B’nai Mitzvah Guide
The purpose of this guide is to describe and explain the philosophy and policies related to the celebration of Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth Ami. It is suggested that you read this guide carefully, because it will answer many of the questions you may have.
It is the responsibility and pleasure of the Temple staff, clergy, and volunteers to help you with your preparation in whatever way they can. If you have questions, frustrations, anxieties, suggestions, please feel free to call the office for assistance.
Debbie Ezrin, Executive Director
HOW WE UNDERSTAND BAR AND BAT MITZVAH
Measured in the broad span of Jewish history, the ceremony called Bar Mitzvah entered the scene rather recently. Only in the fourteenth century do we find young men of thirteen years called to the Torah to become “sons of the commandment”. There was no similar ceremony for women.
In our time, Reform Judaism has championed the religious equality of men and women and has introduced a Bat Mitzvah ceremony, where a young woman can publicly accept her religious responsibilities.
The thirteenth birthday traditionally marked the time when Jews became religiously adult, when they ceased being the “children of Jewish parents” and became Jews in their own right. From that day, they were responsible for fulfilling the Mitzvot – the religious precepts. The newly enfranchised Jew celebrated the occasion in the synagogue by exercising the most basic of their privileges and responsibilities: reading from the Torah and leading a religious service. Bar and Bat Mitzvah marks the first time a young person is able to read from the Torah and lead the congregation in prayer; this, indeed, is a milestone in Jewish life and a joyous occasion for their entire family and the congregation.
To lead and to teach, such are the ways of young adult Jews celebrating their coming of age. The ceremonies of Bar and Bat Mitzvah are not goals or ends in themselves; they represent beginnings, first steps on the lifelong path of Jewish responsibility. It is the fervent hope of our congregation that, as each child assumes the role of an adult Jew, they will become a life-long learner and a credit to the House of Israel.
Temple Beth Ami expects the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, as a full-fledged member of our religious community, to take their responsibility seriously by participating in worship services and by continuing their Jewish education through Confirmation and beyond. Please remember, becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is not a party. It is not even simply a ceremony at the Temple or an event that happens only once. Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the acceptance of a responsibility. One becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah – the son or daughter of the Mitzvot – for their entire life. The celebration lasts for a few moments; the commitment is forever
WHO MAY BECOME A BAR/BAT MITZVAH AT TEMPLE BETH AMI
Bar/Bat Mitzvah may be celebrated by a child of a Temple member who has reached or passed his or her thirteenth birthday and has successfully completed the required program of preparation. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah candidate must be a student in good standing in the appropriate religious school program at the time of Bar/Bat Mitzvah and is required as a minimum to continue their studies through the completion of eighth grade, with the expectation of continuing through Confirmation and beyond. Families of children who are not able to meet these requirements must discuss their particular situation with the Clergy and Director of Education prior to the start of the date assignment process.
It is the intent of Temple Beth Ami to make possible the celebration of Bar/Bat Mitzvah for all interested families and their children. In the case of children with special learning needs, the Rabbis, Cantor and the Director of Education will help parents establish appropriate guidelines for instruction, preparation and participation, so the child and family can experience the satisfaction of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration.
It is required that members be current in all financial obligations to the Temple prior to receiving a date and starting tutoring, and at least six weeks prior to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah; any special arrangements must be made with the financial secretary.
BAR/BAT MITZVAH PREPARATION
At the successful completion of the sixth grade of religious school and with simultaneous enrollment in the appropriate religious school program, a candidate for Bar/Bat Mitzvah undertakes a course of study to prepare for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony. This course of study is meant to teach each student the skills necessary to read a Torah and Haftarah portion, to participate in the Shabbat service, and to analyze and explain the significance of the particular portion assigned to him or her. Students and their families receive their particular Torah and Haftorah portion at a “Torah and Tutoring” class with the Cantor, seven to nine months before their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The Cantor shares many helpful tips to successfully learn the portions and offer resources to unlocking their meaning. Each student has the benefit of the Cantor’s guidance. Midway through the preparation of their Torah and Haftorah portions, students again meet with the Cantor. The purpose of this meeting is to review the student’s progress and to provide the student with the Cantor’s expert assistance and advice. The Cantor may also offer suggestions to the student, or to the tutor, regarding techniques that enable the student to prepare more comfortably and effectively.
