We’re in the final weeks of preparing for our twin sons’ bar mitzvah, and one of the things on our never-ending To Do list is a simple video. Our goal is to chronicle our boys’ development from cute newborns to precocious teens without boring our guests in the process.
In planning the video — actually a Power Point presentation with photos of our kids, our family and friends — I kept in mind a Jewish Week essay by Erica Brown called “Not Another Video, Please.”
The essay, which urges parents to skip the video chronicling their bar/bat mitzvah child’s life and to instead focus on Jewish matters of substance, has stuck with me, even if I disagree with some of Brown’s assertions.
Brown bemoans the fact that bar/bat mitzvah videos “are boring” because, “let’s face it, pre-adolescent children just aren’t that interesting. They don’t have a story. And a simcha is not a time to subject a captive audience to today’s equivalent of your home videos. Do that on your own time, even if you are paying for the meal.”
Most of the speeches and poems presented at the simcha are just as boring, Brown says, and people sit through them solely due to a sense of “social reciprocity.”
Brown asserts that the bar/bat mitzvah “is not a celebration of the child.” Rather, it is “a marker of a major transition in the life of a Jewish person, when he or she takes on the responsibilities” of the Jewish community. These include tithing, visiting the sick and “attuning oneself to the grammar of compassion that is foundational to Judaism.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Brown that a bar/bat mitzvah celebration should include overt Jewish content, which is why our kids’ video and speeches will put their mitzvah projects — feeding hungry people in Israel and cleaning up the streets of Jerusalem — front and center.
I agree, as Brown states, that our children should strive to donate some of their bar mitzvah gifts to tzedakah and that the celebration should include references to Israel (where we live) and the Jewish people.
And I agree that a few of our guests might find the video and speeches boring, just as I’m sometimes bored by interminable simcha dancing. You can’t please everyone.
I feel, however, that family videos, sappy poems and a short dvar Torah have a place in a family birthday celebration, which is what a bar/bat mitzvah party is, after all.
Not long ago we attended the bat mitzvah party of the daughter of good friends. The speeches revealed that she is a budding fashion designer; her dvar Torah, based on the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, expertly examined the many instances of clothing in the Torah.
In one evening this shy little girl revealed a passion and talent I didn’t know existed.
During a recent bar mitzvah ceremony the mother of the boy lovingly recalled how she and her family had traveled to Ethiopia in order to adopt him and bring him home.
We hope our bar mitzvah video and a speech or two will help our friends and family, especially the many who live thousands of miles away, gain a greater appreciation for our sons’ accomplishments, from playing in the Jerusalem Little League to their academic achievements.
We believe a bar/bat mitzvah celebration is first and foremost a celebration of the boy or girl, who has spent an entire year attaining the skills needed to read the Torah and (often) parts of the Shabbat service out loud — a skill many, including the girls in our community, continue to employ throughout their lives.
For us personally, revisiting old photos for the presentation was a labor of love and nostalgia.
We believe 12- and 13-year-olds are indeed interesting and have a story all their own, and that it is up to us, the people who love and know them best, to bring our “rough diamonds” to light as we present them to the community that has played a not-insignificant role in their growth and development.
We also want our children and family to know that they and departed loved ones are always with us, close to our hearts.
Finally, by celebrating the lives of our sons, we hope they will feel the love and respect we and many others feel for them as they assume what we hope will be an active role in the Jewish community. Because, as Brown said, a bar/bat mitzvah is a marker of a major transition.
Michele Chabin, an Israel correspondent for the paper, is writing a practical “Guide to Jewish Mitzvah, Chesed and Kindness Projects.”