - you are just as much married - or just as much 'an adult' whether you spent a hundred or a hundred thousand.
At a minimum - a bare minimum - a bar/bat mitzvah young person can simply accept an aliyah, and recite the blessings before and after. That is really ALL that is 'necessary', because 'all it is' is a public acknowledgment that this young person is now an 'adult' for religious purposes.
(but mostly the standard is 'chant one aliyah portion and read the haftorah and make a speech' which is usually a d'var Torah)
I do know at least one 12 year old girl who simply took over the entire weekend, and led both Friday night and Shabbat services entirely alone, acting as baal tefillah, cantor, rabbi - the whole deal. She did let the regular rabbi and cantor assist with occasional sections though!
A few kids from both my minyanim have read all seven full Torah readings (not triennial cycle) and that it what the Orthodox boys whose bnei mitzvah I attended did as well.
My daughter led all of the traditional Shabbat Shacharit, chanted the last Torah reading, her younger brother read the maftir to which she took the aliyah since she then read the Haftorah, and she gave a fairly sophisticated D'var Torah in which she emulated her dad (who gives dvrei Torah several times a year for both our minyanim) by speaking only from notes rather than a fully written speech. We had a nice catered lunch afterwards, with disposable plastic tablecovers, plates, and utensils. Our centerpieces were small laundry baskets from the dollar store filled with non-perishable kosher foods which we then donated to a kosher and a community food bank. Later that night we had a klezmer band for dancing and desserts. More plastic tablecovers and stuff and no speeches (or tedious candle-lighting ceremonies, etc.). The service was held in a basement recreational room and a bunch of minyan members moved all the chairs and tables for the luncheon while we did kiddush and washing and Hamotzi in another room.
My son struggled to learn tefillah and Torah trope, so it was also good that for a Monday morning service he had less: He led the traditional weekday morning Shacharit, chanted the three shorter weekday Torah portions (the first aliyah for Shabbat divided into three as is typical), luckily had no Haftarah since it was a weekday, and read a D'var Torah speech that he got some help with, but mostly composed himself. As before we did it all in a recreational hall (but this one had beautiful stained glass windows and was not in the basement) where we set up chairs in an arc around the bimah which was at floor height back more, towards the middle not right in front of the portable ark (only a little bigger than the one in your photos). As before we did kiddush, washing, and Hamotzi in the entry hall, while our minyan friends worked their "minyan magic" and reconfigured the room for the meal which was a catered brunch. Once again plastic and disposable party goods with balloons as table decorations like in your photos.
Because it was a weekday, we could have klezmer music during and after the meal. The band leader even gave a simple klezmer piece to my son to learn on his double bass, which he then practiced once before with them, and performed with them before the dancing started.
An old high school friend of my husband's didn't seem to understand that it was in part our conscious choice to keep it simple, although truthfully we could not afford to spend what she did for their kids' bnei mitzvah (I would guess they spent $50K on each event!) But at one point when she was trying to be nice help us set up the day before (and I could just tell that she was thinking what a pity it was that we couldn't just hire people to do all the set-up for us) and we were having difficulties attaching the plastic puzzles I bought to use for balloon weights, I was barely able to prevent her from running out to buy commercial balloon weights at a party store. She just didn't understand that having "balloon weights" that had no other use was specifically what I wanted to avoid---it wasn't that I couldn't afford them. I really think that the only thing that kept her from just throwing money at all the work and at any issue was that it would have been insulting to us.
Last Edit: May 27, 2011 1:35:56 GMT -5 by Debbie B.
She sounds like a nice lady. We had a lot of the older ladies of the congregation helping us set up and such. They were great. One of them made the greatest kugel!
For oldest daughter, the table decorations were Chanukah menorahs - all of them from our home - with little dreidels - the kind you buy by the dozen - and some cheap glitter stuff in Judaica shapes from the gift shop. Her portion was on Shabbat Chanuakah.
For middle daughter we found neat glass vases in a set from the thrift store - brand new - those we donated to the synagogue for future use.
Yes, you can spend tens of thousands on the 'party' part of a bar or bat mitzvah, but the ACTUAL 'event' is the public role in the service. What that takes, is roughly a year of 'learning' and dedication.
It can be done in less time, but it still does take time. It's an accomplishment.
It is indeed an accomplishment. As I wrote on a card to a bar mitzvah boy in my minyan who is mildly retarded and spent huge amounts of time practicing with his mother (who is one of our minyan's best leyners): Having managed to do something that took so much persistence and hard work over so much time, he not only can be proud of the accomplishment now, but in the future, the memory of having accomplished something so difficult may be helpful. It will encourage him not to be afraid to attempt something difficult and will give him hope when he is struggling with another difficult endeavor. It is a truly a "character building" experience. And as such, I think Jewish kids are lucky to be expected to do this difficult thing because it can give them confidence for later in life.
Because it is difficult and requires real commitment to prepare, my minyan has had one cancelled bat mitzvah (her mother shrugged and said that her daughter simply "didn't want to do the work") and one that was rescheduled for about a half year later (I assume that she needed more time for learning to lead the service since she would have to learn different Torah and Haftarah readings).
My daughter learned the material easily by just meeting with her tutor (she has a good auditory memory and had already learned much of the service and even the Haftarah blessings just by hearing it at shul). But with my son, in addition to meeting with his tutor, I spent a lot of time every week going over and over his Torah reading with him and my husband did the same for the weekday Shacharit. But it was a "blessing in disguise" for me because that's how I learned to leyn. Luckily, in anticipation of the need, we had him start to meet with a tutor more than two years before he turned 13.