The congregation currently provides individual instruction for all our students with highly skilled and competent tutors. We have a variety of tutors on our Temple Beth Ami Staff, supervised by our Cantor. The Cantor, in coordination with the Director of Education assigns the tutors. Please contact the Cantor if you have any special concerns or requests. Tutoring begins with the mastering of Torah and Haftarah blessings and a review of trope (the system for chanting the Torah and Haftarah portions) that was taught in the spring semester of sixth grade by the Cantor. This is followed by a period of instruction, which emphasizes the mastery of the particular Torah and Haftarah portion assigned to each Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The entire course of private study is currently designed for completion in 14 weeks.
Students are assigned on a sequential basis permitting the Temple to monitor each student’s program more closely and to provide the tutors with a sufficient and balanced schedule of students throughout the year. Each family must own the Torah, A Commentary by Plaut (available for purchase in the Temple office). The congregation provides an effective and well-planned program for Bar/Bar Mitzvah preparation. Any family interested in an alternative program of preparation must contact the Cantor before making any alternative arrangements. Financial arrangements for private tutoring are to be negotiated between the family and the tutor. In such circumstances, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah fee will be adjusted accordingly. Please notify the Executive Director or Administrator if such an adjustment is necessary.
The Assistant/Associate Rabbi will meet with each Bar/Bat Mitzvah and their parents
in small groups prior to a Shabbat morning service. About an hour will be spent talking about the service and the honors available during the service for family and friends. The Assistant/Associate Rabbi will explain the options, as well as reviewing the resources available to aid the families in preparation for their service.
The speeches that introduce the Torah and Haftarah plus the student’s personal remarks provide an opportunity for each Bar/Bat Mitzvah to thoughtfully express some of their insights, interests and feelings to the congregation. Our Rabbis have a special role in helping each student prepare these important elements.
Our Senior Rabbi meets with small groups of students and their families approximately 3 months prior to the date of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah. The Rabbi explains the process for creating the 2 speeches to be prepared by each student for the ceremony, an introduction to the Torah and Haftorah portions and their personal remarks. This meeting includes the presentation of a text as a gift to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah from the staff and teachers of the congregation. This text, Pirke Avot (The Wisdom of the Sages), is a classic collection of rabbinic teachings emphasizing ethics, morality and civility. After participating in the study session with the Senior Rabbi, the student and their family will be asked to choose one reading among the many in Pirke Avot which is of special significance to the student and to base the student’s personal remarks on that passage. One of the Rabbis meets individually
with each student and their parents in order to guide and assist them in completing personal remarks. Each student also meets individually with one of the Rabbis several times in order to complete the Torah and Haftorah introductions.
This combination of small-group and one-on-one learning with the congregation’s clergy is an important and integral part of Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation at Temple Beth Ami. It gives each student and their family an opportunity for study and discussion with our Rabbis and our Cantor. It provides a framework for preparing portions and remarks that emphasize the importance of our B’nai Mitzvah and the significance of their accomplishments to the entire Temple community. Valuable relationships are established or strengthened between clergy, students and families, and between the interests of the students and the insights to be found in the classic texts of Judaism.
Approximately four weeks prior to the date of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebration, the student begins a series of weekly meetings with one of the Clergy. During this time, the student will review all the prepared material and practice reading from the Torah scroll. All the meetings, both group and individual, are coordinated by the Clergy Assistant.
- THE BAR/BAT MITZVAH SERVICE
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah student is invited to participate in either a Shabbat morning or Shabbat afternoon service (held only during non-daylight saving time months). At the Shabbat morning and Shabbat afternoon services, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah chants or recites the blessings before and after the Torah and Haftarah portions as well as the portions themselves. Each student also helps to lead a part of the prayer liturgy. The student writes, with the guidance of the Rabbis, brief introductions to the Torah and Haftarah portions and prepares personal remarks.
