From Bar Mitzvah to the Kibbutz Celebration
It is customary today in Israel, also for the secular public, to conduct a Bar Mitzvah party for the 13 year olds. This phenomenon, alike many other phenomena, has quickly acquired a large fan base whose connections with religion are very minimal however they carry out this commandment diligently. This is not the place to expand on “the festivals” that take place in hire halls with guests and celebratory meals and so forth, when the young celebrant still does not understand in full all the tumult around him.
Furthermore, most of the guests keep absolutely no Jewish traditions. The boy learns the Haftara and putting on the phylacteries by necessity in relation to this celebration and the day after the celebration he puts the phylacteries in the cupboard and the whole religious aspect is quickly forgotten.
There are those who claim that holding on to the Bar Mitzvah in the public surrounding us (which is not religious) is like holding on to the crumbs of tradition that we do not maintain and do not keep and therefore we see by carrying out this commandment atonement for unity. Others say that the roots of this epidemic are from the sociological directives and the structure of society in Israel, and this celebration of the
Bar Mitzvah serves as a type of status symbol which should not be missed etc etc.
Whatever happens, the question is asked what connection do we have with all the above. What is our son when he reaches the age of 13? Does he also have to say, as the (religious) believing father says “Blessed am I to be relieved of this punishment” – we are not “being relieved of their punishment” even until after the army; if we can even say that at all.
Moreover It seems to me that we should not take on the customs and habits that infiltrate to us from outside, like an ostrich. We have and we have had grand Bar Mitzvah parties, which brought about unnecessary discussions and gossiping. Do our children need such a festival at such a young age (do the parents need it?). However, as aforementioned, we must not say “it is not appropriate for us” – and as such we totally ignore the problem; we will not celebrate – and by this we are finished with the matter.
From an attempt to find a more suitable solution to our mentality and life, we have chosen a slightly different path to celebrate this party. In practice we have pushed aside “the main motivations” of the celebration and they are: the exact date for each child, and the religious basis; but rather we have said: we will celebrate the whole group together, not a Bar Mitzvah celebration but rather a group celebration. A celebration that will symbolize for us the transition from the young group to the adolescent group; a festival that will symbolize introduction to the burden of more serious study, the burden of work and the burden of a different social activity from that customary to this point. A celebration for which each child, or each group of children, shall receive an assignment to perform and he will perform it from start to finish. A celebration in which the children shall leave the kibbutz for a while to get to know the lives of their peers in other places; a celebration in which they will prepare a big party for themselves and their parents. In short a celebration in which they will prove that indeed they can and wish to integrate in the adolescent society to which they have just entered.
The group celebration which we celebrated last Sabbath for the Tomer group took place according to this format. The group concentrated on this enterprise for some 5-6 weeks. They received assignments in advance that included: lectures on various subjects, models within the framework of study topics (the model of the Second Temple, a model of a water engine) and study simulation techniques such as “the multiplication table using the base method”, a humidity gauge and a map of the national water conduit. The children took upon themselves to prepare a big party (a choir, dancing, instrument playing, comedy skits) and went for two-day trips in the area (Mishmar Haemek, Nahalal, Ein Harod and Sdeh Yaakov). On Saturday night the parents and the children gathered with the guests in a pleasant and friendly atmosphere and celebrated the celebration, when at the end each child received a gift of his choice from the kibbutz.
I do not think that is the best way or the most appropriate way for such a celebration; there may be various variations and various emphases other than those that we have chosen to emphasize, but it is clear to me that if we want to achieve some sort of celebratory tradition that is appropriate for our lives, then the point of departure, must be, at least, to be the one from which we have come.