In this month of Passover, as we talk about the people of Israel marching through the divided waters and crossing the Sea of Reeds, it is a great time to reflect on one of the significant rites of passage here at Temple Beth Shalom. Much of my time is spent on the Bar and Bat Mitzvah experience. As I watch our students and families, we have the rite down, but we are having trouble with an important part of the passage. This may be an unexpected image, but at the end of a funeral, the community of support forms two rows so that mourners can pass between the people and receive comfort from friends and community. If we do this in a moment of tzuris, why aren’t we doing this in simcha? Don’t get me wrong, people come to B’nai Mitzvah here, but often not our congregants. It is the friends and family of the student. While there are bodies in the seats, it has a different energy. Our members don’t witness our young people, who we invest so much time and resources into, becoming Jewish adults. In turn, students don’t see the adults of this congregation, welcoming them.
Over the years, I have heard many reasons why folks don’t come to Bar or Bat Mitzvah services. People assume that if they don’t have an invitation they would be intruding on the event. A few years ago we started placing an announcement and biography of our students in the Scroll for the sake of signaling to our congregants that they are welcome. While the service is centered around a particular Bar or Bat Mitzvah candidate and his/her family, it is still a service for our congregation. The students are leading for the sake of the community. We were hoping that with this announcement, some of our members would come to show support, or at least be aware who is becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
Others have said that if they are not invited and come to the Kiddush, they will be placing a financial burden on the hosting family. This is certainly a consideration, but should not constrain us from a minyan of our congregation coming to support our students. In fact, we tell families that 10 people from our community come on Saturday morning. We have had this in our head for a long time, we just have never said it out loud in this fashion.
Finally, I have seen over the years that Saturday morning is a hard time to draw a minyan together. Whether Shabbat at the Shore, Torah Study or the Conservative Minhag service, we average 7-12 people. People say that 9:30 is early, or that the golf course beckons, or we have to go to the grandkids. All of these statements are true and yet, too many people are finding reasons not to come and are denying us of a minyan. We don’t need everyone all of the time, or most people most of the time, just some of the people, each and every time. Just like when we call for a minyan of memory, somehow ten to fifteen people convene to create a community, even if it is for a stranger. We need that same energy for our simchas as well. You might think that you are just one, that it won’t make a difference. One person makes the difference in a completely irrational way. One Shabbat morning, we only had nine people. We were just short of our minyan and would not have had the Torah service or been able to read Kaddish for mourners. So I stepped out to call my daughter, Anna, who had recently become Bat Mitzvah to help us complete the minyan. Of course by the time she arrived, we had not only ten people, but 3 more had arrived and we were up to fourteen people. She gave me the “Dad” grief. “You said you needed me.” I have a feeling that if I had not called, and Anna had not agreed to come, somehow the forces that brought the others to our services would not have done its “magic”, and we would have still been stuck at nine people. Yes, it is irrational, magical, but intuitively I feel that it is true. When a minyan of folks make an effort to make community, God meets us halfway, partners with us and draws more participants for our community forward.
As Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said, “All the world is a narrow bridge and success lies in not being afraid to cross.” We are the bucket brigade. We need the individual participants to act collectively and carry the energy of our community forward. In this case, we need your help to lead our youth into a hopeful, meaningful and peaceful future, full of possibility.
Rabbi Michael Birnholz