November 8, 2007
Congregations, rabbis try to stop the ‘Big Day’ from becoming the last day
(Page 3 - Previous Page)Ahavat Torah's members are primarily middle-age professionals who want to reconnect with their spirituality.
"They are very successful in their secular lives, and they have a unique, huge desire to reach into their neshamas [souls] and fill the gap in their hearts," said Rabbi Miriam Hamrell, who has been with the small, intensively communal synagogue for all of its five years.
The adult bar/bat mitzvah satisfies this need for many members. So far, the synagogue has held bar/bat mitzvahs for 10 adults and two children with special needs. Hamrell is currently working with a group of women in prisons to prepare them for an adult bat mitzvah.
The rabbi, who at 31 had an adult bat mitzvah at Steven S. Wise Temple in Bel Air, contrasted adult and children's b'nai mitzvah. With children, she said, the parents are fulfilling their obligation. But today's adults are looking for something unique, not the same thing they ran away from in Hebrew school. Mature people search to either fulfill a lifetime desire of their own or satisfy an intensely felt spiritual need.
While Westwood-based Nashuva has attracted many younger families whose children are several years off from any notion of b'nai mitzvah, the congregation has already celebrated a couple of adult b'nai mitzvah.
Nashuva's goal "is to create an environment where unaffiliated Jews can find their way back to Jewish faith, to a deeply soulful Judaism that connects prayer to action," said Rabbi Naomi Levy, wife of Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.
Nashuva meets monthly for services, and every service is connected to an action event. For Thanksgiving, for example, Nashuva will, for the third year in a row, be sharing a kosher Thanksgiving feast with indigent people at the Hope Street Center
At Nashuva, people are seeking out Judaism at different points in their lives and at different ages. In terms of bar mitzvah, Levy cited a scenario she thought typical of her community.
A 16-year-old boy came to her saying, "I want to have a bar mitzvah." Although he and his family identified positively as Jews, they had no formal Jewish education, couldn't read Hebrew and had never belonged to a synagogue.
But this kid, whom Levy described as looking like a "Venice Beach dude," started a course of study and had a bar mitzvah -- without a party -- that served as a rite of passage for him and a source of inspiration for his family, as well as the whole community.
"It created a scenario of beauty and intensity, because it was his," Levy said. "Even his parents were surprised by his intensity and passion."
Thinking into the future about bar and bat mitzvah for the kids at Nashuva, Levy said, "I think we have an opportunity to create something magical. Most of our kids are little -- 5, 6 or 7 -- but I see already the kind of power that we can take into a long-term look at bar mitzvah and beyond -- not bar mitzvah and fall off a cliff."
She added, "Part of it is constantly reinventing yourself, executing things differently so people don't think of it as something predictable -- I have to do this, and then its over."
Michele Alperin is a freelance writer and a former life-cycle editor for MyJewishLearning.com. She has a master's degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.