A Rosh Chodesh service is available as well. A child who becomes Bar/Bat Mitzvah on Rosh Chodesh will read a Torah portion and a Haftarah portion. The student also prepares an introduction to the Torah and Haftarah portions and a Pirke Avot speech in which personal remarks are expected. The requirements for a Rosh Chodesh service are exactly the same as the requirements for a Saturday morning or a Saturday afternoon service.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah and their family are encouraged to participate in the
planning of the Shabbat service at which the child becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Families will use the Mishkan T’filah Siddur and are encouraged to make choices concerning the liturgy and the music of the service. Here, again, the Rabbis and Cantor will meet with each family and assist them in personalizing the service.
1) Family Participation in Service:
Presenting the Tallit: The Bar/Bat Mitzvah child may choose to wear a tallit and to be presented with that tallit at the beginning of the service from the bima by one or two family members. This honor is most appropriately given to those persons who themselves wear a
tallit in services. Alternatively, the child may choose to wear a tallit, but not be formally presented with the tallit in services.
Undressing/Dressing the Torah: This honor requires two Jewish adults. A child may participate as an additional third person. Often this honor is appropriate for a younger sibling. If two families are sharing the service, this honor is shared as well. The family of the child who is chanting from the Torah first usually undresses the Torah, and the second child’s family dresses the Torah at the conclusion of the Torah service.
Participation in the Service: Each family may choose up to three additional opportunities for participation, either in the form of one or two aliyot to the Torah or readings in the service, to a total of three honors.
Readings: Readings in the service may be assigned to family members from the Siddur. Our Rabbis and Cantor are happy to help you select readings which are most appropriate for the individuals you wish to honor, including non-Jewish family members.
Family Aliyah: In addition to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child, the family may invite others to share the honor of being called to the Torah by their Hebrew names for an aliyah (to recite the blessings before and after the Torah is read. The blessings are recited in Hebrew).
Often Jewish parents, grandparents, or an older sibling who has celebrated Bar/Bat Mitzvah receive this honor. Each family may assign up to two family aliyot.
The congregation encourages the parents of our B’nai Mitzvah to take advantage of the opportunity to bless their children in front of the open Ark. This opportunity is available to every family. In order to assist you in formulating a blessing that is both personal and appropriate, you will find examples included in your parents’ bar/bat Mitzvah binder. Any of these blessings can be used “as is” to express your sentiments on this special occasion. They can also be used as guidelines if you choose to compose a completely original blessing. The Rabbis and Cantor would be delighted to help you select a blessing or review and approve one that you have written yourself. If you wish to write a very brief paragraph before the blessing, please bring the copy to the family meeting for the Rabbis to approve.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah families are encouraged to attend services on the Friday evening prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah; the B’nai Mitzvah present on Friday evenings will be invited to assist the Cantor in leading Kiddush and motzi at the end of services. Families are also invited to
participate in Shabbat candle lighting.
2) Pulpit Staff
It is the policy of Temple Beth Ami that the Rabbi or Assistant /Associate Rabbi and a Cantor will officiate at the service.
3) Time of Services
Bar/Bat Mitzvah services begin promptly at: Shabbat morning 10:30 am; Shabbat afternoon, 5:30 pm. Please indicate the correct time on your invitations; putting an earlier time in order that guests arrive on time causes serious problems for the staff.
4) Kippot and Tallitot
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah is encouraged to wear a kippah and/or tallit during the service. Please discuss your preference with the Rabbis and/or Cantor at a family meeting.
5) Photography and Recording
No pictures may be taken by any person during the service itself. You may, however, take posed pictures after the service; pictures may be taken during the week before the service. These must be scheduled in advance with the Temple office. Audio-recordings and/or video recordings are made using Temple equipment; please inform your Usher Captain. You must use the Temple’s videotapes, which can be purchased through the Temple office at least two weeks in advance.
