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A Boy’s Bar Mitzvah and a Family’s Coming of Age

This past Shabbat, my family celebrated the bar mitzvah of our eldest son, Eliezer. This rite of passage was a traditional milestone marking Eli’s coming of age according to Jewish law and custom and included a gaggle of personal and communal rituals. Family and friends from near and far converged on Kibbutz Hannaton to help make the day a special one for Eli and for us all. The guests included Eli’s four grandparents: my secular parents from Florida, and my husband’s Orthodox parents from Jerusalem.

This was my in-laws’ eighth grandchild to celebrate a bar mitzvah (for boys) or bat mitzvah (for girls). But Eli’s was a bit different than those of his older Orthodox cousins. Kibbutz Hannaton is an egalitarian community, which means that women and men are included fully and equally in Jewish ritual life, including in our synagogue. Unlike at most Orthodox prayer services, on Kibbutz Hannaton women are counted in a quorum, lead prayer services, read from the Torah, are called up for communal honors, and deliver sermons. Our liturgy includes references to the Jewish matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel in addition to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Sarah. Men and women sit, pray, and dance together, instead of being separated by a physical partition called a mechitzah.

Although this is all second nature for me, for the uninitiated, these differences must surely be challenging, if not outright jarring. As jarring, I suspect, as Orthodox prayers are to me. Because egalitarianism is one of the pillars of my Judaism, I deliberately avoid participating in non-egalitarian Jewish services, with one exception. Over the years I have attended many family-related Orthodox prayer services for the sake of an arguably higher Jewish value: shalom bayit, or family peace and unity.  

Torah

This past Shabbat, my husband’s extended family paid us back in kind. I could tell that it was a test of their religious boundaries. My two brothers-in-law and some of my nephews prayed on their own, either before or after our services. For much of the time during our prayers, they sat silently. But they were there. They even rose to sing in five-part harmony, as is the custom in their own synagogue, to summon Eli to the Torah for his ceremonial bar mitzvah blessings.

My in-laws participated even more fully in the services. They came to the podium and together accepted an aliyah, saying in unison the blessings customarily recited before and after each portion of the Torah is read. It was the very first time that my mother-in-law had ever participated in a service in that way. As I watched her say the blessings while standing next to Eli, who was nervously awaiting his turn to chant from the Torah, I felt truly grateful and proud of the journey we have travelled together during the past thirteen years as a multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-denominational, and multi-oriented family. Although it was Eli’s big day, it felt like a coming of age ceremony for us all.

PHOTO CREDIT: REFORMJUDAISM.ORG

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6 Comments

  1. This made me teary. Mazel tov, on many levels.

  2. Mazel Tov and many more happy days in the future.

  3. Fantastic. Mazel tov to you and Daniel and the whole family.

  4. Marge Kaufman says:

    Mazel Tov..I remember the wedding..it seems like yesterday.

  5. awwww! teary here too. so much mega mazel tov.

  6. Shari and Erwin Mevorah says:

    Mazal Tov to you all from the Mevorah family. Sounds like it was a fabulous day.

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