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The Bar and Bat Mitzvah experience at Shma Koleinu

Whether in ancient or in modern times, parenting children and raising them to become the adults they are meant to be, is one of the greatest responsibilities and privileges parents, teachers and mentors are bestowed. In the Jewish tradition, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah* represents a wise and significant passageway towards that end.  

At Shma Koleinu, we give this immensely significant milestone tremendous importance. As Jews in the 21st century, we believe that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience should feel like a journey that leads the individual child and the family to even greater heights than they had imagined possible. Shma Koleinu is very proud of the B’nai Mitzvah experience we make possible for our families.

(*For purposes of clarity, the use of “Bar/Bat Mitzvah” will also refer to the child him/her/their self.)

How do CSK Bar/Bat Mitzvahs work and what makes them unique?

The term Bar/Bat Mitzvah literally means “son/daughter of the commandments.”  It is typically referred to as the ceremony of becoming a Jewish adult.  According to tradition, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah is responsible for his/her/their own Jewish life; however, the moment a young Jewish child is officially recognized as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is not when they chants Torah or delivers their speech, or even when they wake up on their 13th birthday (12 for girls).  Official recognition as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah occurs for the child when they are able to offer a prayer on behalf of fellow Jewish adults.  Thus the milestone of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is recognized when the child chants the prayers before and after the reading of Torah to which everyone responds, “Amen." Judaism teaches us that this is what becoming a [Jewish] adult actually means: to be one who can speak for others and to whom others are willing to say “Amen” (or, kind of like it sounds, “I’m in”).

With that in mind, it is very important that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah comes to understand that this experience is both a mile marker as well as a gateway.  It is our intention that all B’nai Mitzvah students develop a prayer-fluency with Shabbat liturgy, and it is our hope and expectation that these young Jewish adults will have many opportunities to join Jewish communities anywhere in the world and feel at home.  

Additionally, it is crucial that the students feel they are personally represented in the B’nai Mitzvah experience. To this end, they will meet with Rabbi Scott to:

  • Choose their own Torah reading (from the week’s Torah portion).
  • Study commentaries and engage in discussion on the Torah portion’s historical/textual/ethical implications, as well as it’s personal meaning to them.
  • Write a meaningful and personally relevant D’var Torah (speech).  
  • Choose a prayer and write a creative commentary on that prayer.
  • Prepare and deliver a short “Thank You” as part of the “Hodaah” (Gratitude) section of the liturgy.

Families, as well, are personally represented in the B'nai Mitzvah service in several ways.  

  • A special family member/friends (often grandparents) are invited to make a brief presentation of the Tallit (prayer shawl) to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah at the opening of the service.
  • Parents are invited to deliver a message to their son/daughter on this very special day.  
  • Members of the family and special friends can be invited up to the bima (stage) for aliyot (the blessings before and after the Torah readings) and other honors.
  • Families are invited to write and distribute a welcome letter to the congregation, as well as provide a list of names of deceased loved ones to be shared by Rabbi Scott prior to the Kaddish prayer.  

What prayer book does Shma Koleinu use?

Shma Koleinu is proud to utilize our “Shma Koleinu Shabbat Morning prayer book” for use in all B’nai Mitzvah Shabbat morning services.  For Shma Koleinu, B'nai Mitzvah that take place on late Saturday afternoons/evenings and conclude with Havdalah, we use our Saturday morning Shabbat prayer books, along with a supplement with additional prayers (specifically for the evening and Havdalah (the brief ceremony marking the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new week).

How does Shma Koleinu work to prepare my child for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

Click here to read all about Journey: the Jewish Discovery Project.

What does a Shma Koleinu Bar/Bat Mitzvah cost?

To help ensure that your children are well prepared and the parents are well supported, Rabbi Scott and Holly Hunsicker (Program Manager) work with all of our Bar/Bat Mitzvah students.  Rabbi Scott makes himself available via Zoom on a weekly basis to do the Hebrew and prayer tutoring.   There are no additional costs for this tutoring, other than a "B'nai Mitzvah coordonation fee" and a "Non-Journey BM fee if the child is not enrolled in Journey.   If enrolled in Journey, for every 7th grader, the Journey tuition of $650 includes the B'nai Mitzvah Coordination  services ($400 enrollment + $250 for the B’nai Mitzvah coordinator.)  If not enrolled in Journey, Shma Koleinu requests an $1800 fee for all of the Bar/Bat preparations and officiation.  

How old does my child have to be for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah?

An Early 20th Century Hassidic Rabbi taught: 

The Hebrew letter Alef is one, the letter chet is eight, and the letter Dalet is is four.  Together, they spell Echad, the Hebrew word for “one.”  When you add them up, they total thirteen. Jewish tradition teaches that thirteen is the first time you can be “one,” it is when you are beginning to take control of the various parts of yourself – the different feelings and urges- and point them all in one direction.  Thirteen is when you first start to get it together. It should be when one starts to work on being a unity.

