Jeremy Golan
Registered wedding officiant, chaplain, and educator.

Why Give Your Son A Bar Mitzvah?

Why Give Your Son a Bar Mitzvah?

Many 11 and 12-year-olds dread going to Hebrew school because they find it boring and cannot connect it to their future. Perhaps they are offered a party or gifts, or they are doing it to appease their family. They may ask, “What is the point? Wouldn’t it be better to play hockey, video games, or really anything else?” How can Hebrew help them? When will they need the skills they acquired? If the parents cannot answer readily, then the boys will not really care and will do the bare minimum. In actuality, the rewards are huge and are difficult to appreciate at this time. Around the age of puberty, boys transition from being dependents to being independent thinkers, able to take on the faith and identity for themselves. 

Imagine a bar mitzvah not just as a chance to hear Adam Sandler’s hilarious “Chanukah Song” at a fancy party, but as a gateway to a deeper understanding of Judaism and a richer connection to your heritage. By learning Hebrew and participating in the rituals of the bar mitzvah, your son gains entry into a world where he can enter any synagogue, make friends, and be called to the Torah. He can engage in meaningful conversations with Israelis both inside and outside Israel, connecting with his roots in a profound way. Having a bar mitzvah sets a foundation for a core identity that will pass onto his children, ensuring that the traditions and values of Judaism continue through the generations.

What Is a Bar Mitzvah Anyways?

A Bar Mitzvah, in its simplest terms, is a coming-of-age ceremony in the Jewish tradition. The term “Bar Mitzvah” translates to “son of the commandment” in Hebrew, highlighting the moment when a boy takes on the responsibilities of a Jewish adult. While different streams of Judaism celebrate it in varying ways, the core essence remains the same – a transition into religious maturity.

Central to the Bar Mitzvah is the learning of Hebrew. This includes knowing the Aleph Bet if they do not already, allowing them to read prayers such as the Barchu, as well as their Torah or Haftarah portion. Basic Hebrew conversation skills are also imparted, teaching them Hebrew responses like “Yasher Koach” and “Kol Hakavod.” Understanding the order of the synagogue service, including the Amidah and the Shaharit order, enables them to feel at home in synagogues worldwide, from Portugal to Europe, and be included as a full Jew, respected and acknowledged.

Additionally, the term “Mitzvah,” meaning “commandment” or “good deed,” signifies that they are taking on these responsibilities for themselves. While not everyone follows the 613 laws perfectly, they should at least know the basics of Kashrut, Tefillin, and the holidays. Some are even asked to deliver a Shiur, a lesson, based on their Bar Mitzvah portion, which connects the ancient text to their lives in the here and now.

The more they learn, the more their Jewish identity becomes meaningful to them, manifesting in different ways over their lives. A Bar Mitzvah is truly a milestone that is not to be missed. It deserves full attention, but both parents need to be on board, supporting and guiding their child through this important rite of passage.

What If I Don’t Know Much?

For many Jews from the former Soviet Union, religion was outlawed, and people did not have access to active Jewish life. While this has changed with their migration to Israel and the West, many parents are unaware of what it entails. This is not just true for Soviet Jews but for many others who have not been granted access due to their specific life conditions. However, this is not a reason to deprive your children of this important rite of passage.

There are many online resources available for learning about Judaism, but independent learning can be difficult without someone to guide you. Of course, there are more liberal options that make fewer demands of their students, but they do not accomplish the same goals as putting in the time and effort to graduate properly, gaining the benefits mentioned above. Just like the Israeli national anthem, there is hope. By prioritizing the Bar Mitzvah and seeking qualified guidance, parents can reaffirm their Jewish identities and ensure that it remains strong for many years to come.

While many families are not Orthodox, it is beneficial to have the goal of joining any traditional Minyan, which is a quorum of 10 Jewish men, whether it be for the Kaddish or other events. Once planted, the seeds of Torah manifest strongly in every facet of life. Some families choose to go to Israel for a trip after their Bar Mitzvah or have the service at the Kotel. While Ashkenazi students receive their Tallit at marriage, Sephardic students get it right at Bar Mitzvah. From a pragmatic point of view, they head to high school and university with a strong understanding of where they came from and a desire to keep the torch burning.

The Objectives and When to Start

There is no greater indicator of rich Jewish life than the Bar Mitzvah. Through this milestone, students will embark on a journey to learn various aspects of Judaism that will enrich their lives and deepen their connection to their heritage.

The objectives of Bar Mitzvah education are comprehensive. Students will learn Hebrew, both modern conversational skills and Torah reading. They will study Jewish holidays, their practices, and the reasons behind them, learning how to apply these traditions to modern life. Students will also develop a connection to the State of Israel and the ability to defend Zionism against those who seek to destroy the Jewish state. They will learn how to lay Tefillin, understand historical and modern Israeli geography, and explore the concept of Hashem – who He is and how we connect with Him.

Additionally, students will learn practical skills such as how to hold a Seder, blow the Shofar, and understand Jewish morality. The curriculum encourages both secular and religious learning, emphasizing the beauty of marriage and family life. Students will also learn how to use their Jewish identity to enrich themselves, their families, and everyone they come into contact with.

Well those in Hebrew day school may already have the background needed to prepare for their Bar Mitzvah, others may need extra time, especially if languages do not come natural to them over they have educational barriers. Regardless of the scenario, it is always best to start early and ensure that your child is not prepared for this monumental event. 

In essence, the Bar Mitzvah is like an all-inclusive access card to the thousands of Jewish spaces all over the world and the pathway to a brighter tomorrow. As parents, I have full faith that you will build the groundwork for our collectively strong Jewish future. Shalom.

About the Author
Jeremy Golan is a registered officiant, school chaplain, and teacher living in Toronto Canada. A staunch supporter of the Jewish State, he is interested in creating peace through dialogue.
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