Celebrating B’nai Mitzvah at Tikvat Israel
The b’nai mitzvah ceremony celebrates a child’s coming of age in Jewish law, meaning that one takes on the responsibilities and enjoys the privileges that come with being a Jewish adult. Traditionally, the age was tied to the onset of puberty, but was later standardized to 12+1 day for girls and 13+1 day for boys. Technically, this is still the case (especially for purposes of counting in a minyan), but in today’s Conservative movement, most children celebrate this milestone at age 13.
In Jewish law, prior to coming of age, a parent is legally and morally responsible for their children’s action. This is why the primary responsibility for teaching a child is upon the parents, and parents continue to play an important role in shaping a child’s Jewish identity, especially through the way they role-model what it means to be a Jew. Recognizing that many parents do not feel fully equipped to teach their children on their own, most people contract with a Jewish school (either through the synagogue or a Jewish day school) to teach their children the principles of Jewish thought and practice, along with Hebrew reading skills.
Reserving a Date
Around the time a child turns 11, the family usually meets with the rabbi, the cantor and the executive director to set a date. We work with you to find a date that meets our congregational standards and your personal preferences.
To recognize the child’s coming of age, the community honors the child. There is no unique liturgy or service for this. Rather, the bar or bat mitzvah participates in and leads parts of the regular weekly Shabbat service.
Other arrangements for the service can be made if circumstances require, or if you wish to celebrate the simcha in Israel. Please contact the Rabbi to discuss these needs.
What the B’nai Mitzvah Do
Each child takes part in the service according to their ability, personality, and level of commitment. At Tikvat Israel, b’nai mitzvah students most commonly:
- Are called to the Torah to recite the blessings before and after the readings
- Read a short passage from the Torah
- Lead the prayers for taking out and returning the Torah to the Ark
- Write and deliver a brief D’var Torah (a personal teaching based on the child’s understanding of the Torah portion)
Children who are skilled and motivated may also choose to chant the Haftara (the weekly reading from the book of Prophets), read additional passages from the Torah, and lead other parts of the service.
The goals for each child’s participation will be discussed with the Rabbi and Cantor in the initial meeting. A plan will then be developed and a tutor will be assigned.
The Mitzvah Project: In addition, each b’nai mitzvah student – independently or with family and friends – is expected to complete a mitzvah (social action) project prior to the simcha. It may be a one-time or ongoing activity.
Examples of actual projects include:
- Preparing meals for a local shelter
- Shopping for a home-bound elderly person
- Raising money and/or awareness about a particular cause
- Donating books or other supplies to a hospital or shelter
- In-house training for a seeing-eye dog
- Volunteering in a day-care center or day camp
The Rabbi and Canter can assist in selecting a meaningful mitzvah project.
Preparation and Tutoring Timeline
The First Meeting (12 months prior): The parents, child, and clergy meet. During this meeting, the Rabbi and Cantor will get to know your child better and review the preparation process with you. You will have the chance to raise questions and address any concerns you may have. This is also an opportunity to discuss and begin planning for the Mitzvah Project.
Tutor Assignment (8 months prior): The Cantor will assign a tutor for your child. ( If you wish to use a tutor from outside the synagogue, please speak to the Cantor.) Tutors are usually synagogue member adults and teenagers who have demonstrated outstanding ability in synagogue skills and will help your child prepare for their simcha. Lessons begin approximately seven months before the event, with the tutor meeting for 45 minutes to an hour each week with the student, typically at the tutor’s home.
- Initial training: begins with the Torah blessings, the system of cantillation (trop), and the Torah reading itself. We aim for students to learn the skills of cantillation so they can read Torah in the future, not just memorize their own portion. They may work on learning the prayers for the Torah service simultaneously or sequentially to the learning the skills to read Torah.
- Additional Training: Once students have mastered the initial skills, they and their tutors may establish additional goals for participation in the service. This can include chanting the Haftarah and/or other aliyot (sections of the Torah), leading the Torah service, and leading the Musaf service.
The D’var Torah (3 months prior): The student and the Rabbi will meet to begin preparing the d’var Torah. The Rabbi will review the assigned Torah and/or Haftarah portion in detail, highlighting its major themes. In that first meeting, the goal is to find a theme that resonates with the student so they will have direction for their preparation. The student will submit a draft of the d’var Torah to the rabbi 2-3 weeks later and usually meet at least two more times.
The D’var Torah is a short speech (5-7 minutes) covering:
- A summary of the section of the Torah or Haftarah that they are focusing on (doesn’t need to cover the whole parasha)
- A teaching about what this passage has meant, either contextually in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) or through rabbinic interpretation
- A personal interpretation of and commentary on why the student chose this section and how it applies to today’s world
- If relevant, the student may also want to include information about their Mitzvah project
It is not appropriate to include a list of thank you tributes at this time – there are opportunities to do this at other celebratory events. A one-sentence appreciation to categories of people (e.g. “my teachers, my family, and friends”) is fine.
