I am a child of the Jewish People, heir to its riches, owner of its treasures. ~ Judith Seid
The secular humanistic Jewish bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah ceremonies occur at a turning point in our cycle of life: no longer a child but not yet an adult, we are in transition. The teen years are a time to explore identity and question values and beliefs, to demonstrate greater independence and competence, and to become more responsible for one’s decisions and actions. The secular bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah welcomes young people into this new phase of life and is designed to promote creative and critical thinking within a Jewish context.
The secular Jewish bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah provides an opportunity for students to explore their Jewish identity through personal reflection as well as through hands-on projects or research on a topic of their choice. A primary goal of the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah is to help students to learn about themselves and their personal values and to link this learning to secular Jewish values. Some students choose to include a Torah reading as part of their ceremony, but because there is so much of value in Jewish literature to learn from, a Torah reading is not seen as an essential part of a secular mitzvah ceremony.
Preparation for the bar/bat mitzvah and the ceremony itself are intended to help our young people become more firmly rooted in their Jewish identities while encouraging independence of thought and action. It is based in the belief that the deeper our roots, the freer we are to explore our world.
I work in collaboration with Secular Jewish Circle of Puget Sound (SJC), whose Sunday School offers a two-year program that prepares students for bar/bat mitzvah. Students engage in classroom learning and community service projects through SJC. Concurrently, I work with the student and his or her family to create a ceremony that highlights the student’s knowledge, interests, thoughts and accomplishments while affirming the parents’ wishes for their growing, transitioning child. The student and I co-lead the ceremony which often includes participation by family and friends.