Re-Visioning the Jewish “Coming of Age” with post-B/M teens

I can’t remember how long ago I came to the conclusion that the Jewish community was doing itself a disservice by continuing to celebrate Jewish adulthood at the age of 12/13, however it is something I am quite passionate about.  I have blogged about this previously (At what age are we ready to CHOOSE Judaism? and The B’nei Mitzvah Evolution/Revolution/Ban Debate) and have presented on the topic at several Jewish professional conferences and adult learning experiences.  I was asked to put my resources into a text study sheet for a 2013 Jewish Futures Conference (download  How have Text and Tradition Shaped the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Experience?)

Recently, a group of 8th grade students asked me to help them understand the history, meaning and purpose of the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony (they had no idea my ideological leanings).  After leading them through the text study guide, I asked them to pretend they were in charge of determining the future of the milestone in which young adult Jews commit to Jewish adulthood.  They determined the following framework (facilitated by me, but not ‘forced’ by me):

They unanimously agreed that the Age of Adulthood in 2017 is NOT at 12/13.  They debated for a while and determined:

  • A ceremony should happen when they are finishing their senior year of high school (certainly no younger than 16) [although one teen was adamant is should be in mid-20s]
  • Each emerging adult should be asked to make a commitment to their future of Judaism (the act of opting-in)

They collectively agreed that moving the ceremony to the end of high school would reduce the number of kids and families that drop out of synagogue life when the child is in 7th grade.  They also agreed that it was much more realistic for young people to make a concientius commitment to their future when they are older.

The teens debated what Learning Experiences are Required Prior to a Ceremony. They agreed that there wasn’t a “test” on these content areas but a check-list of having learned them:

  • Jewish History
  • Jewish Holidays
  • Jewish Values
  • Home Rituals
  • Reading (decoding) Hebrew  [some made a case for conversational Hebrew]
  • Israel History
  • Exposure to a variety of Jewish scholarly works
  • Parshat Shavua with a deep knowledge of at least one portion
  • Broad knowledge of mitzvoth with ability to recite 10 Commandments

 

The articulation of what The Ceremony would look like ended up including:

  • Embedded in a service tied to Shabbat [equal preferences articulated for Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat morning and Havdallah]
  • A L’Dor v’Dor Torah Passing Ceremony where each adult passes words of Jewish wisdom as they pass the Torah
  • A L’Dor v’Dor Family Ritual Item Passing Ceremony  (i.e. kiddish cup, tallit, candlesticks, mezuzah) where each adult shares their connection with that item as it is passed
  • Each teen delivers a speech about his/her commitment to Judaism and how they intend to live Jewishly

 

The teens determined that Jews were making the following Adult Commitments after the ceremony:

  • A pledge to engage in on-going volunteer work AND tzedakah as a regular part of their adult lives
  • A commitment to participate in a minyan when needed/asked
  • An attempt to engage in as many holiday worship services and/or home rituals as possible (to make it a priority)
  • Fasting on all “major” Jewish fasts (their knowledge of most fast days was limited)
  • A promise to hang a mezuzah on their doors

 

Discussion points that stood out to me as the most fascinating:  they didn’t want to include a trip to Israel as either a pre-cursor to the ceremony nor as a post-ceremony commitment; they were able to articulate the connection to the Hebrew language but didn’t demonstrate that same commitment to prayer as part of the knowledge nor as part of the ceremony; and they held onto the idea of fasting (particularly for Yom Kippur) as a way to demonstrate adult commitment to Judaism.

But perhaps what was the most interesting is they felt that there was no way that modern Jewish leaders would ever change the current ceremony.  They said that despite the fact that it had been altered and evolved several times over many centuries, that it was somehow now set in stone.  I would love to prove them wrong and show their voices and input could be helping shape the future of Judaism.

 

 

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