My synagogue, periodically, runs an adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah class. Mostly women take the class, because it is mostly women who missed out on the chance to have their own Bat Mitzvah back when they were 12 or 13. The current class has about 13 people in it, ranging in age from early forties to early eighties. There’s one man and the rest are women.
The one man in the Bar and Bat Mitzvah class is a non-Jew. He and his Jewish wife have a son in the Hebrew school and are very involved in the synagogue, and he started the classes as an opportunity to better understand the religion his wife loved and his son was learning in school. He took Hebrew language classes, and learned the prayers and history and philosophy, and gradually, through his own process, he decided that this was his community, that he would convert and become a Jew. But the fact is, he could have decided otherwise, and that would have been okay too, with the rabbis, with his wife and son, and with the community at large (for the most part).
The work he put into this, not knowing for sure how it would turn out, is what I respect so much, rather than the outcome. There’s something about having two years set aside, with teachers and fellow students and a set goal that everyone values, that I really want for myself. Graduate school was sort of like that, but more expensive. I’d love to have a two year program to learn how to deal with Cricket, with a group of peers going through all of the same difficulties. There’s a cocoon-like feeling to it, this group of people struggling towards the same goals and overcoming difficulties together, in a non-competitive environment. It’s the non-competitive-ness that appeals to me most, the idea that everyone is supposed to succeed, not just the cream of the crop. They don’t come out of this program with a degree, but I think it must be life changing, like my Bat Mitzvah was for me.
I loved my Bat Mitzvah. The ceremony itself, anyway. I didn’t love my party, or having my grandmother stay over in my room so that I had to sleep on the floor. I didn’t love my father spending months trying to convince me not to have a Bat Mitzvah at all, and the rabbis at my school complaining about the music and dancing planned for the after party on Saturday night. But I loved leading a whole Saturday morning service from beginning to end. I loved reading the Torah and chanting the Haftorah. I loved having my own congregation for a couple of hours.
There are four separate Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services being done, once a month throughout the winter, with three or four students running each, with the three clergy members there to preside and help. And their families come: grandchildren fly in from across the country; ninety-year-old mothers come from nursing homes to finally see their daughters Bat Mitzvahed; children and siblings and cousins and friends are all invited. And the rest of the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah students come to show their support, along with a few of us from the rest of the congregation, though not many. I went to the first of the four services, because one of the women asked specifically, and it was beautiful.
I didn’t grow up in a Reconstructionist synagogue. I didn’t even know what Reconstructionism might be. It sounded like a lot of work – like maybe we’d be building and tearing down houses every week. I’ve only been to this one Reconstructionist synagogue, so I can’t be sure if it is representative of the whole movement, but what I do know is that it is about being open minded, but rigorous. If you are going to adopt a ritual, or get rid of one, you should do your research, understand the history, understand your own reasons for your decision, and take the community into account before you proceed.
The only thing wrong with the synagogue is the prejudice against dog participation. There are no Bark-Mitzvahs, no dog-naming ceremonies, no doggy choir for the high holidays. Clearly, this is the next necessary level of innovation for the Reconstructionist movement. I’d bet more people would come to the Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah services if dogs were invited to participate. I’m just saying, it’s something for the membership committee to think about.