How Beth Ami senior staff members think (Chapter 1: Adult B’nei Mitzvah).
Dear Beth Ami Friends,
Every week, our senior professional team (Rabbi Weiss, Cantor Eschler, Kim Roberts, Paula Sayag, Janice Rosenblatt and myself) get together to talk about, well, all things Beth Ami. We look at upcoming holidays and programs (and those that have just passed), community engagement, the Jewish values we want to bring to each event or initiative we are supporting, and generally at how we can add value to your Beth Ami experience.
Usually, before something comes to the full senior staff, we work singly or in small groups on a concept. When it’s ready (being only half-baked) we bring it to the table for further discussion. The conversation often takes surprising twists and turns before we arrive at our final decision.
For example, every few years we offer an adult b’nei mitzvah process for those who were not able to become b’nei mitzvah when they were kids.
It should be simple, right? After all, we’ve done this before, just offer a class, pick a date and go.
Let me share with you a little story about the Talmud, or rather, Talmudic logic. A teacher describes a certain event to a student. It is late at night, and dark outside. Two thieves sneak into a house by crawling down the chimney, and when they are both in – one of them suddenly decides to wash his face. The teacher asks which one washes, the one who came down first or the one who followed?
Which do you think? Why?
The student thinks about it and says it was the first one, because he would be dirtier having gone down first.
The teacher compliments the student’s excellent reasoning skill, but the student is wrong – it is the other thief! The student thinks about it, and finally realizes what he had missed – that the second thief would have immediately seen how dirty the first thief was and then assumed that he too was dirty – so the second thief would wash. Excellent logic, right? Again, the teacher would complement the student, before informing him that this answer, too, is wrong. It is the first thief after all. So, the student thinks some more and realizes that any house worth robbing would have mirrors inside, and when the first thief saw himself in the mirror he would realize that he was dirty and wash. As you might have guessed by now, the teacher is just getting started, and it doesn’t really matter which thief it was. Rather, the exercise is about how to keep on looking for more angles to understand whatever we are studying.
THIS is how our senior team thinks!
Adult B’nei mitzvah is simple?
First, we need to consider what specific information our students would need for a meaningful and successful experience. This part is straightforward: they will need an Introduction to Judaism class to enrich and challenge their current knowledge of our tradition; they also will need to learn Hebrew and about how the prayer book is organized; and they will need time to prepare for a special service in which they become b’nei mitzvah together by chanting from the Torah.
Great! So, we sit down and schedule out a year of classes: 10 sessions of Introduction to Judaism taught by Rabbi Weiss and myself; 3 consecutive 5-session courses on Hebrew taught by Cantor Eschler, each one advancing the level of proficiency so that every student will feel confident; and several sessions for service prep. We looked carefully at the religious school calendar so that we could be present both for our adult students and our kids and we figured out an entire year’s program.
Yet how do we maximize the meaning and spiritual power of this process? We are still working on that, but, for starters, why not schedule the service to coincide with the Festival of Shavuot – the holiday in which we commemorate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai? In the morning service we celebrate Torah with our confirmation class. Why not make the evening service special by celebrating our adult b’nei mitzvah?
Great, done, we are ready to go. Right?
What should we charge? This is after all a massive investment of resources. And what if we opened parts of the process to everyone? After all, the Introduction to Judaism class is also helpful for conversion students, interfaith couples considering a Jewish marriage, and anyone who is interested in learning more on an adult level. Plus, we regularly get requests for adult Hebrew classes. Wouldn’t it be great if we opened them up to the congregation?
Ok. So, we are going to make the Intro class and the Hebrew available to everyone. How do we explain which parts are just for adult b’nei mitzvah and which parts are for everyone?
Why, with a very complicated flyer of course!
“You are absolutely right,” says the teacher, “But that is not the answer!”
Don’t worry. We will have complicated flyers for you to read. However, we also thought it would be a good idea to share some information here in this article. Which is to say, we are happy to announce that we are offering an adult b’nei mitzvah class, which will start in September and culminate on Erev Shavuot, Saturday evening, June 8. The adult b’nei mitzvah fee will be $300 and will cover everything except for books. If you are interested, please let one of the clergy team know by September 1. We are also happy to announce that we are making the Introduction to Judaism Class (taught on Sunday mornings) and the Hebrew classes (Tuesday evenings) open to the entire congregation for a low fee. We hope that you will join us in learning and celebration. Please look for future announcements with more details, and in the meantime, we hope that you enjoy a relaxing and uncomplicated summer.