The Final Rehearsal (One Month Prior): Contact the Cantor for a final, individual rehearsal, which usually occurs 10-12 days before the simcha.
What the Parents Do
Besides schlepping the child to the tutor, here are some of things that you, the parents, do:
- Participants list: Prepare a list of family members who you would like to receive honors. All Jewish adults are eligible for any of these honors. Non-Jewish adults may accompany their spouse when the spouse is called to the Torah. They may also participate in opening the ark or doing an English reading (the Prayer for the Country or the Prayer for Peace). The honors available for a family to give out include:
- Two individuals or couples (in addition to the parents and student) to each have an aliyah (be called to the Torah to recite the blessing before and after a portion is read).
- One person for each Torah scroll taken out (usually one) to carry the Torah from the ark around the sanctuary, and one individual to carry the Torah back to the ark at the end of the Torah service
- One individual to lift each Torah and one person to “dress” each Torah.
- Two individuals or couples to open the ark
- Optional: an individual to recite the prayer for peace (in English)
- Optional: younger siblings and cousins may lead the prayers near the end of the service; older siblings and cousins may do a Torah reading.
- Learn the parents’ blessings: You will recite the parents’ blessings during the service. These are not long, and should be mastered prior to the final rehearsal.
- Review the aliyah blessings: You will be called to the Torah to recite the blessings before and after the Torah reading for the 6th or 7th aliyah. Make sure that you are familiar with these Hebrew blessings.
- Tefilin: We encourage all our students to obtain a pair of kosher tefilin and to learn how to put them on.
- Tallit: Anyone reading from the Torah or leading a part of the service at Tikvat Israel is expected to wear a tallit, regardless of gender. It is customary, but not required, to get their own. Tikvat Israel does not make the presentation of the tallit a part of the Shabbat service, but a private family ceremony can be arranged in advance of the service.
- Kippot: Everyone is required to wear a head covering when going on to the bimah. While most students will wear a kippah, sometimes there are females who prefer a different option. Any alternative head coverings must be approved by the Rabbi or Cantor.
- Tzedakah: Donations to worthy beneficiaries and organizations are a time-honored way to mark any important occasion. You are encouraged to continue the tradition. If you would like suggestions, speak with the Rabbi or Cantor.
The Simcha Kiddish
Typically, the family sponsors a Kiddush meal after the service. You may either hire a caterer or use our Kitchen Committee, comprised of volunteers, to handle all aspects of the food preparation, set-up, and clean-up. About three months prior to your child’s simcha, contact the Kitchen Committee chair to make arrangements for the Kiddush.
Volunteering in the Kitchen: One adult from the bar or bat mitzvah family is asked to volunteer to help the committee to prepare a Shabbat Kiddush at least four times either before or after their event. About six months before your event, a member of the committee will contact you to schedule your volunteer time. On the dates you volunteer, arrive at the synagogue at 9:30 a.m. Kiddush preparation typically takes 1-2 hours. You are also responsible for helping to clean up after the Kiddush. If, for some reason, you cannot make it on one of the dates you have set, be sure to let the Kiddush coordinator know as soon as possible so that a replacement can be identified.
The Bar or Bat Mitzvah Kiddush: About three months before your event, contact the Kitchen Committee chair to discuss Kiddush options. Then, 2-4 weeks before the event, you will be asked to provide an estimate of the number of guests attending, including congregation members you have invited and children over 5 years of age, so that the proper amount of food can be purchased.
If you are also planning an evening party, you can reserve the synagogue social hall. Contact the synagogue office for details.
The Celebration and Other Expectations
The Celebration: The simcha is a religious event, which includes any celebrations that follow it. Therefore, please adhere to the following expectations and make sure that your guests are aware of our policies.
- Regardless of where the event takes place, the food should be kosher. This ensures that all participants can eat without the need to awkwardly ask for a kosher meal. If this is not feasible, the meal should be dairy/fish, vegetarian, or vegan.
- The use of cell phones, cameras/video, writing, handling money, and igniting flames are prohibited on Shabbat.
Photographers: You may contact the office to arrange a time to take pictures in the synagogue and on the bimah on the days leading up to or following your event. NOTE: If you would like to have pictures with a Torah scroll, it must be done within the context of a rehearsal (either the final/dress rehearsal with the clergy or another day leading up to the service). The Torah cannot be used as a “prop.” Because of their schedules, the clergy are often not available for pictures. If you would like them to participate, please make arrangements in advance.
Carrying and Gifts: Tikvat Israel is within an eruv that permits us to carry into and out of the building on Shabbat. However, we still ask that gifts not be brought into the synagogue on Shabbat, especially since many of them include things we don’t handle on Shabbat, such as money.