When we think of bar and bat mitzvah gifts, many things come to mind: fountain pens, cuff links, picture frames, checks. But the true gifts of this religious rite of passage extend far beyond the envelopes and boxes piled up at the party door. Here are a few of the intangible yet invaluable presents the bar or bat mitzvah ritual bestows upon our families.
What the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ceremony Gives to Our Child:
If we look into the eyes of the bar mitzvah boy during the first moments of his service, we will see one thing and one thing only -- pure, unadulterated panic. But as the service progresses, he stands up straighter and walks taller, until he's officially playing the crowd by "Adon Olam."
At the Kiddush -- as the mazel tovs pile on like lox on bagels -- we look again at the bar mitzvah boy, and we see that he is beaming in pure, unadulterated confidence. (The kind of confidence that grows into genuine, deserved, self-esteem that will help him to make strong, independent decisions at a time in his life when peer pressure is at its pinnacle.)
Researchers have tapped resilience -- the fundamental ability to roll with the punches of life -- to be among the most powerful predictors of children's future success and happiness. The b'nai mitzvah experience is an exercise in resilience. For not only must our children study their Torah portions for months on end -- they stumble over them for months on end (as anyone who has ever tried to read trope can attest!)
Not only do they write and rewrite their dvar Torah, they must conquer their nerves and deliver it to hundreds of congregants. The b'nai mitzvah process is a series of hurdles and jumps -- a long, hard race with a flag of steadfast resilience waving fervently at the finish line.
- L'dor v'Dor
A beautiful and increasingly popular tradition is to open the ark and pass the Torah from grandparents to parents to the bar/bat mitzvah child. This passing of the holy scroll is the embodiment of l'dor v'dor, from generation to generation.
Adolescence is by definition a time of transition -- a steady stream of physical, emotional and social changes. Yet when our child receives the Torah -- passed hand to hand to him -- on the morning of his bar mitzvah, he feels the stability, consistency and safety that comes in being embedded in generations of tradition.
- What Our Child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ceremony Gives Us as Parents
An Opportunity to Express Our Love for Our Child. Caught up in the rocket pace of 21st century life, we scarcely have a moment to tell our children how we feel about them. Sure we kiss them goodnight and tell them we love them (if they are nice enough to still let us do so), but rarely -- if ever -- do we express it in the emotional, heartfelt way we do on the day they become a bar or bat mitzvah.
Reaffirmation of Our Purpose. All modesty aside here, bringing our son or daughter to the bar or bat mitzvah bimah is a mega-accomplishment. It means we've put valuable time and resources into ensuring our child receives a Jewish education, is armed with a Jewish identity, and have fulfilled our obligation to God, to ourselves, to our children and to our people.
- A Rite of Passage of Our Very Own
The bar or bat mitzvah is a rite of passage for our children -- a marker of their transition from one stage of life to another. But it is also a rite of passage for us. For as our children transform into teenagers, we must transform as parents. In our child's bar or bat mitzvah we have a stepping stone to help us find our way to the next stage in our parental journey.
- A Wonderful, Happy Family Memory
Flashbulb memories are memories that stick around in our minds for the long haul. Our child's bar or bat mitzvah is a surefire flashbulb memory -- a festive, jubilant, meaningful family memory that will nourish our family's soul for years to come.
- Life in Perspective
It's all too easy to get caught up in the everyday hassles of parenting (i.e., carpools, homework, shlepping to extracurriculars). But every now then, something comes along and puts it all in perspective, enabling us to savor the moment and stop -- at least temporarily -- and smell the roses.
Our child's bar or bat mitzvah is one of those rare and glorious times in our lives when the universe all lines up. When we feel God's divine presence, know exactly what matters and what does not and understand exactly why we're here.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning Jewish educator and mother of four. Her first book, "Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? The Essential 411 on Raising Modern Jewish Kids," will be published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, in 2007.