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The Adult Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

 

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.

"My turn!"

“My turn!”

"I am so well trained!"

“I am so well trained!”

 

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.

My current congregation.

My current congregation.

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.

Butterfly wants this outfit in pink.

Butterfly would look great in this outfit, in pink.

"Um, I'm not so sure about that, Mommy."

“Um, I’m not so sure about that, Mommy.”

 

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

72 responses »

  1. I like the way you think!

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  2. i love your current congregation. LOL…..they should be allowed to go to bar mitzvohs,especially in a pink or blue tallis…so adorable & hilarious!

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  3. Very nice. You can be thoughtful, humorous and positive. Keep it up. 😊

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  4. Well, Christians have St. Francis Day when many churches do a blessing of animals. How about celebrating Tobias and his dog, who were guided by Raphael?

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  5. I think a Bark Mitzvah is in order!

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  6. Another delightful post with beautiful photos 🙂

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  7. Oh puuuuuleze. I’ve been to a few Bar Mitz’es. It should be about the ceremony and not about the party after. I goyess I’m out of it, but when I was growing up there was Orthodox. Conservative and Reform. Now there’s Reconstructionist? It sounds like the 1870’s in Mississippi. Please enlighten us birds and terriers.

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  8. I really enjoyed this post and I agree, more people would probably go if they could bring their dogs. Cats too just not together.

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  9. The last two photos totally cracked me up. Yeah, I don’t think Butterfly is sold on this idea even if it is pink. So darn cute. And what is with up with no Bark Mitzvah? I don’t get it either, Rachel. Something must be done. 🙂

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  10. Rachel, it sounds like a caring and thoughtful community (even with the please leave your dogs at home policy).

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  11. Interesting, educational, and amusing Rachel. I loved the Bark-Mitzvah joke. Your thoughts about Reconstructionism reminded me of my fears, as a nine-year old that I would not be able to pass the scholarship (our 11+ exam) when I couldn’t swim

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  12. Maybe you could start dog services once a year? My local church holds a pets blessing service once a year, which I think is lovely.

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  13. This is so interesting, Rachel – thank you for posting. We have a friend who converted to Judaism: such an amazing process for her! Support and companionship are vital!

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    • When I first visited this synagogue I met a new convert and it was her description of how the clergy helped her that sold me on the synagogue. They were compassionate and thorough and made her feel very comfortable.

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  14. Yes we should always be sure what rules we set what lines we draw and the reason for them, always searching our own hearts.. High Paw ..

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  15. This was an interesting read Rachel. I liked that you went ahead with your Bat Mitzvah despite your dad and others trying to talk you out of it. To stand up for what you want at such a young age, takes courage.

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  16. Wonderful members in your congregation. Working together with people towards a common goal is always a good thing I think. Love that outfit 🙂

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  17. Very true, dogs should be allowed… at all events!

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  18. Bark mitzvot are fun. Mom’s bas mitzvah was on Friday 13 many many years ago.

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  19. Rachel I loved this post. To me celebrations and rights of passage are important. I remember thinking at the time my friend.s Bat Mitzvah was so superior to my Catholic confirmation. Everything was directed AT me and all I really remember was how itchy my outfit was. But Miriam got to DO SOMETHING. She seemed so dignified and grown up. I can see why those who missed their Bar or Bat Mitzvah might want to rewind and experience that moment even much later in life.

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  20. There is something about your voice that I look forward to. Thanks for this lovely post.

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  21. Pingback: the daydreamer award | ….on pets and prisoners…..

  22. Rachel–I nominated you for this post because I think you blog is wonderful!
    https://loisajay1213.wordpress.com/2015/03/16/the-daydreamer-award/

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  23. I loved how you had the beautifully serious part leading into the gently humorous part. I love your unique voice… and your perspective. I feel better, after reading your work, and today especially, I am grateful you are a writer. Blessings….

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  24. Once again, you have brought a smile to my face. I think Cricket and Butterfly need a bark-mitzvah, i imagine it would be both lovely AND entertaining!

