In Jewish tradition, a young person begins to take on the rights and responsibilities of an adult in the religious community at the age of thirteen. At that age, a boy becomes a “bar mitzvah,” which means a “son of the commandments.” A girl becomes a “bat mitzvah,” or “daughter of the commandments.” The plural is “b’nai mitzvah” — children of the commandments — which also is a term used by some children who identify as non-binary. B’nai mitzvah generally occurs during a student’s 7th or 8th grade school year, about halfway through the arc of their Jewish education.
The congregation welcomes every child who becomes B’nai Mitzvah at Rodeph Shalom to become a full spiritual member of the community. From this point forwards, privileges may be given to B’nai Mitzvah, including the ability to be called to the Torah for an aliyah and to be counted towards a minyan, and they may choose to take on responsibilities such as fasting on Yom Kippur and lighting candles on Shabbat.
During the Shabbat morning service on the day of becoming b’nai mitzvah, students are given several honors: leading the congregation in prayer, carrying a Torah during the hakafah, chanting from Torah and Haftarah, and offering a D’var Torah to share their personal thoughts on their Torah portion and on their journey to this life cycle moment, relating the meaning of our sacred texts to our lives today.
At Rodeph Shalom, a child becoming B’nai Mitzvah is a family experience. Parents and caregivers meet with the clergy to understand the process and, most importantly, the meaning of becoming B’nai Mitzvah. The whole family supports the child in their studies during the months leading up to the service and in their continuing Jewish education. The family is encouraged to attend Shabbat services on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, to become comfortable with the prayers and melodies so that the service on the day of the B’nai Mitzvah can be meaningful and relaxed for the child and their family members