“I have learned much from my teachers; from my colleagues more than from my teachers; and from my students more than all” (Talmud, Taanit 7b). Experience truly is the best teacher, and while I have been teaching Jewish students in many settings for 30 years, I continually learn from them. I have learned what it takes to be an educator, and particularly a b’nai mitzvah educator, from supervisors, colleagues and students as well as from their parents.
The bar/bat mitzvah is an important milestone for both child and family. It can be a sacred, spiritual experience for everyone. For many families, having a child become bar/bat mitzvah is as exciting as it is overwhelming and stressful. This is not just about one’s child coming of age but also about the family entering a new developmental stage.
First, my confession. And it comes with a slice of guilt. I never liked the High Holy Days. In fact, as the thoughts of family and friend-filled Passover seders would start to fade each year, I would begin to think about the impending Days of Awe with a knot in my stomach and a distaste in my mouth that even the thought of sweet apples and honey could do little to relieve. What’s worse is that as a Jewish educator, I would be charged each September to teach about the meaningfulness of these Tishrei days: the opportunity to reflect, to return, to become a better person.
Since the recent holiday of Passover was one of asking questions and thinking about transitioning from one state of being to another, it is an appropriate time to think of the bar and bat mitzvah in a similar context. These four questions -- or more accurately one question and four answers -- can be recited by 13-year-olds, but their explanations are particularly relevant for all of us.
Yes, once the months of training and the day has ended; once the celebration has happened and the DJ has gone home; once the gifts have been opened, the cards have been read and the checks have been deposited, there remain the most important gifts. If the preparation has been handled with care, if the tutor, rabbi, cantor and parents have done their jobs, this young adult will be moving onto the next leg of life's journey with the most valuable gifts of all.
I love my friendship with Patrick. Perhaps one day my heart will catch up with my head.
Honestly, I'm glad that the recent vote of the Conservative movement has opened the door a bit toward acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews. Now that this teshuvah, or legal interpretation, was one of two that received a majority vote, I know that this helps some of my gay "friends and family" squeeze sideways through the now partially open door. I nevertheless remain sad and disappointed that the door has only opened a little, and the idea that it is a qualified acceptance is troubling to me.
Sixteen years ago this month; Jeff Bernhardt came out of the closet to his family, to free himself from the bondage of keeping this huge and personal part of him from them.