by F. Penina Hoffnung
My family is still mortified by the memory: in 2007, I cried every Shabbat in synagogue. I was not making a spectacle of myself loudly, mind you, just quietly weeping as if I were the grandmother of the Bar Mitzvah, not an American Jewish educator on sabbatical in the Negev. I cried so routinely that they began to sit a row away. It wasn’t hormones, or burnout, it was joy and frustration. I was witnessing a professional vision come true. Joy because I saw supplemental, short-term Jewish education that worked; frustration because I couldn’t replicate it, on a technicality.
In the years since, I’ve pondered how to overcome that technicality, and I think I’ve figured it out. But first,
First there’s the ceremony. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah almost singlehandedly conducted Friday and Saturday’s prayers, chanted Torah and Haftarah, and gave an amazing D’var Torah referencing Talmud. The Bar Mitzvah child’s parent(s) publicly spoke about the impact the Bar Mitzvah process had on them. The president of the congregation presented an intimate biography of the child: interests, hobbies, achievements, friends, pets’ names, the out of town guests’ names and hometowns, without notes. I have no idea how to replicate that: the man’s simply a genius. Then the rabbi, with great fanfare, reviewed all the child preparatory work and then led the audience in loud applause. But I was puddled, because in some cases, less than a year before, the child had never been in a synagogue.