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  25. Bark Mitzvah! Ha! Thanks for the nice essay and for a laugh this morning at Starbucks. Peace, John

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  26. Interesting essay which made me smile when I pictured Cricket in pink.

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  27. Soo..adorable 😊

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  28. Perhaps it’s time for the dog parents of the world (perhaps the PET parents of the world) to arise and form their own version of ‘church’? The attendance would indeed be enhanced and worshipping in God’s own outdoors (for the sake of carpet cleaning expenses and such) has always seemed to me to be more spiritual than in a building, particularly on a beautiful Spring day. If you do decide to begin such a process, let me know. I’d love to be a member! 😉

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  29. I love this story of family and community and continuity. It makes me happy to think of your happiness in the studies and affirmation.
    And I particularly loved the concept of the Bark-Mitzvah – I wonder if The Red Man and Butterfly would enjoy the classes together. I know for sure they would love the outfits! 🙂

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  30. Your ‘congregation’ is beyond adorable! Here’s to the enlightenment that leaders everywhere realize the benefit of inclusion of all of God’s creatures, 2 and 4 legged. ❤ Shalom
    שלום ואהבה

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  31. Hi Rachel, A piece well written, as always. And ‘Tails Around the Ranch’s comment expresses what I would like to say. Take care. Shalom!

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  32. I completely echo all the thoughts on the Bark Mitzvah! Hilarious!

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  33. I think your congregation is appreciative and proud of you and you return their sentiments, I’m sure.
    On a serious note,”You’ve done it once again,displayed your crazy good writing skills here,
    Missy!” This comment comes from a woman who had 0 amounts of sleep last night,through blurry red unfocused eyes currently open only 3/4s of the way, as she guzzles down coffee like the desperate caffeine addict that she is,If even a person in that pathetic state can clearly recognize a well written blog when she reads one and appreciates talent when it’s displayed, just imagine the avalanche of positive reactions that must be felt by ones reading this through rested and mentally alert minds!

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    • I didn’t mention in my long winded comment that your subject matter in this post is well chosen.and your method of making us aware deserves commendation. As a author you present a meaningful and relevant issue in a humerus,gentle approach that encourages the reader to think about an issue ( I’m not referring to Cricket’s) he may never have given thought to or was completely unaware of. You encourage him to form his own conclusions after giving it thought. A more effective way to draw attention to a relevant issue. A much better way than the more popular method taken by so many.
      I cali it the ole “hit them over the head with a baseball bat to get their attention,approach”, a method of presenting issues which rarely produces good results.
      ,

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  34. I love Butterfly’s Bat Mitzvah outfit! 😀 And yes, dogs should definitely be allowed to participate in spiritual life – they have so much wisdom to teach us.

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  35. I’m really amazed that the Reconstructionists haven’t included the Bark Mitzvah into their collection of services yet. I think you should work a little harder for that. I loved the picture of the dog with kipa and magen david on it. Only it was much too small. Couldn’t you supply me with a larger version?! Even so, many thanks and best wishes from Jerusalem.

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    • I think we’ll have to reach a critical mass of dogs in the congregation before we can make the Bark Mitzvahs happen. And can you imagine the scheduling issues once all of the dogs start barking to have their ceremonies on the same day?

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  36. I grew up Orthodox, but no one celebrated my Bat Mitzvah. It wasn’t popular years ago. Bar Mitzvahs were celebrated. I would like to have one and bring along my Maltese. Your dogs are adorable.

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    • A lot of the girls I grew up with had bat mitzvah parties but only got to do a little speech, they didn’t get to lead services or read the torah. I think they would have loved getting to do the whole thing! I would be thrilled to see waves of women coming back for a redo and really getting a chance to show off and celebrate.

      Reply
  37. I loved this. We Catholics have no last rites for dogs or any of the meaningful things. This is evidently a problem across all religions. We must rise up and do something.
    Loved your description of your bat mitzvah. What a thrill that must have been to read the Torah!

    Reply

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