As you know, our son Toby had his bar mitzvah earlier this month. While events with family are always a blessing, I can honestly be relieved at this moment that people have gotten safely home and Toby himself can relax because all that hard work is behind him.
This feeling of relief got me thinking. As a rabbi, I hate when people say to kids “you’re done!” right after they become bar/bat mitzvah, but here I was, essentially doing the same thing. And yes, in reality, we are done with a huge milestone. The party is over, studying that portion is over, writing the speech is over. There is absolutely an ending – multiple endings, in fact – in this moment. The end to a child’s ritual childhood, the end that comes with accomplishing a task for which you’ve had to prepare a long time. The baker has finished the cake. The runner has finished the race. The writer has finished their book.
But in this ending, as in the examples above, there is also the fertile ground for a new beginning. As the philosopher Seneca wrote (and Semisonic sang), “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” So while Toby’s time at Sinai School is behind him, the party is behind us, and Ignacio gets an hour of his week back from tutoring, there is space for all of us where before we were working on something else. Perhaps after a short rest, we can all turn our attention to the next project.
The b’nai mitzvah process, while an end of sorts, is meant to usher young adults into their adult life in the synagogue. The learning and study is meant to teach them the skills they need to be involved Jewish adults in our community. One of the biggest tragedies of modern Jewish life are the families who disappear after their youngest child becomes bar/bat mitzvah, because it means we haven’t found a place for anyone in that family to contribute their talents to the good of the community.
I talk to a lot of parents who bemoan their lack of Hebrew skills, feel guilty about their disinterest in or ability to get to services, who keep themselves on the periphery of Jewish life because they’re not sure whether they are into the rituals that so often take over synagogue life. But these people are often adults who can and do contribute in other meaningful ways – they organize the Purim carnival for our youngest kids, they become board members who help us manage our finances responsibly, they keep the kitchen clean and functioning so our community can use it, they volunteer their time to help with service projects or cleaning out classrooms.
These are all adult contributions, and these contributions are the things that keep our community moving. If everyone just came to services and nobody volunteered their expertise in other ways, our community would be in deep trouble. So I invite you to take some time and think: what is it that I have to contribute? Not everyone can chant Torah at the High Holidays, but not everyone can fill a CFO position either. As we come out of the end of the pandemic (may it come speedily and in our days), we should consider the ways we can all contribute on an adult level to make our community strong and whole for everyone who walks through our doors.
Rabbi Sara Zober