Celebrating Bar and Bat Mitzvah As a Beth Or Community

The ORacle, February 2019 Issue

Did you know that Madonna’s son, Rocco, had a bar mitzvah!? The party was lavish. That was to be expected. There were some beautiful touches to the event that would make anyone’s rabbi kvell, like having a Torah scroll commissioned for the occasion. But there is a surprising fact about Rocco’s bar mitzvah that entertainment media seemed to miss. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, author of Putting God on the Guest List: Reclaiming the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, noticed this bar mitzvah “might be the first…in history in which none of the cast of characters is Jewish. Madonna isn’t. Guy Richie isn’t. Rocco surely isn’t.” What does it mean to become a bar or bat mitzvah outside the context of Jewish community?

In Hebrew, bar/bat mitzvah means “son/daughter of the commandments.” Our tradition teaches that at age thirteen young adults take on responsibility for their own commitments to observing the foundations of Jewish life. The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony centers around the student offering their strength to their Jewish community by leading worship, reading from the Torah, and sharing one’s unique teaching of the weekly Torah portion. If an essential element of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is a celebration of leadership within one’s Jewish community, then the community must play a critical role on a child’s bar or bat mitzvah journey.

Some of the first services that I had the privilege of enjoying with our Beth Or community this past summer were beautiful Shabbat worship led by our newest b’nei mitzvah: Annabelle Heiman, Maya Douglass, and Aron Seigal. I was not only struck by the hard work and commitment exhibited by these three young adults, but also by the pride our Beth Or community took in these thirteen year olds’ achievements.

I want to take the opportunity in this month’s ORacle to invite our Beth Or community to enhance the meaning of bar and bat mitzvah in the lives of our students. We are blessed to have five students who will be called to the Torah as b’nei mitzvah over this coming summer: Izabell Russakoff, Ilana O’Neal, Ben Feinberg, Maggie Feinberg, & David Zieve. When you see these students practicing their prayer leadership skills at services over the next few months, take time to get to know these amazing 7th graders by asking them about their Tikkun Olam Projects or their thoughts on the weekly Torah reading. These are simple ways to show our emerging adults that they are a part of an extended Jewish family through our Temple.

I am excited to share that our upcoming b’nei mitzvah cohort at Beth Or is one of the largest in our history! As these 5th & 6th grade students and their families begin their journey towards bar and bat mitzvah, I would like to ask for your help in joining with me to offer this cohort a special blessing from our community at Shabbat Services on March 8, 7:30 pm.

I wish all of our b’nei mitzvah students and their families ‘mazel tov.’ May we as, a community, help provide each of our young adults becoming bar and bat mitzvah meaning, perspective, and a lasting connection to our timeless traditions.


Rabbi Rachel Kort