It is expected that family and guests attending a Shabbat service will dress appropriately for a religious service. Remember, your child is sitting on the bimah; dress length should be considered. No sleeveless, strapless or backless dresses are permitted to be worn by anyone who will be on the bimah during the service. Anyone inappropriately or immodestly dressed will be asked to wear a sweater or coat during the service (this happens most often when the service takes place on Shabbat afternoon, followed immediately by an evening reception). Neither the Bar Mitzvah nor any member of the family of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, who will be on the bimah, may wear a tuxedo.
7) Electronic Devices:
All cell phones and other electronic devices are prohibited during services.
A Bar/Bat Mitzvah date is assigned to your child for a Shabbat service on or after their thirteenth birthday (according to the secular calendar), during the year of their thirteenth birthday (pending other circumstances of which you would be made aware in advance).
Since we are fortunate to have a large number of children becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah each year, at most Shabbat services two children share the occasion. In order to insure the most positive experience for each student, care is taken to pair children of similar ability. The few dates, which initially appear as singles will likely be changed to doubles as the need arises. Families will be notified immediately of additions or changes; less than six months prior to the date, no changes are made without consulting with the family. No more than two children are assigned to any one service. Every aspect of participation available to the child who becomes Bar/Bat Mitzvah as a single is available to the children who share a date.
Although there is very little opportunity for date changes, requests for changes are considered. Requests must be received in writing (no requests will be considered if not submitted in writing). If an alternate date is offered, the office must be notified of your acceptance or rejection of the date within 48 hours of the offer, or the date will be considered available for another family.
Although we encourage you to consider both, if you are planning for your child to become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Israel and do not plan to celebrate in our sanctuary, please notify the office as soon as possible to relinquish your scheduled date, so we may offer it to another family.
In addition to the normal yearly fees of dues, religious school, capital assessment and, where applicable, Building Fund, you should anticipate the following expenses:
- a) A Bar/Bat Mitzvah fee, which is set annually by the congregation. This one-time fee is inclusive; there are no further fees for regular Bar/Bat Mitzvah instruction, custodial services or other Temple support. This fee is billed the fiscal year following the one in which you receive your date assignment. Fees for an extended Kiddush, or building rental are additional and are billed during the fiscal year in which your simcha occurs. You must be current in all financial obligations at least six weeks prior to your Bar/Bat Mitzvah date.
Additional expenses you may incur:
- a) Kiddush (a simple Kiddush of wine and challah must be provided for the congregation): you may expand if you wish
- b) Oneg Shabbat – you wish to participate in the sponsorship of the Oneg Shabbat on the Erev Shabbat prior to the Shabbat service
- c) Kippot (if being personalized)
- d) Fee for use of Social Hall and kitchen for private reception
- e) Contributions to a Temple fund in honor of the occasion
To assure that your family and friends feel welcome and to give each family the opportunity to help another family, each Bar/Bat Mitzvah family is expected to serve as ushers at two or three Bar/Bat Mitzvah services, at least one to be completed prior to your child’s becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Ushers are expected to greet worshipers, seat latecomers and maintain decorum during the service. Following the service, they collect books; pass out wine, white grape juice and challah. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Kiddush Committee contacts you several months before your simcha to attend a meeting at which your responsibilities are explained in detail and dates for helping will be selected
KIDDUSH AND REFRESHMENTS
It is the obligation of the family of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah to provide a Kiddush following the Shabbat morning or Shabbat afternoon service. Wine (white grape juice for children) and challah for all those attending the service are minimum requirements. Pastries, coffee, tea, punch or a simple buffet luncheon (extended Kiddush) are optional.
All private functions, including extended Kiddushim, luncheons, or dinners, must be scheduled in advance through the Temple office. Bar/Bat Mitzvah families who are sharing a date must confer with each other to insure equitable use of Temple facilities. If both families elect to have a simple Kiddush following the service, it must be held jointly. If both families desire an extended Kiddush, it can be shared or held separately. All questions concerning scheduling of Temple facilities should be directed to the Temple Administrator.
