Alternative Bar and Bat Mitzvah Ceremonies
How to have a meaningful ceremony when you don't belong to a synagogue.
Some Resources & Inspiration
MyJewishLearning does not officially endorse these organizations, but we were intrigued by their innovative approaches.
Raising The Bar, a project of Storahtelling, works with families both within and outside synagogues, to create unique and theatrical bar/bat mitzvahs. Families who participate in Raising the Bar spend several months studying Torah texts and commentaries and thinking about creative, engaging ways to present the materials, often including music, video, and performance. Some Storahtelling bar/bat mitzvahs include chanting Torah and haftarah portions, while others dispense with the Hebrew entirely. Raising the Bar has had cohorts all around the world, convening study communities in large American cities, as well as the UK and Israel. They have also made a few attempts to work with families in remote locations, most recently in Alaska. So they might be able to improvise a program for your needs, as well.
Another interesting approach is that of Boulder, Colorado's Adventure Rabbi program, which calls itself a "synagogue without walls." Adventure Rabbi offers a variety of unconventional programs, usually with an outdoorsy twist, and they offer a few different bar/bat mitzvah tracks. They work with students long-distance via Skype, and officiants are willing to perform bar or bat mitzvahs in a child’s hometown, or even travel to a destination ceremony.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah on the Go
A meaningful family trip is another way families choose to mark a bar/bat mitzvah, either in lieu of a synagogue service or in addition to one. Israel is a traditional destination, and there is a host of resources available for families planning a bar/bat mitzvah trip to Israel. Families of children who were adopted internationally sometimes choose to travel to their child’s country of birth around the time of his or her bar/bat mitzvah.
The Trickle-Down Effect
While most of these bar/bat mitzvah innovations are taking place outside of establishment Jewish communities, even within some synagogues families and clergy are experimenting with new ways to celebrate, based on a growing sense that the traditional bar/bat mitzvah can feel rote and impersonal. In 2012 the Union for Reform Judaism launched the "B'nai Mitzvah Revolution," with the goals of creating more engaging ways to mark a bar or bat mitzvah for the youngster and his or her family. Who knows? In five or ten years, the "typical" American bar/bat mitzvah might look very different than it does today.
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