Wednesday, May 8, 2013

B’nai Mitzvah

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook are no doubt aware that this past weekend our family celebrated the bar mitzvah of our son and bat mitzvah of our daughter (collectively referred to as a b’nai mitzvah). The b’nai mitzvah was non-traditional. We held the service at a country club instead of a synagogue and we weren’t led by a rabbi or cantor.* Instead, we designed the service to incorporate family members (and friends) as much as possible. And I think that the service was very meaningful to our children and to those who attended.

We were all very, very proud of the the hard work that our children put into preparing for the big day and they both did a wonderful job as they were called to the Torah.

The Wallack FamilyFor the service, I prepared a booklet with the prayers and readings. I received a number of compliments on the book and I’ve had quite a few requests by people who couldn’t attend the ceremony for a copy of the book. So I’ve attached a .pdf version of below. I’ve corrected a few errors that were pointed out to me after the service, including changing the word “peach” to “peace” even though it was really cute when my daughter just read the line as written: “peach and happiness”.

B'nai Mitzvah Prayer Book (final) - cover page

The English readings in the book were adapted from several sources on the web and, where possible, I’ve included the identity of the original author.

In preparing this book, I had several goals. First, I (obviously) wanted to be sure that I included those elements of a Shabbat and b’nai mitzvah service that were essential to it being a true Shabbat and b’nai mitzvah service. Second, I wanted to include Hebrew, transliteration, and English translation for all of the Hebrew prayers so that our participants and guests could follow along and understand the meanings. When we made the final decision to make this a family service instead of a clergy-led service, I realized that I needed to find readings (in English!) that would be appropriate for our family members. I wanted to find readings that felt both meaningful and authentic to those who were asked to read. Knowing that we would have many guests who were not Jewish and who may have never attended a bar or bat mitzvah previously, I wanted to try to offer some explanation for some of the prayers and proceedings. Finally, I wanted this to be a Jewish service, but I also wanted to avoid making anyone who wasn’t Jewish uncomfortable.

I don’t know if I succeeded in all of those goals, but I feel good about the final product.

I’ve also been asked to reprint the toast that I made at the party Saturday night.

Your mother and I want you to know how very proud we both are of the two of you. You’ve each worked very hard to make today’s accomplishments a reality. The extra effort of having to do so much in such a short period time was understandably difficult but you both handled it very well. Well, with a few exceptions that is. But we’ll keep that a secret. Oops.

You may not realize it but your cousin Connor’s bar mitzvah was on my birthday and your B’nai mitzvah is on your aunt Wendy and uncle Gavin’s anniversary. We should congratulate them for that.

What I find truly remarkable about today though is what it says about who we are as a family and as a people. Ian like your father, like your grandfathers, like your great grandfathers and like countless generations before them, today you were called to the Torah. Lily, your mother did not become bat mitzvah, your grandmothers did not become bat mitzvah, none of your aunts or ancestors did. You were the first.

So today, in one moment, the two of you standing side-by-side renewed an ancient tradition and, at the same time and with the same breath began a new tradition; the old and the new together reflecting ancient tradition and modern sensibilities. With our service we combined the traditional with the modern. And you learned to recite ancient texts by the time-honored tradition of using Skype.

I hope as you go forward in your lives you can continue to incorporate those ideals and values core to who we are as a community, people, and family, and adapt those to our ever-changing modern lives. L’chaim.

Thanks again to all who helped make the b’nai mitzvah weekend a special and memorable weekend for our family.

I also want to take a brief moment to give special thanks to Cantor Janine Starr for her work with our children to help them prepare for their b’nai mitzvah. Cantor Starr has a relatively new bar mitzvah tutoring business (new website coming soon!). If you’re looking for private tutoring for your children, please contact Cantor Starr (she tutors via the time-honored tradition of Skype).

I also want to thank Goldman Union Camp Institute (GUCI) and Rabbi Mark Covitz for allowing us the use of a Torah for the ceremony.


*I may write more about our decision to have a non-traditional b’nai mitzvah another time. But not today.

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