Temple Beth Ami is committed to the work of MAZON, a Jewish response to hunger worldwide. It is suggested that 3% of everything spent on food for your simcha be donated to MAZON. Table cards, donation envelopes and additional information are available in the office.
Families are invited to participate in sponsoring the Erev Shabbat Oneg prior to the service at which their child will become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Please contact the Temple office.
DELIVERIES AND KITCHEN
All arrangements must be cleared through the office in advance. All deliveries must be made before 3 pm on Friday or during the two hour allotted setup time to the rear of the building. Since there may be other congregational activities planned, please check with the Temple office to be certain that you may have use of the freezers, refrigerators and kitchen space.
SPECIAL SERVICES AVAILABLE
The congregation has large print prayer books and assisted listening devices available for use during the services. Special arrangements can also be made for sign interpretation. The bimah is accessible for people in wheelchairs. Please contact the office in advance to make any special arrangements.
A room can be made available for babysitting during services by request. You must provide the babysitter, toys, etc. and are expected to clean up afterward.
Upon request a quiet room is available for parents with very young children. This room will be equipped with a closed-circuit TV through which the sanctuary service can be viewed. Sound is currently able to be piped into the Alef/Bet Conference Room and the lobby.
All rentals, including an extended Kiddush, must be scheduled in advance through the Temple office. All accounts must be current in order to rent the Temple, and the rental fees must be paid in full no later that 60 days prior to the event. All caterers and vendors must provide the Temple with a copy of their insurance and a signed equipment use waiver at least 60 days in advance of the event. Private security personnel must be hired by the family for each rental (a list of names is provided by the Temple). All extra equipment (i.e. stages) must be cleared with the Administrator prior to renting the equipment.
There are a number of opportunities available for those becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth Ami to share their day with others who were not able to experience this simcha. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah twinning experience is a unique opportunity designed to carry on the tradition of uniting Jews with their peers around the world. There are currently several ways in which our students can fulfill this mitzvah.
Underprivileged Jews in the former Soviet Union and in Israel: The Reform World Appeal through ARZA/World Union can link your child to an underprivileged or special needs student in one of the Progressive Movement’s congregations in Israel or the former Soviet Union. Information is available in the Temple office, or you may contact ARZA/WORLD UNION, 212-650-4280, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website is rj.org/arzawuna.
Jews in the Former Soviet Union: Chicago Action for Jews in the former Soviet Union (CASJ) is a grassroots human rights organization and has been the voice of Jews in the Soviet Union since 1972 and is dedicated to the rescue and sustenance of the Jews in the former Soviet Union, the third largest Jewish community in the world. Information is available in the office, or you may contact them at 847-433-0144 or by e-mail at CASJ1@aol.com.
Ethiopian Jews: Educating the public about the plight of the 10,000 – 15,000 Jews who remain in Ethiopia is one of the goals of this twinning project. The Ethiopian twin is one of thousands of children who remain in Ethiopia; conditions still exist such that last names are not given out because of the fear of anti-Semitism. The Ethiopian twinning information suggests ways for making your twinning an integral substantive part of your ceremony. You may contact Miriam Weisman at the American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry at 212-233-5200, ext. 222 223-6838, to obtain twinning information.
Holocaust Victims: Opportunities exist to remember a particular young person who perished in the Holocaust at the time of your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Because of the extreme sensitivity in these cases, each twinning application is handled on a personal basis. Please call Sam Spiegel, 301-881-2454 for further information.
BAR/BAT MITZVAH NOTICES IN THE WASHINGTON JEWISH WEEK
The Washington Jewish Week publishes both a weekly listing of each synagogue’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah schedule, submitted by the Temple office, and an individual write up on each child, submitted by the family. The format includes the child’s name; parents’ name and city of residence; date and location of Bar/Bat Mitzvah; family members joining, including siblings and grandparents (include city of residence); and grade and school of child. The child’s black and white or color photo may be submitted with the article if desired, and will be returned only if a self-addressed stamped envelope is enclosed. Please call Elaine Blackman, Social Announcements at the Washington Jewish Week, (301) 230-2222.
