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From the Archive /
Bar and Bat Mitzvah
Dialogue between Jews

Ella Bar-Guy



Dear Arieh Ben Gurion

The writer of this letter is a member of Tzorah about whom you raged during the Bar Mitzvah convention; “Do not be tempted by the sweet talking of the member from Tzorah!”.


The convention was nice. The thick book “Bar Mitzvah Collection” was placed before the participants from which many joyful, different and serious experiences of the kibbutzim were recounted in celebrating the celebration in different ways. During the convention there were members who added statements verbally about their doubts, their experiences and their work with the Bar Mitzvah children during the Bar Mitzvah year. I got up to comment on ONE aspect of the celebration and its preparation in Tzorah. I cannot understand why I managed to shock you so much? What outraged you so much so that you flung fire at me during your speech against the experiment that I was discussing?


I have before me the headings of the chapters from which I spoke at the convention. Let’s check what you found at fault with them.


I said: “Judaism is one of the focuses of this celebration. You have come from a great heritage and we have plenty to add to it. I am sorry that there are no members of the religious kibbutzim here. They have no doubts as to the religious content of the celebration and certainly there is a combination there of Jewish heritage and kibbutz heritage which we should be giving to the young boy who reaches Bar Mitzvah age. Religious Judaism is far from our children, they relate to it negatively and we want to bring them closer directly to religious Jews. The experiment that we have carried out – after discussions with the school committee, in meetings with parents and in members’ meetings – was this: we made contact with the Rabbi Kook yeshiva and they sent us two young scholars who follow the law of the Jewish religion and it is the centre of their lives.  Young people with open hearts who accepted us, They instructed the children in reading the Bible, the laws of phylacteries, the laws of keeping kosher and the Sabbath. They opened the “Book of Rules” for the children and they opened the hearts of the children to love them – those religious people wearing skullcaps. The children called them “our rabbi” and the two men really liked the Bar Mitzvah children.  Tzorah became well known in the yeshiva, a known name, a pleasant name, a name of friends.


I recounted that the relationships became so good that we were invited (on more than one occasion) to the home of the head of the yeshiva Rabbi Kook who followed and encouraged the experiment. I recounted that during one meeting in his home we met a kibbutz member with his head uncovered who asked for advice as to how to enlighten the Bar Mitzvah celebration from the religious-Jewish aspect and the Rabbi answered: “Call the people from Tzorah – they will teach you. Here is a copy of their play and their brochure – read it”. I shall also add things that I didn’t say at the convention as it is preferable in conventions of this type to be brief. When we started the assignment which we called “Judaism” we started with a discussion with the children. I asked: (page 25 of the Bar Mitzvah brochure attached) “If we turn the tables and come to the Rabbi Kook yeshiva – what would they want to learn from us? One girl asked: “What would they want to learn from us – about kibbutz life or about Judaism in the secular kibbutz?” The children came with baggage of study of Judaism from its religious aspect. Years of education in school, of learning the Bible, oral history, preparations for festivals, had done their work. But the press have also done their work.  Our children are “anti-Semites” regarding the “ultra orthodox”. They teach them to respect their fellowman however it is insufficient to make them respectful. This needs to be carried out directly with their fellowman. When the children went to Kibbutz Saad for the Sabbath within the framework of the Judaism assignment – they were afraid. They asked (to their shame) what do the people look like there? They were surprised to see at Saad kibbutz members for all intents and purposes instead of some sort of scary Jew without a certain personality.


I have attached to this my letter two products of our Bar Mitzvah celebration. The first: the Bar Mitzvah brochure and the second: the Bar Mitzvah play. You will find there are traces of the depth of this assignment and its importance.

In the words of Israel, one of the yeshiva scholars (p. 9): “We are going to Tzorah. Two such simple words, so innocent – what truth lies therein, what innocence and good heartedness, what greatness, what love, what a joy of a commandment”, “…Today we are coming to our Tzorah, to loving brothers and friends who study together with us how to extract one from another only the best and the beautiful, how to bridge the existing chasms and the distances even for the sake of appearance”.


And his friend Yerachmiel writes (on p. 10): “The difference is great in the lifestyles, however it seems that we have become partners in thought processes to carry ideas of exalted justice , me with mine and they with theirs”.


And the children wrote: (p. 11) “The meetings with the religious people explained to us what Judaism is, how religious people manage to maintain it, what was the beginning and which customs joined it as traditions. I am sure that I would not be surprised why the boys grow side locks and why it is forbidden to turn on electricity in the home” (Michal)

Who is a real Jew? The one who wears a skullcap and prays in synagogue? The one who keeps and maintains the duties between man and his friend and between a son and his parents? [These questions worried the young girl before she met the yeshiva scholars]. We learnt about Judaism with the two Rabbi Kook yeshiva scholars. I learnt to recognize another type of Jews, who have similar issues and very different issues to us, however I didn’t find an answer to the question”. (Liat)


We did not invent the Bar Mitzvah celebration. Therefore it is preferable to be close to its source.


However the additional kibbutz content is also anticipated by the most enlightened religious and traditional people. One rabbi said to me: “You returned your children for one hour and to the life of the sources of our forefathers. You showed your children and us your current fathers who created a very special settlement which can radiate anew over the tradition of the nation”.


If you look at the Bar Mitzvah brochure you will see that we had another aspect to the celebration. About the others I had nothing to add during the convention and therefore I did not speak about them. I only spoke from experience. By the nature of experience to which more strength and power is dedicated than to things that we already have experience with.


It is possible (and I also said this at the convention) that we went too far in praising and concentrating around it. It is possible that the experiment is suitable for Tzorah and is not suitable for others.


However unfortunately – how sad that the nay sayers say: “I hate the Yom Kippur Jew” which signed off the convention and cast a shadow on an important and deep experiment that is certainly worthwhile contemplating and learning from it.

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