In Jewish tradition, the Bnei mitzvah ceremony is the celebration of young person reaching the age of religious majority, an event which would be marked by calling up the young person to the reading of the Torah at the very first opportunity- the Shabbat following the thirteenth birthday.
Nowadays bar/bat/bnei mitzvah means both more and less than the traditional understanding. Everyone is aware of the Bar mitzvah speech cliché that “today I am a man”, and knows too that reaching the teenage years is not achieving adulthood, but marks instead the threshold to maturity. Here at Wimbledon Synagogue we recognise that bnei mitzvah marks the transition into full religious adulthood. The young person is now able to carry out Mitzvot during the service and counts towards the Minyan.. We make the preparation for the bnei mitzvah ceremony as detailed and stretching as possible. This will give the young person as many of the tools as possible for them to approach the texts and traditions of Judaism for themselves, as intelligent and enquiring minds and thoughtful souls. We aim to ground the young person firmly in biblical text and Jewish thought.
The date for the bnei mitzvah ceremony is set in a meeting with the whole year group to which the families are invited. The Shabbat following the young person’s Hebrew birthday is (usually) reserved for the Bnei Mitzvah ceremony, although many choose a date in the weeks and months following, preferring to consider the portion and other things going on in their lives. Bnei Mitzvah are celebrated after the young person’s thirteenth birthday – a Bat Mitzvah is not celebrated earlier in our community.
Bnei mitzvah preparation
This begins in the family and in the Cheder. The young person who undertakes bnei mitzvah must do so within the context of a supportive family and a caring educational system. We expect the young person to be familiar with the synagogue services. The Cheder does teach about this, but there is no substitute for attendance in the synagogue. Just as important is that the young person sees that the family also attends services in the synagogue and that for the family this is an important expression about being Jewish.
The current expectation is that the young person begins to attend regular weekly services (Friday evenings and Saturday mornings) from the age of eleven. Certainly by the age of eleven and a half the young person should be attending every week, so that the service becomes familiar to them. The young person should also go to the Cheder regularly. Bnei mitzvah is not the graduation ceremony marking the end of Cheder. The synagogue expects each young person to continue to the end of the academic year regardless of the month in which their ceremony takes place. This can be followed by a further two years of study culminating in an optional G.C.S.E. In the years leading up the ceremony, we expect the young person to attend every festival service in the synagogue, and to experience the whole of the Rosh Hashanah/ Yom Kippur services. Rabbi Adrian Schell is happy to discuss this requirement with your young person’s head teacher if this would be helpful.
Practicalities: You will hear more about the practicalities of the preparation at the meeting to book the date. However a few points here:
The young person is taught the Hebrew of the portion and the blessings as well as the meaning of the Hebrew with a tutor. They may read or chant the portion.
The young person has lessons with the rabbi to discuss the meaning of the portion and prepares to deliver a drasha – an explanation of the portion.
In addition, the young person reads the translation (they can write their own) and the Haftarah. There is also the possibility to take part of the service.
The young person is supported throughout their preparation time by their parents and family, by their teachers and by the warden
When you send out your invitations to your friends, please request them to be in the synagogue for 10:15am, so that we have a better chance of starting the service on time and in a dignified way. Men are expected to wear a head covering, and appropriate dress for a religious service is expected. If you are expecting a lot of small young personren we can organise toys and juice and a dedicated room for them if we are warned in advance – it can be quite hard for young teenagers to make themselves heard over the sound of excited toddlers, so please explain to your guests that there is somewhere for the young personen to go if they would like a break from the service.
The Service on the Day
The warden of the day will contact you in plenty of time to discuss what will happen during the service. This will include what part the young person and the family will take, and giving the young person practise and rehearsals for the ceremony
The service is sometimes shared with other celebrations, such as a baby blessing or an Aufruf. You will be given as much notice as possible.
The bnei mitzvah is set into the context of the community, and so the community is happy to celebrate with the family. It is hoped that the family will provide a Kiddush for those attending the service. You will be supported in this by a member of the community (Lynne Sidkin) who will contact you in plenty of time to discuss the details.
If you want to celebrate your simcha in the synagogue hall, you must speak to the synagogue office. If you are organising a meal or other celebration in our building, the kashrut rules apply at all times, and it is the responsibility of the family to make sure that the building is left clean and secure at the end.
The synagogue office can help with suggestions for caterers and waitressing staff
After The Big Day
Coming to services and attending Cheder does not stop when the young person has celebrated their Bnei Mitzvah. The bnei mitzvah young person is still expected to attend Cheder till the end of the academic year, and we like to see them and their families involved in the services too! We hope that we have created a more Jewishly aware individual, and a more Jewishly aware family who will enjoy their contact with the synagogue and the community, and will want to stay actively involved with us. Maybe you could assist in a service or read a section of the scroll? Maybe you’d like to join one of the committees which work to keep the community active and alive? Maybe you’d like to help in the Cheder, or learn in the adult education programme or teach another bnei mitzvah candidate?
Adult Bnei Mitzvah
We welcome adults who wish to have a B’Mitzvah – either for the first time or to mark a significant birthday. Please contact the office and the BM Co-ordinator who will discuss this with you in more detail.