When its members turn 13, like other synagogues the Secular Jewish Circle provides the gateway to adulthood through a Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony. The difference is that with this humanistic congregation, these teens are not called to the Torah, but they still ascend the bima. Stories from three recent Banot Mitzvah tell the tale.
Why I became a Bat Mitzvah
By Charlotte Gitleman
I don’t think I ever decided to become a Bat Mitzvah. There was never a question that I wouldn’t. Not because it was expected, but because it was important to me. Having my Bat Mitzvah was a way of expressing what being a Jew means to me and saying it out loud to my family, my friends, and my community.
One of the great things about having a secular humanistic Bat Mitzvah is that you can choose the topic of your project, which is always tied to a Jewish value. I chose the value of Jewish learning and, since I’m a writer, I decided to explore Jewish folk tales. I spent months reading different stories. Reading all those stories gave me insight into the Jewish experience in the shtetl and also showed me how Jewish values are passed down through generations. At the end of all that reading, I reinterpreted some of those stories in my own voice.
I have been a part of the Secular Jewish Circle for as long as I can remember. My Bat Mitzvah was a way to cement that I am a part of that community and to be acknowledged as a part of it. Working toward my Bat Mitzvah for two years helped me explore what it means to be a secular humanistic Jew and help me sort out how I want to express my Jewishness. Since my Bat Mitzvah, I continue to be a part of the community by attending Shabbat gatherings, holidays and volunteering as a teacher’s assistant for the Sunday school.
What we do
By Libby Otto
In the Secular Jewish Circle we are required to write two essays. The first essay is called the identity speech. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah is asked to write about his or her identity as a Jew. It made me think about my identity, and it really solidified my relationship with my community and our respective beliefs. The identity speech is different for every person and it can take on many tones.
The second speech is about a Jewish value, and the community service project the Bar or Bat Mitzvah does based on his or her unique value. For my Bat Mitzvah I created and led a seder and tree planting for Tu B’Shevat based on the value of ba’al taschit, or not allowing waste. Another person raised chickens and talked about tikkun olam, repairing the world. Then the Bar or Bat Mitzvah teaches the community about his or her value and what was learned in the service project. The second essay is a confirmation that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is ready to become an emerging adult in the community.
Aside from the essays I also wrote a poem in Hebrew and English, and I worked with my madricha, Susan, to customize the ceremony based on my interests.
Completing the project and writing these essays happens toward the end of the second year of our Sunday school’s B’nai Mitzvah program. In the program we learn about Jewish values, traditions, history and culture. Most of us enter into this program after several years of attending Sunday school. The entire community is invited to attend the ceremony and witness our entrance into young adulthood.
How I changed
By Sanna Horn
I have the feeling that I’ve actually achieved something. This process has prepared me and given me practice for big projects. I studied in-depth on a topic and learned to do research. I learned how to write a speech, which is different in some ways from writing a paper that people read. I have now spoken in front of a large group of over 100 people.
At the beginning I felt nervous and I didn’t feel prepared. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a Bat Mitzvah because I wasn’t sure I could do it. I didn’t feel ready to talk in front of a crowd and I didn’t feel ready to make big speeches. I didn’t feel ready to take a big step forward.
My project included my dog. We bonded while I trained him to be a therapy dog. I am a better owner for my dog. He listens to me and I am better able to react to him and I know how to take care of him.
Now I have gained confidence in myself. I could do research, write and give a speech on my own if needed. I think I gained adults’ respect as well. I learned a lot about myself by listening to what others said about me and paying attention to what I enjoyed. Even though I was nervous about it, I am very glad I did this.