Bringing Meaning to Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

We are pleased to feature this guest blog by Rabbi Deborah Silver, serving Adat Ari El in Valley Village, California.

We live in a world made up of stories.

When we’re young, we don’t really notice that even the objects around us have stories.  We can probably all remember how, as children, we desperately wanted a particular cereal,  toy, or computer game.  We might also remember how it felt not to get what we wanted.  But we probably didn’t ask ourselves about the story of that product – where it came from, how it was manufactured, how it made the journey from its place of origin to our living rooms.

It’s a sad fact of life that the ceremonies that mark the way stations of our lives have also been commercialized.  At the time of Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the worry about decorations, centerpieces and invitation design can all but subsume the moment at which a young person takes their first steps into being counted as a member of the greater Jewish community.  And while the gifts and money are exciting, Bar and Bat Mitzvah is a wonderful opportunity to remind the young person concerned that they have a heart and a conscience, and that everything has a story.

To become responsible for the mitzvot – which is the true heart of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah rite – means asking questions.  What is the story of this object, and how am I part of that story?  Where does this object come from?  Do I really need it at all?  Can I recycle it once I have had my use of it?  In purchasing it, am I making the right choice?

In the spirit of reminding our young people of the goodness of their own hearts at this special moment in their lives, we give them the gift of a kippah that comes with a story.  For this latest cycle, we have chosen to give them kippot made by Mayan Hands, together with a letter explaining the origins of the kippah and the community from which it came.

By doing this, we hope to remind them that they are part of a greater whole, a whole in which choices matter, stories matter, and in which they themselves can be agents for fairness, compassion and change.