My son is in the 7th grade, which means he is in the middle of his bar mitzvah year. It has been an exciting and busy time for him. In addition to preparing for and having his own bar mitzvah, he has been fortunate to be invited to celebrate at the bar and bat mitzvahs of many of his friends.
Of course, he has had a lot of fun attending all the great parties. But beyond that, this year has allowed him to learn valuable life lessons including…
1. The satisfaction of accomplishing a goal
Many of us take for granted that our children are going to become b’nai mitzvahs because we know so many children that have already accomplished this goal. But it is still pretty awesome! Our kids learn a foreign language and then speak (and sing) in this language in front of a large audience of their friends, family, and sometimes even total strangers. My son had doubts when he started this process and voiced concerns over embarrassing himself publically. But he had nothing to be worried about. With a lot of hard work and the support of a great tutor, he was able to confidently lead the temple service and beautifully read from the Torah. My husband and I were incredibly proud of him, and even more important, he was really proud of himself.
2. Prayers and Blessings
My son has spent more time at Temple Bnai Jeshurun the past few months than he did in the last 13 years combined. In addition to attending services during the High Holidays, my son has been there almost weekly for his friends’ Saturday services as well as a few Friday nights. He also went weekly for his own bar mitzvah lessons and studied Torah at home daily. While Hebrew school certainly teaches kids the basics, my son will learn more this year because he is submerged in prayers and blessings on a regular basis. This should make him much more comfortable in temple and willing to participate.
3. Wearing dress clothes
Prior to this year, my son’s idea of “dressed up” was wearing his athletic pants that did not have a hole in the knee. It has been a treat for me to see him get all dressed up, and even he has started to embrace his more formal attire. Trying to figure out what to wear to special occasions can be a challenge even for grown ups. The b’nai mitzvah year has given my son the chance to learn the difference between “cocktail attire,” “club attire,” and “smart casual” preferred (although I am starting to think the only thing boys change regardless of the dress code is the shoes). Dressing up sets the tone for behaving a certain way, which leads us to the next lesson…
The year has been a great opportunity for me to teach my son about manners. We have discussed at length how to be a good guest. When you get an invite, RSVP on time. If you accept an invitation, show up. If you have to arrive at the service late, walk in quietly. In services, pay attention. Don’t talk (or whisper) or play on your phone. Don’t be destructive—even if you think you are just “goofing around,” it’s not OK. Congratulate the b’nai mitzvah and let them know they did a great job. Be an active party guest—dance, eat, and engage with friends (again, stay off the phone). When you arrive or leave, if you can, thank the host for inviting you. And after your own bar mitzvah, send timely, handwritten thank you notes.
5. Supporting friends
On the Friday night of my own son’s bar mitzvah service, a handful of his close friends came to support him. Seeing them in the audience made my son smile. As his family, my son knew we would be there to watch him. But his friends gave up their Friday night, put on dress clothes, and sat in temple for over an hour just because he is important to them. That was pretty powerful. The next day I was pleasantly surprised by the number of kids who attended the service—especially since the party wasn’t until the evening and a lot of them missed other events (like sports) to be there. Friendships at this age can change, but throughout the weekend, my son felt truly supported by his friends. It is a feeling he wants to pass on as he attends the bar and bat mitzvahs of his peers.