About a week ago, our year of bar and bat mitzvahs ended when my oldest son’s last Hebrew school classmate celebrated his bar mitzvah. It was a year of much celebrating and many late Saturday night parties.

When he was just 10, we received the date for his bar mitzvah. We had joined our temple and enrolled him in Hebrew school when he began kindergarten with this in mind—on a very distant horizon. Hearing the date, three years in advance, seemed ridiculous. And despite well-meaning relatives and friends assuring us that it would go quickly—and we should really book that DJ for the party now—I, of course, stuck that letter in a file folder and procrastinated.

Fast forward two years….

The year before your upcoming bar or bat mitzvah, our temple asks that the child attend 25 Saturday morning services. This, of course, was no problem for our family because we attend regularly. (Yeah, right. We scrambled and snuck in just under the wire.) And our temple did a great job of reminding us of the importance of the milestone throughout. (Hint, it is not the party.)

Last week our younger son’s bar mitzvah program for kids with special needs distributed a list of b’nei mitzvah “myths” and “truths” to help the kids not worry about the big day. I cannot help but think that it would have been great to have that three years ago.

Myths, for all of us:

  • Your child has to learn his or her entire Torah and Haf’Torah and deliver an insightful yet amusing d’var.
  • The entire family has to be clothed in expensive outfits and look amazing.
  • In the evening, the party has to be the social event of the season with a large DJ-ing entourage and the coolest take-home gift ever.

My mantra, for lack of a better word, throughout my procrastination and minimal planning, was this: He should be called up to the Torah for an aliyah and we will host the congregation’s luncheon after the service. That is all we need to do. Everything else is extra.

For the record, my kid did a great job chanting his portion, his d’var was fine and the party was fun. I totally caved on the DJ and entourage once my husband pointed out that without them, I would need to entertain a lot of 13-year-olds.

I felt very lucky to be part of a temple, part of a community and part of a tradition that acknowledged our son growing up and becoming a member of the Jewish community. Even if the news these days was not so horrifying, it would be very important to me.

This day was more meaningful because it came in the midst of a whole year of watching my son’s peers take their turns, their rites of passage. Just as important as my son becoming a Jewish adult was seeing the others who will take their place with him in the world. One of them I have known since I met his mother at our town day when we were both sitting on the lawn nursing our first babies and became friends. (I tell this story often because it horrifies him.) Others I slowly got to know over the years in Hebrew school together, or on the trip to Israel last winter, or just as their families took their turn on the bimah for their day.

Now the year is over. The last of my son’s classmates has celebrated his bar mitzvah. As I say most years, I really hope we continue to attend Saturday morning services. Did I mention that we barely made the minimum? I grew up going every week and it feels wrong to not do the same with my children. At least over the winter, when the soccer fields are not calling, maybe we will go. When I wrote out the oversized calendar listing the places we all need to be this season, I wrote “Services” on Saturday morning. I hope that works.

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