By Rabbi Deborah Bravo
September 9, 2016 / 7 Elul, 5776
I hope that every parent reflects on their child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah experience with great pride for what their child accomplished. I hope that every parent takes a little sense of ownership over the success their child experiences around Bar or Bat Mitzvah because they helped to lead them down this path toward Judaism, Jewish community and learning. I hope that every parent feels a true sense of joy, or nachas, in watching their child lead a congregation of family, friends and community in prayer and Torah, and rise to the occasion far more than they every expected.
I hope that all parents perceive their child’s B’nai Mitzvah experience to be, simply put, a spectacular and wonderful experience for their child, for themselves and for the many people who celebrated with them.
So why do I think my son’s Bar Mitzvah Celebration was different than many other B’nai Mitzvah celebrations? Yes, Sam was very comfortable leading the prayers in Hebrew, not because he is the rabbi’s son, but because he attends services regularly. Yes, Sam chose all of the melodies because he knows enough to know what he likes (and what he does not like), not because his father is the music director, but because he has attended five different Jewish summer camps and loves Jewish music. Yes, Sam’s Hebrew pronunciation was quite flawless, simply because he worked hard and has a good mind for foreign language. Yes, Sam gave a tremendous d’var Torah (teaching of Torah) that incorporated his Torah portion, his mitzvah projects, his wit and his humility, because part of Sam’s ‘being’ is that he is who is, at all moments of every day, and so he doesn’t get nervous in front of crowds, and one always gets the real Sam.
However, I think many children can accomplish some if not all of what is listed above, if they put their minds and hearts not only into the B’nai Mitzvah process, but into the process of learning to be a Jew and live Jewishly. So why do I think my son’s Bar Mitzvah Celebration was different than many other B’nai Mitzvah celebrations? Because the Shabbat celebration was a carefully planned and delicately executed balance of community celebration and of welcoming a young man into that community.
In many synagogues (especially those within the more liberal realms), the entire focus of Shabbat is on the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child. The sanctuary is filled with friends and family of the B’nai Mitzvah family, and the ‘regular attendees’ are few and minimally included. These celebrations are typically wonderful celebrations for the family and their friends, and the B’nai Mitzvah children feel a great sense of accomplishment.
In many other synagogues (especially those in the more traditional circles), the focus of Shabbat is on Shabbat and the congregation, and the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child is given a few (or even a handful) or prayers to lead, some Torah to chant, and might also write some words of Torah to share with the congregation. These Shabbat experiences are typically wonderful celebrations for the congregation, and the B’nai Mitzvah children are proud of their role in the service.
This past weekend, as our community came together to celebrate a young man being called to the Torah, taking his place among the adults of our community, we both embraced the sense of community AND allowed Sam to have a place of honor and respect as the leader, teacher and preacher for these services. I could not have fathomed the amount of ruach (spirit) that would fill the sanctuary as we sang and prayed together, as a community, celebrating Shabbat, celebrating Sam, celebrating our family and our great heritage.
I am truly grateful not only for the many family and friends who came from near and far to celebrate with us, (many of whom we have not seen in far too long), but I am grateful for our new community, who came together to celebrate, in the truest sense of simcha and oneg, of joy and celebration.
May each of us feel this true sense of community; may we be blessed by others as the Bravo family was blessed by so many of you. May we pause to take a moment in gratitude for God’s greatest blessings. May our sense of gratitude lead us to live life with awe and blessing. Amen.