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From the Archive /
Bar and Bat Mitzvah
About the Bar Mitzvah celebration

S. Savourai

Ein Harod


The Bar Mitzvah celebrations are increasingly receiving a permanent status. However we have still not clarified for ourselves our path on this day so it does not become a phenomenon lacking content, as if we were only pursuing another opportunity to be filled with happiness. It is not possible to call that same celebration by a meaningful name without it having some kind of correlation between the name and the content of the celebration.

For the majority of the festivals we have succeeded to date to preserve the content of the festival, even if its religious focus has dissipated; we have succeeded when we found pathways of expression for the genuine sources of joy within that same festival. The departure from Egypt should be remembered, the release from the house of slavery and the spring are topics for expression and for joy, whether we believe that the Holy One Blessed be He did all of these or not.  And also the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) as the harvest festival and even as the festival of the giving of the Torah, because those too are amongst the peaceful Israelites – they do not deny the greatness and the honour of the Torah. And if we are supposed to celebrate a celebration of Bar Mitzvah – the expression of the celebration should also correlate with its content and we should understand this, study it and take care of it. To date we have customarily handled public holidays as if the Bar Mitzvah celebration is a celebration for individuals. However we are not exempt from discussing this together as the individuals do not have the power to get out of these difficulties in this regard alone.  And I will try to give my opinion. For a celebration that bears a name with a certain content – we must firstly try to find this content optimally, inasmuch as such can be interwoven in our current daily lives. Of course we will not return to celebrate this celebration according to tradition in full, as we would be missing the point. However – is it not our duty to connect with that same celebration symbols directed in fact to those same issues themselves intended by our forefathers – that is the transition to adolescence, responsibility, compliance with the order, commandments? We should take the time, to search and to find the correct expression for this, even by any symbolic act whatsoever as well as the content of the things said and read during that same celebration. And we should give a clear space here for the parents, teachers, youth counsellors and the Bar Mitzvah children themselves.

Furthermore – just as we do not think that “the valley” was born when we settled on its land 25 years ago, we also do not think that our life experience created something from nothing during the time of this generation.  The continuation of the chain of the generations must find an expression in those celebrations, and I would present the phylacteries on that day with awe and love and at the right moment I would show them to the Bar Mitzvah children and I would ask one of them to recount how it was customary in Israel over many generations, what and when they would have been used, and someone else would read the verses written in the phylacteries. And then the father (or the mother) would rise and give the Bible to his son or daughter and add some meaningful words when it is handed over. And of course – in addition to the traditional words – some words about current affairs, words whereby children of this age are aware of them, and they have an expression of the commandments that time imposes on us and on those who join our ranks. During the last Bar Mitzvah celebration that I attended, only the last sentence was expressed. The rest of the parts which I discussed were very defective, stuttered, hasty. They were the initial attempts at expression, that same giving of the Bible, with panic and without appropriate accompanying words for this act, which would raise it to the level of an educational symbol, which puts the correct light on the place of the Bible in our lives and its very transfer to the next generation. Those same few words which one of the parents let slip when he advised that in fact you are required to remember that from now on “you will sin on your own account” – all of this should be amended. And it would be good if we convened a special meeting of teachers, the culture committee, the children’s party committee and others – to study this and attempt to find ways to complete the identity of this celebration.

And another comment from me, that same Bat Mitzvah who spoke of building the land and setting its anchors in the kibbutzim – did not forget to recall also the developing towns however she did not recall the agricultural settlements. A love of our way of life does not obligate disregard of the values of other ways of life who are our allies in the renewal effort. Maintaining loyalty to our allies is not alike a test for maintaining loyalties of one way of life, and it is good that we are cautious of it not only on the day of celebrating a Bar Mitzvah and on the day of the celebration – even more so.

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