By: Meg Adler
You don’t have a bat mitzvah – you become a bat mitzvah. This is one of the first things we teach our families in Tawonga’s Bar, Bat & B’nai Mitzvah Program (TBM). Now welcoming our 7th cohort this fall, TBM has evolved over the years in curriculum, program structure – and don’t even get us started with pandemic pivots. But what hasn’t changed? The profound and varying reasons for choosing to celebrate this rite of passage.
See, our children are growing up whether we like it or not. And whether we do anything about it or not, when they reach the age of 13, they will become b’nai mitzvah. Some might ask, if this is inevitable, why do anything about it at all? To me that’s like asking, if the sun is going to set anyway, why watch it? Because it’s a beautiful and life changing experience. It adds substance and narrative and flavor to this – our (potentially) one precious life. And of course, because the Jewish people didn’t survive by just letting moments pass them by.
Below is a short essay from our Year 1 Student Journals (that all year 1 students receive at their first class). In it you will find at least three reasons we believe this milestone is worth prioritizing. Read on through and meet me on the other side.
Why Celebrate Becoming a Bar, Bat or B’nai Mitzvah?
Each moment of our lives we are growing, changing, and in need of guiding wisdom. Especially when we move from childhood into young adulthood, Jewish tradition can offer a beautiful process through which we are able to consider who we are, how we fit into this world, and even how to live our daily lives.
When we grapple with Torah, we connect to the depths of our history while remaining rooted in today. We ask: how do these Torah stories affect my life or the world here and now? How can I interpret laws to guide my present and future? In other words, when we study Torah, we practice being both receivers of tradition and change makers.
When we learn the blessings and prayers of the Shabbat service, we get in touch with ancient practices of gratitude. In a time of extreme media connection (yet social isolation), Jewish tradition reminds us that we are all one – it reminds us to bless the glorious web of life and see ourselves as stewards of the earth. By becoming Bar/Bat/B’nai Mitzvah, we strive to take on this responsibility and perspective.
Finally, becoming Bar/Bat/B’nai Mitzvah means affirming one’s commitment to their community. When we lead our community in prayer or give our own teaching of Torah, we show up for our friends and families as leaders. Becoming Bar/Bat/B’nai Mitzvah allows us to see ourselves as responsible for our communities, and it allows our communities to see the gifts we have to offer. Bar/Bat/B’nai Mitzvah is a rite of passage from one chapter of life to the next. Tawonga’s program honors the powerful rituals of our ancestors, while courageously and creatively innovating for the 21st century.
Alas, it is our children who will invent Jewish life in the next era – who will keep the torch lit. But it is us, their parents and teachers, who are responsible for showing them how. As we think about welcoming a new, 7th cohort of learners in the fall, we are overflowing with gratitude for the chance to invite young Jewish adults into this glorious tradition, as leaders.
To read more of Meg’s writing, visit her substack, “Turn It, Turn It”.
Photos from Spring 2022 Tawonga Bar Bat & B’nai Mitzvah Program Retreat and Graduation