What do you do if you are a Jewish family with a child approaching Bar Mitzvah age, are not a member of a synagogue and want your child to have a Bar Mitzvah ceremony? Order out, it seems – a form of DIY (Do It Yourself). Find a rabbi, a tutor and the trappings of a synagogue (a torah, etc.) to allow you to construct your own Bar Mitzvah experience.
An article in the American Jewish press recently highlighted the growing phenomenon of Jewish families with no synagogue affiliation choosing to hold such independent Bar Mitzvah ceremonies. It is evidence of the trend toward favoring individualism over community. In such a situation, the family is not part of an organized Jewish community. Its children grow up unfamiliar with the Jewish calendar or with celebrating Jewish holidays with other shul families and most importantly, other shul kids. The independent Bar Mitzvah is not a Jewish community event. It is purely a single family’s event for its own children, relatives and friends without the support of a larger Jewish social structure. If the Bar Mitzvah child never attends Hebrew School, all of his or her Jewish education is compressed into a single year and focused exclusively on learning enough to read the Torah portion and write a speech about it. It is unlikely that much of such training stays or inspires a love for Judaism.
The IJC thinks beyond the self. It is dedicated to building a Jewish community across the spectrum: young and old, marrieds and singles, those with children and those without, those more religious and those less religious. It is committed to creating a larger family composed of disparate elements. It is devoted to interweaving these contrasting threads to make a unifying tapestry which serves a deep need for community, support and acceptance. We celebrate more than Bar Mitzvahs. Together we celebrate marriages, we mourn deaths, we help each other when major sickness or accidents strike. We mark other members’ significant occasions. Outside Jewish congregations one gets ad hoc attempts to cultivate Jewish tradition and culture – but the overarching framework and glue to hold it together is missing. We at IJC hope that a non-affiliated family with kids would look at this larger picture when considering how to give their children (and themselves) a Bar Mitzvah experience with substance.
Our IJC is a tapestry of lives. The commitment of our members as volunteers allows our tapestry to expand and deepen. Maybe one can call our tapestry a magic carpet. In any event, this magic carpet will be flying soon to a new location in Forest (we will be sending out a request for volunteers for the actual moving day). We will be sharing the building with our French-speaking Progressive sister congregation Beth Hillel, but continuing to maintain the IJC’s own special mix of wonder, promise and bliss. Whether in our current building or after January 1st at Beth Hillel, we look forward to welcoming you to our services, Hebrew School classes and holiday parties.