I have been working with Bar/Bat Mitzvah families since 1999. In my role as a tutor, I have helped prepare over two hundred students to chant their prayers, Torah and Haftorah. Through the years, I have also been blessed with the opportunity to get to know the families of these students. Early on, I realized that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience was not just a religious ritual for the student. It was an experience laden with developmental and sociological implications that reverberated throughout the entire family. My social work training often serves as the lens through which I view the world, and this was no exception.
A few years ago, I came across a book in my cantor’s office entitled “Whose Bar Mitzvah Is This Anyway? A Guide for Parents Through A Family Rite of Passage” by Judith Davis, Ed.D. In a nutshell, this book changed my world. It beautifully articulated all of my thoughts surrounding the magnitude of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah process. The book’s premise is that we often underestimate the complexity and power of this event. It is a rite of passage in the life of the entire extended family which can involve great joy as well as great struggle. I owe a debt of gratitude to Judith for this groundbreaking work. It has organized my thoughts and confirmed my observations that many elements of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience are universal.
After all of these years, I have decided that it’s time to put these ideas into practice. The synagogue (or officiant for those families not connected to a synagogue) takes care of preparing families for the ritual aspect of the experience. However, some families’ needs go beyond what can realistically be provided. This is especially true in the case of interfaith families or those struggling with their connection to Judaism. My goal is to meet families where they are at and provide guidance, reassurance and practical suggestions to help navigate the intense experience of planning a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
After all, in term of details, expectations, and emotions, it’s most likely one of the biggest events you’ve ever been responsible for.