ISRAEL QUEST AND NFTY
Studies show that an Israel trip during the teen years is one of the most important experiences for building long-lasting Jewish identity and commitment (Jewish overnight camping is the other). The Temple is a partner with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations to help our youth travel to Israel. Through Israel Quest, students who sign up by the end of 8th grade and meet certain educational requirements, are given a significant stipend to travel to Israel with a high school program; Israel Quest matches additional funds provided by the Temple. NFTY (National Federation of Temple Youth) provides each Bar/Bat Mitzvah student with a gift certificate redeemable on a NFTY trip to Israel. For further information, contact the Religious School or the Assistant/Associate Rabbi.
DIRECTIONS TO THE TEMPLE – 14330 Travilah Road
From I-270, take Exit 6-B (Rte. 28 West) to Darnestown Road (approximately ½ mile). Turn left onto Darnestown Road. Follow Darnestown Road approximate 2 miles to Travilah Road (just past Travilah Shopping Center). Turn left onto Travilah Road. Temple Beth Ami is the second driveway on the right.
It is customary to invite those involved in preparing your children — the Rabbi, Assistant/Associate Rabbi, Cantor, Education Director, tutors and/or special teachers to share in your simcha. The office is available to answer the many questions you may have. Notebooks with helpful information, provided by families who have already completed this process, are available in the office and the library for you to look through. Please remember to take your prayer books, chumashim, speeches, certificates, printed services, tapes and gifts home with you! If left at the Temple, they will be assimilated into our regular inventory or disposed of. The Temple cannot be responsible for items left in the building. Guests may not take Temple prayer books from the Sanctuary.
BAR/BAT MITZVAH CHRONOLOGY
In November (January – July dates) or June (August – December) prior to your date
– Ushering Meeting.
Seven to nine months before Bar/Bat Mitzvah date
– Parents’ meeting with Cantor to receive Torah/Haftorah portion and tutor
Five to six months before Bar/Bat Mitzvah date
– Students begin tutoring.
Six to eight months before Bar/Bat Mitzvah date
– A letter inviting you and your child to observe a Shabbat Morning Service and meet before with the Assistant/Associate Rabbi to discuss the service honors.
Three to four months before Bar/Bat Mitzvah date
– Meet with the Senior Rabbi to discuss the significance of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Service, the Torah and Haftorah speeches and to begin the process of preparing personal remarks.
The Assistant to the Clergy will be calling you to schedule:
– Half-hour appointments with the Assistant/Associate Rabbi to prepare the Torah and Haftarah speeches
-Half-hour appointments with the Senior Rabbi for both parents and student to review the personal speech
– Half-hour appointment with the Cantor for tutoring check-up
– Rehearsals in the Sanctuary consisting of: Half hour appointments with either Rabbi, starting the fourth week before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah; a parent must be present
– An hour meeting with your family and, if a double, the family with whom you are sharing your date, to review the content of the service. This is usually held two weeks before the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. You must have your readings and/or songs you have chosen to be included in the Temple service supplement or your completed service booklet.
– A final rehearsal in the Sanctuary with either Rabbi during the week of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Up to an hour of Sanctuary time may be scheduled so that you may have a photographer and/or videographer present.
Two months before Bar/Bat Mitzvah date
– Newsletter and certificate information forms (sent to you six months prior to your child’s date) should be handed in to the Temple office.
One week before Bar/Bat Mitzvah date
-All forms with final guest count, service instructions and special arrangements should be completed and handed in to the Temple office.
- If you are sharing a date, have you conferred with the other family regarding the service and Kiddush?
- Have you reserved the Social Hall if you are planning to use it for an Extended Kiddush or party? Have you or the caterers and other vendors (florist, party planner, etc) provided to the Temple office a copy of their insurance, a signed equipment use waiver, and completed room set-up forms (must be turned in one week before)? Have you hired your security person?
- Have you scheduled your photo session with the Clergy Assistant?
- Have you talked with your usher captain?
- Please remember that the office staff is here to be of assistance to you in every way possible.