Education is one of Judaism’s highest valued tenets. In the Mishnah, the rabbis teach us that the study of Torah and Jewish knowledge is on par with all of the other commandments combined because it is the study of Torah that leads us to perform other mitzvot (commandments). To that end, Judaism values and celebrates the accomplishment of our Jewish learners at various stages of their quest knowledge. We mark three significant milestones in the Jewish education of our children at Bet Ha’am: Consecration, Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, and Confirmation.
Consecration, celebrated on the holiday of Simchat Torah, when we end and begin again the annual cycle of Torah readings, is a communal celebration of the beginning of a child’s formal Jewish education. Most of our students celebrate Consecration when they begin first grade. Older students who are just beginning their formal Jewish studies and have not experienced Consecration in another congregation are also celebrated. When your child begins his or her education in our religious school, we will welcome them as lifelong learners in our congregation with this festive ceremony and introduce them to the sweetness and joy of learning as we dance around the sanctuary with our Torah scrolls, celebrating Simchat Torah.
Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah
The tradition of Bar Mitzvah dates back millennia and marks a change in status for a young man when he reaches the age of 13. The 20th century brought about equality for boys and girls in Jewish ritual in most communities and with that came the tradition of girls becoming Bat Mitzvah. Becoming a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah means that the young person has reached an age at which he or she is now considered an adult in regards to Jewish law and is now responsible for his or her engagement with Jewish ritual and practice. Nowadays, a student celebrates becoming a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah by demonstrating his or her mastery of Hebrew, liturgy, and Jewish knowledge by leading the congregation in worship, reading from the Torah, and delivering a d’var Torah, a teaching about the week’s Torah portion on a Shabbat morning.
At Bet Ha’am, we see becoming a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah as a stepping stone to the next level of Jewish education, rather than the culmination of a student’s Jewish learning. We recognize that each student possesses different interests, talents, and skills and seek to create a meaningful experience of becoming a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah that is unique to each child. While many children celebrate this achievement in similar ways, through leading worship, reading and teaching Torah, and a social justice Mitzvah Project, we are active participants in the Union for Reform Judaism’s B’nai Mitzvah Revolution that seeks to create a meaningful Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah experience for each child that speaks to the goals of the child, the family, and the congregation. The goal of our B’nai Mitzvah program is to empower each child to build a love of Jewish learning and Jewish living that will serve as a solid foundation for their continued involvement in the Jewish community.
Like becoming a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation is also a stepping stone to the next level of Jewish learning. An innovation of the Reform Movement in Jewish life, Confirmation takes place at the conclusion of a student’s formal religious school curriculum, at the end of their 10th grade year. Once created to replace the experience of becoming a Bar Mitzvah, when the Reform Movement sought to emulate our neighbors of other faith traditions, Confirmation has become an important milestone in the Jewish education of our children. It is observed on Shavuot, the late spring holiday that commemorates our receiving Torah at Mount Sinai. Rather than “getting confirmed,” our Confirmation students, through their participation in the 10th grade Confirmation class- taught by Rabbi Saks- and their participation in the Shavuot Confirmation service, make a public confirmation of their Jewish identity and connection to Jewish tradition. Having completed their formal Jewish studies in our religious school program, it is our goal at Bet Ha’am that we have fully prepared our students to be lifelong learners of Judaism, with the tools to direct their own study and practice into adulthood.