The path to adulthood is full of twists and turns from celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah to leaving home for the first time, the journey fraught with new freedom, new responsibilities and an abundance of complex emotions for both the ‘child’ and the parent.
At Etz Chayim, we offer blessings, prayers and rituals to help parents and children use a Jewish vocabulary to describe this journey and to experience it as richly as possible.
There are so many b’nei mitzvah programs available in Melbourne. How do you know that our Etz Chayim program would be the right one for your child and family? We encourage you to make an informed choice.
Some programs solely focus on the aspect of coming of age and what it means to become an adolescent (rather than a full-fledged adult) – the challenges, the responsibilities, and the benefits. Other programs offer a quick fix –boys learn the minimum 3 verses to read from the Torah, or just learn the bracha (blessing) when being called to the Torah, while girls learn how to bake challah, learn the brachot for candle lighting on Shabbat and deliver a dvar Torah (a speech about either a Jewish value or the Torah portion of the week). Some girls just have a party when they come of age. Other programs are focused on the social values and actions inherent in our Jewish tradition, thus they teach about these values then find opportunities for the children to fulfill the mitzvot based on the social values. Though different emphases, all these programs share the focus on the individual experience with the intended added bonus of group bonding, but no connection to a specific community.
At Etz Chayim, we aim to combine these three elements – understanding the meaning of coming of age, emphasis on understanding and actualising Jewish values, and developing the skills and confidence to read from the Torah and lead a community in prayer – while also learning about Jewish traditions in an egalitarian environment strongly situated within our community. Boys and girls learn together and prepare for their b’nei mitzvah ceremonies based on their abilities and interests rather than their gender. We believe that becoming bar or bat mitzvah endows these children with the gift and responsibility of being a Jewish liaison in the wider Australian community, and thus we aim to prepare them with a well-grounded understanding of our tradition. We also encourage individual thought, challenge, and questioning, enabling the children to make sense of Judaism on their own terms. We believe that be encouraging our b’nei mitzvah students to “own their Judaism” they will feel a sense of authenticity and pride in their Jewish identity and value and cherish both the preparatory experience and the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony.
At Etz Chayim, we recognise that being Jewish is not only about prayer and the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony, but about making Jewish choices based on Jewish values. As the Israelites said after G-d gave them the 10 commandments – naaseh v’nishma – we will do and we will hear (and understand), we too impress upon our students and their families the importance of action, and they embark upon their mitzvah projects and encourage their participation in wider events consistent with our Jewish values.
We also emphasise the importance of family and community, welcoming parents, siblings, and grandparents to their presentations, encouraging learning about both their own family stories and the stories of our Jewish people. We also encourage them to participate in communal events reminding them that becoming bar or bat mitzvah is not just something celebrated in their family, but in the wider Jewish world, their larger family.
As the Mishna says, “According to the effort is the reward”(Pirkei Avot 6:26). In other words, the more they put into the process the more meaningful the process becomes. We ask a lot of our students and their families. And, for most, they are incredibly grateful for the experience.
Our b’nei mitzvah program is not a quick fix, nor simply about coming of age or about male or female identity, or a series of social action excursions. Our program is a deeply thoughtful and fun opportunity for children to explore their Jewish identity, learn about Judaism and find ways to make it most meaningful and relevant to them, gain skills and confidence to lead a service and read from the Torah, to learn about Jewish values and perform Jewish actions actualising those values, to mix with other boys and girls of a similar age from different schools and backgrounds, to experience what it means to be part of a community, and to make themselves and their families extremely proud.
This year, we will be combining our pre-bnei mitzvah students with our b’nei mitzvah students with a healthy balance of discussions, presentations, and games. Classes meet Thursdays from 4:30-6:30pm commencing the 6th of February.For more information, contact Rabbi Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office 9563 9208.