My 11-year-old son, Ari, is now a Hebrew-school dropout. I am aware that that's the name of a comedy act and a line of T-shirts. But, for me, the phrase is not a punch line, but a punch in the gut. I imagine my response was just like parents whose kids drop out of high school: disbelief, sadness and helplessness followed quickly by a healthy dose of Jewish guilt. "Where did I go wrong?" "What did I do to cause him to reject my contribution to his heritage?"
The nerve-wracking morning of a bar or bat mitzvah will eventually be all that's left standing between a student and his or her catered night of extravagant partying. The b'nai mitzvah coach already has helped detangle the Hebrew and trope, but the pressure of reading the Torah portion and haftarah, as well as delivering a speech in front of hundreds of family members, friends and congregants, might make even a usually unassuming bimah look terrifying.
My bat mitzvah invitation had bright purple embossed text on a hot pink card with my name enlarged in decorative script at the top and daisies adorning the bottom. Twenty-plus years later, I remember eagerly waiting for my friends to receive the invitations and running home weeks later to check the mailbox for the return of the RSVP envelopes. Secured in a scrapbook, the invitation is a treasured memento.
Some people live miles away from a synagogue that shares their philosophies and values. Others might have no shortage of resources but have overbooked lives that make fitting in yet another off-site commitment for their 11- or 12-year-old a near impossibility.
Ryan Gurman and Brandon Newberg, both 13, have never met. They live in different parts of Los Angeles, go to different schools, attend different synagogues and celebrated their bar mitzvahs almost a year apart. Yet over the past few months, the young men have shared a common purpose: helping sick and injured children at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
When I walked into an on-call catering job a couple of months ago, I was genuinely thrilled to discover that we would be serving food for a bat mitzvah party. Since I had never had a bat mitzvah — let alone attended one — it seemed like a fun opportunity to create some memories around an event that everyone else seems to remember so fondly from their youth. I pictured a beautiful, ceremonial transition into adulthood for this little girl. I had no idea just how “adult” these little ladies and gentlemen were truly about to become.