Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish Identity

Lili Pauli (phenya@ccsg.tau.ac.il)
Mon, 12 May 1997 09:34:40 +0300

Rabbi Yacov Menken Shlita writes:
> Maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps this is totally misdirected. I just haven't seen
> any statistics demonstrating a correlation between Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties
> and future Jewish identity (if anything, just the opposite). As I said, I'm
> inviting comments and disagreement. I'd like to hear from parents, if they
> are willing to offer this as food for thought and discussion at _their_
> tables. And I'd especially like to hear from those about to become Bar or
> Bat Mitzvah, and those who passed this momentous day just a few years ago.

My brother and I were born 6th generation Reform Jews. We grew up in
Sunnyside Queens. Most of our friends went to the Sunnyside Jewish Center
to get Bar Mitzvah. Our mother didn't like the idea that it was a ceremony
and prayers in Hebrew so she sent us to the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in
Manhattan. At the age of 10 when my grandfather passed away, without
encourgagement from him and the exhausting subway trip; I asked my mother
to stop sending me. When I saw all the Bar Mitzvah parties and the friends
of the parents without friends of the Bar Mitzvah boy, I asked my mother
not to make a party for me as it was all show off for adult friends and not
for me. I read a little speach to my parents and grandmother with the
traditional speech start in my generation: "Today I am a man". At the age
of 20, when I saw for the first time Tephillin when Israel captured the
Western Wall, I decided with the encouragement of a mother of a friend of
mine Mrs. B. Dyckoff (G-d should grant her a healthy long life) to make a
Bar Mitzvah properly in an Orthodox Schul. Last year, my brother met Rabbi
Alpert, Rabbi of the Sunnyside Jewish Center. The Rabbi told him that my
brother and I are two of the few boys from the neighborhood who are married
to Jewish women and we didn't even have a Bar Mitzvah. Since Rabbi Alpert
is talking of a period of over 40 years, I think that is enough time to
draw conclusions.

My boys were Bar Mitzvah during Sefirat HaOmer ( counting of days between
Passover and Shavuot) quite a few years ago. We had no music but I invited
their friends from their respective classes and the classmates made a big
Simcha (joyous occasion) by dancing and singing with my children and
lifting them up on the shoulders like a wedding. There were plenty of
Rabbis and Dvrei Torah (words of Torah) but plenty of Torah dancing and
singing like at a wedding and my children felt great. The affair was quiet
and not swanky but it was an unforgettable occassion for the boys and an
encouragement to give a Dvar Torah ( discourse about an issue within the
Torah). IN CONCLUSION: Rabbi Meir says," Don't look at the jug (pitcher)
but was in inside". One should remember what the Bar Mitzvah is for and to
whom it is for and the purpose is to make a young fellow part of the
Congregation of Israel and the beginning of his responsibilities to G-D and
man.

With blessings for good health and a speedy redemption,

Richard (Rachamim) Pauli