Read the Scoop on What Bar and Bat Mitzvah Bios Actually Reveal

What happens after dessert?

What happens after dessert?

Synagogue newsletters: not everyone’s optimal reading material when finding a treasured bit of rare, spare time.
It doesn’t help that many feel like a throw-back to a different era with some of the most musty names like Beacon, Herald or Courier.
The part that I do enjoy reading, when available, is the pithy, brief biographies that young teens write (or have ghost-written by phenomenally proud parents) prior to their B’nai Mitzvahs.
Some are unbelievably artistic and have bios that rival Carnegie Hall performers: (names are changed, but quotes are exact)

“Shaya is an accomplished dancer (she enjoys ballet, jazz and hip-hop) and musician (she plays piano and guitar and enjoys composing, playing and singing).”

Notably the guys in the group, seem to breathe sports air:

“Jonathan is passionate about sports in general: baseball, tennis, squash, soccer and basketball.”

Some are jet setters, even at this early age:

“Shira loves her pets, piano, photography and travels to both coasts and abroad.”

Most are highly involved in the mitzvah part of the event:

“Steve has baked for Ronald McDonald House and helped clean up Yellowstone National Park.”
“Rebecca has been participating in Street Soccer, USA, a nonprofit that helps homeless men and women learn skills beyond the field, by playing soccer with as well as collecting donations for a Philadelphia team.”
“Max participated in the Little League Challenger Program in which he helped kids with special needs play and enjoy the game of baseball.”
“Michal is coordinating donation efforts to bring indoor sports equipment to the JBH playrooms and is organizing and leading several activity nights for the children.”

It doesn’t need mentioning that we want our teens to be active and involved members of the Jewish and American community. Plus, parents want their kids to excel in areas of their interest, and do important service and community work.

But isn’t it odd that the community service these teens accomplished did not occur within a Jewish organization?

Of the ten teens whose faces and bios are featured in the B’nai Mitzvah bios with accompanying meaningful descriptions of their activities, not ONE mentioned what the teenager’s plans were for continuing their education past the much awaited-for ceremony.

Not one.

Even though the information above is excerpted from one synagogue newsletter, from those I’ve read, this one was not unusual.If there is a template that all the kids follow, why is the question about continuing the journey of Jewish education missing?

Is not the ceremony part of an ongoing developmental process in a journey toward Jewish adulthood?

Beyond all the tumult, hype, sweat equity, and of course unparalleled joys leading up to the actual ceremony, we have to ask ourselves questions about why so often the very purpose of the ceremony seems to be absent.

Even in the best case scenario, when I’ve seen teens communicate their intention to continue a commitment to further their Jewish education from the bima (podium), it doesn’t seem to appear in other places.

So, I ask again, why is their place in the Jewish community of the future a mystery?

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About Ruth Schapira

I am a Jewish educator and my hope is to spur new ideas through this blog, perhaps to inspire new conversations and motivate change within the Jewish community. I'm interested in making a difference through training, leadership development, and outreach. View all posts by Ruth Schapira

4 responses to “Read the Scoop on What Bar and Bat Mitzvah Bios Actually Reveal

  • judy alexander (@morahjudy)

    Too often parents tell their kids “After Bar/Bat Mitzvah you’re done.” The kids are over scheduled with activities and parents don’t feel like schlepping kids to an activity they don’t particularly value. I run a Hebrew high school and the kids who come love it but it’s a hard sell when they try to get their friends to come because the other kids would rather participate in sports/drama/dance/etc. Many a kid has stood on our bimah saying they plan to continue with Hebrew HS after their Bnai Mitzvah year and then don’t show up because of conflicting priorities. So if Ruth read out kids’ speeches, she’d get a different picture, but the reality is that of the 80% of kids in the class who say they’ll continue, about 30-60%, in any given year, actually do.

    • Ruth Schapira

      Thank you for contributing to this conversation. It is a ‘hard sell’, even despite those students who have expressed interest in attending. Do you feel we have communicated enough the value of a continued Jewish education?

  • Debbie Aron

    An interesting question about what kind of template the synagogue gives for crafting these little bios. ( I’ve actually never seen anything like this–I guess our synagogue just doesn’t do it). Maybe they don’t ask because it would be awkward to hear that the student has no plans to continue their Jewish education. But asking “what kind of” Jewish involvement or Jewish education they see in their future could elicit interesting answer–from Jewish books to plans for studying in college to service learning interests in Jewish organizations. Really interesting, Ruth. Thanks.

    • Ruth Schapira

      Thanks Debbie, for your comments. I think as you said, that we might get all kinds of fascinating answers when we begin to ask the question about how these teens see themselves being involved in the next part of their Jewish lives.

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