Leading the service is a skill and a learned skill - it can be studied and mastered. It's customary these days for the bar/bat mitzvah kid to lead all or part of the service (can be as simple as 'please turn to page 33 and read responsively'). But the MINIMUM - the actual 'required part' - is simply to be called up to the Torah. That requires reciting two blessings - which are typically available in transliteration at the bima. Such a public action signals the message that 'this is an adult'.
But what most people call 'bar/bat mitzvah' involves a few steps more than that - learning trope, learning to read Torah script, learning also haftarah trope (some at least). Learning several blessings in Hebrew....
Our oldest daughter is a very good girl, and intelligent and studious, and she enjoyed learning about Torah and Judaism, but she is retiring and not a natural 'stand up and lead a group' person, plus she has next to NO auditory memory (which astonished me, I had never heard of such a thing. My own auditory memory is great - its faces I can't reliably recall). But she did it.
Middle daughter has great auditory skills, but little interest in the learning involved and is paralyzingly shy in front of a group. But she did it.
Youngest is perfectly willing to stand up and tell people things - especially if she can disagree with them all and argue about it. But she did it too.
They all bring their own style though, and a good tutor (and a decent congregation) will allow for variations in ability, technique, interest and such.
It is also important - and we haven't really mentioned it yet - to incorporate a kind of 'act' or 'project' involving the child and the application of Judaism to the world. Most kids take on some project, either learning about something, or actually doing something - one of our kids here built the patio for the Family Service Center as his bar mitzvah project. One of our girls learned about and advocated for food programs - feeding the hungry/food relief. One girl who was very concerned with animals raised money for - and volunteered with - the local no-kill animal shelter.
All of them donated a part of their monetary gifts to their chosen 'cause'.
Yes, you are absolutely right that the only thing that a Jewish boy or girl technically needs to do to become a bar/bat mitzvah is to make it to their 13th Hebrew birthday (or 12th in the case of a girl in some traditional communities). The boy, or the girl in communities that allow such participation of women, is then able to be given the honor of an aliyah: reciting the blessing before and after the reading of a Torah portion (in some traditional communities like the one of our Yemenite friends in Israel, that requires them to chant the whole Torah portion too because they still do the aliyot that way---but the boys in those communities learn incredible synagogue skills very early and can do this very easily). One of the traditions in both my minyanim is that the bar/bat mitzvah child is handed a blank index card along with various certificates from the congregation and the Jewish Federation---the card is for them to put their Hebrew name on (and whether they are a Cohen, Levi, or bat Cohen/Levi) to be used so that they can be given an aliyah again in the future---and we do try to make sure that teens are given aliyot as routinely as other adults.
What the kids are expected to do to celebrate their entry to Jewish adulthood varies with the community. In my minyan, over 90% of the kids attend Jewish day school, so most kids lead an entire service, usually Shacharit or Musaf (the latter particularly for girls if their families are somewhat traditional and perhaps they or their relatives will be uncomfortable with a female leading the main service), plus chant at least one Torah reading, take their "aliyah" and read the blessings for the maftir as is traditional for the Haftarah reader, and then chant the Haftarah, followed by giving a D'var Torah. I really wanted my kids to be able to do the same even though they have attended public school, so we had them learn a lot with a private tutor. It is also true that what kids do in my lay-led minyan is whatever the kids and their parents decide on, so a very few kids, even those who were day school grads, chose not to lead a service, or said only a few sentences instead of a more serious D'var Torah.
An important aspect of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah in my minyan is that most of the adults actively contribute by leading services, reading Torah/Haftarah, or giving the D'var Torah, and all adult members (except for a few elderly members who joined when the host shul "merged") are expected to take their turn in coordinating services which means to line up all the people needed to do parts of the service and then hand out aliyot and other honors. So if the bnei mitzvah are truly "Jewish adults", then they should be able to carry out those "adult" responsibilities.
And you're right to mention the service project that it typically expected of the bnei mitzvah kids. Both of my kids spent a number of hours doing two volunteer activities related to feeding the hungry: packing food boxes for "Maot Chitim" which provides all the foods needed for a festive holiday meal to needy Jewish families before Pesach and Rosh Hashanah, and serving as volunteer "wait staff" at a place that serves kosher meals to needy people, as well as helping our tiny minyan in its annual staffing of a local soup kitchen. At the place where they are "wait staff", the kosher meals are served to both Jewish and non-Jewish clients in a sit-down "restaurant" style, rather than less dignified "soup kitchen" style, and the volunteers are encouraged to get a meal themselves and sit down and chat with the people towards the end of the time. A lot of the clients are very lonely and appreciate the human contact as much as the food. Anyway, that's why the food in baskets to be donated to food pantries were thematically appropriate centerpieces for my daughter's bat mitzvah. We have also always been actively involved in Maot Chitim, but kids below age 12 are only allowed to help with less physically demanding parts of the project. They were both really excited when they became old enough to do the 6-9am heavy labor packing of perishables. So that is something that we continue to do as a family.
Other popular service projects are book or clothing drives. The girl who wanted an "un-bat-mitzvah" collected books for girls in juvenile correctional facility and now a year and a half later is doing another collection for a women's prison.