The Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards -- which sets halachic policy for the Conservative movement -- has voted unanimously to provide the approximately 1,600 Conservative rabbis with guidelines on performing same-sex marriages.
I saw the blinking light on my answering machine and listened to the frantic voice of my girlfriend, Debbie, as I put the groceries away.
"Heeeeeelp! Jason says he doesn't want to do his bar mitzvah anymore. We've got the date and the place, I've hired the DJ and he's already begun to prepare. He's making me crazy. What should I do? Call me."
Wow, what a bummer, I thought to myself.
On Sept. 1, my husband, Larry, and I will move our son, Gabriel, into his dormitory room at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., where he will begin his freshman year.
Q. Why do we have a haggadah on Passover? A. So we can seder [say the] right words.
It's a terrible joke, but it suggests why seders have gone from righteous to rote, from dynamic to deadly boring. Everything is too much by the book, the haggadah, to be exact, in the worst possible way, says David Arnow, in "Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities." (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004, www.livelyseders.com).
Arnow says that seders are supposed to be living, vibrant, creative -- with room for spontaneous discussion and new ideas that reinvent what freedom means to the current generation, which gathers to commemorate a liberation that occurred thousands of years ago.
Traditionally, Orthodox girls wanting a bat mitzvah have had intimate ones with close family and friends, complete with candlelightings and blessings.
Unlike the Reform, Recostructionist and Conservative movements, which have embraced and formalized the bat mitzvah in the synagogue (the Recostructionist movement had the first bat mitzvah in 1922), Orthodox shuls and schools tend to take a more varied, low-key approach.
While many Orthodox girls still have private coming-of-age rituals, others are opting for more public and creative ceremonies, perhaps more closely aligned to a bar mitzvah. Most choose to study extensively with parents, teachers or rebbetzins, and many seek out chesed projects -- acts of loving-kindness -- to help those less fortunate.
For most parents, preparing a child for a bar or bat mitzvah is just another of many coming-of-age stresses. But for parents whose children have special needs, the stress can be almost unbearable. Yet arranging b'nai mitzvah ceremonies for such children are not impossible, with a little love and support.
Margie Kommer, whose son, Max, was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), understands the loss of face some parents feel.
"It's very hard to go to a bar or bat mitzvah and see these shining stars, and see your own children struggling," she said.
And, naturally, children compare themselves to their peers. They can become so disheartened that they give up.
"Finding Each Other in Judaism: Meditations on the Rites of Passage From Birth to Immortality" by Harold M. Schulweis. (UAHC Press, $12.95)
"Finding Each Other in Judaism" distills decades of those quiet, private moments when a curious, wounded or concerned congregant asks the rabbi: "What do I do now?"