A bar mitzvah atop ancient Masada: a bat mitzvah on the roof top of a stunning building from the Ottoman Empire; a bat mitzvah in a beautiful American synagogue – no matter the backdrop, each and every ‘mitzvah’ (blessing) is an incredible event to celebrate as a child transitions to young adulthood.
For most parents, the experience is transformational: they hear their child read from the Torah, lead a congregation in song and prayer and discuss the meaning of the Torah portion and its relevance to contemporary life; miraculously the same child who steps up to the bima as the ceremony commences, steps down as a young adult.
In the last few months I have been fortunate to take part in many of these ceremonies: I have watched a young girl confidently lead her Los Angeles congregation; a shy teenager read from the Torah as though Hebrew where her native tongue; a young man from a conservative shul passionately describe his relationship with Torah and Baseball; an American teen who traveled across the world to chant Torah and drum atop Masada with the warm Judeaen Desert winds blowing; and I sat perched on the roof top of an ancient building in Jaffa over looking the Tel Aviv skyline breathing in the eloquent words of Torah salted by Mediterranean Sea air.
When it came time for the bar/bat mitzvah’s parents to speak, I was prepared for tears as they thoughtfully shared insight into their children’s character and passions. A menagerie of families, yet each parent spoke with the unifying message of respect for the journey, the hard work and the accomplishments in preparing for this special day.
It was quite evident that the process of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah was the work of the child, not the parent. As each child read from the Torah or sang out the prayers, they were standing by their teacher, rabbi or cantor – the parents were not their partners rather their proud observers.
One lesson learned from a bar/bat mitzvah is the benefit of raising our children with structure and support, but not to do their work for them – being “Authoritative Parents.” I have never seen a parent jump on to the bima and read the Torah for his child during his bar mitzvah nor get up and tell a congregation that he indeed did all the work to prepare for the ceremony.
But in real life, there is an epidemic of parents who think that they need to perform many things for their children instead of affording their children the opportunity to do for themselves; many parents cannot stand seeing their children fail or be unhappy. Perhaps the lessons learned from bar/bat mitzvah need to permeate to everyday life?
A dear friend sent me this article from the NY Times Sunday Review Opinion Page on August 4, 2012. No matter the age of your children, I suggest that you read it. Click on the blue letters! - Raising Successful Children