Our sages were right that something very important is happening right around the 13th year, give or take about 6 months.  Our children, while still a bit sensitive and naïve, are also showing signs of both wisdom and compassion.  We encourage you to consider a Bar/Bat Mitzvah date that is close to your child's 13th birthday, and while it is true that our tradition teaches that girls can become Bat Mitzvah as early as 12 years old, a bit more growth and maturity is often helpful.  The ideal time to consider is the six months surrounding your child’s 13th birthday (3 months on one side and 3 months on the other).  That said, we will work with each individual family to make the timing work as conveniently as possible.

Shma Koleinu welcomes families to sign up for B'nai Mitzvah dates as early as two years prior to your child’s 13th birthday.  Families are not required to sign up this early, they are just invited to do so.

To make date requests, please email Rabbi Scott.  

Where can I have my child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah service? 

As you know, Shma Koleinu does not own a building.  Therefore, one of the aspects that makes a Shma Koleinu Bar/Bat Mitzvah unique is that they always take place in varied locations.  So, yes, there is a bit of extra organizing that must take place but at the same time, the sky's the limit! The short of it is that, minus a moon landing (we’re still waiting on Elon Musk’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah Shuttle), a Shma Koleinu Bar/Bat Mitzvah can take place close to anywhere.  Don’t believe us? Here’s a short list of venues where we have celebrated Shma Koleinu B'nai Mitzvah thus far!

  • First Unitarian Universalist Church (Museum District)
  • Temple Shalom, Lafayette, LA
  • Dave and Buster’s Banquet Hall
  • Southside Place Community Center
  • The Grove
  • Café Annie
  • Houston Congregation for Reform Judaism (if available, will not officially book their sanctuary until 6 months prior to date)
  • Talento Bilingue de Houston
  • B'nai Israel, Galveston
  • And even Kenny & Ziggys 

…Just to name a few

Shma Koleinu will make sure that you and your family have all that you need to hold your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah service anywhere (mostly!)

What will Shma Koleinu do to support my child and my family to prepare us for this special day?

  • We will work to assure your child’s Prayer Fluency.
  • We will work to assure your child’s comfort and ability with their Torah and Haftarah Chanting.
  • We will assure your child’s completion of their D'var Torah (speech).
  • We will assure that your child’s personal prayer commentary is written and prepared.
  • We will assure that your child’s Thank Yous are written and prepared.
  • We will share the names of deceased family members prior to Kaddish Prayer (provided by the family).
  • We will assure that your child has a Tallit and will Coordinate its Presentation.
  • We will coordinate and provide the necessary supplies and preparations (including but not limited to):
    • Prayerbooks
    • Ark
    • Torah Table
    • Sound System
    • White linen tablecloths, round and long (these are provided at no cost, family returns laundered and folded).
    • Kippot (Yarmulkes)
    • Schedule 2 Bar/Bat Mitzvah Rehearsals - One with Bar/Bat Mitzvah student about 7-10 days out and One with BM and Family about 1-2 days out preferably at Bar/Bat Mitzvah service venue
    • Arrange for Bar/Bat Mitzvah to have access to Bar Mitzvah Tutor  
    • And since COVID, we can offer you Zoom broadcast for any family or friends who are unable to make it into town.

Insurance

If your venue requests it, Shma Koleinu carries liability insurance which can be utilized for your rental.  There is no extra cost to name the venue as secondary on the policy for that day as long as the contract is between Shma Koleinu and the venue.  In this case, the family would pay Shma Koleinu which would then, in turn, pay the venue.  

Ideal B'nai Mitzvah Timeline:

1 year prior to date: 

  • Meet with Rabbi Scott to:
    • Assess your child’s Hebrew proficiency
    • Begin the planning process including review of B'nai Mitzvah service order and honors
  • Set forth a schedule for Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutoring with Rabbi Scott.

9 – 6 months prior to the date (depending on the child’s proficiency):

  • Begin Bnai Mitzvah Tutoring with Rabbi Scott 
  • Weekly practice schedules sent to parents and child
  • If a child is attending camp, arrangements made for practice schedule

8 months prior to date: 

  • Meet with Rabbi Scott for an introduction to Torah portion and receive the initial reading assignment to read English translation of Torah portion, making notes and identifying at least three sections the student finds interesting
  • 1-2 weeks later, meet with Rabbi Scott to discuss the student's notes, questions and points of interest from Torah Portion and to decide Torah reading
  • Proficiency in prayers & beginning of Torah Portion (about 7 months), prayers will be reviewed at each lesson

7 - 2 ½ months prior to date

  • Begin to learn Torah reading and chanting, depending on the length of the Torah Portion, 1-2 weeks per each verse of Torah (includes the chanting and learning without vowels)

5 - 3 months prior to date: 

  • Begin to learn Haftarah reading/chanting 

4 months prior to date: 

  • Meet with Rabbi to discuss Torah reading and begin the process of developing the first draft of D'var Torah (speech)
  • Send the first draft to Rabbi Scott 2 weeks after meeting 

3 months – 2 months prior to date: 

  • Speech completed, personal prayer & Thank Yous

2 months – 1 month prior to date: 

  • Rehearsals with Rabbi Scott

A Word on Invites

At Shma Koleinu, we strive to develop and build a strong and vibrant community.  At Journey, as well, we hope that our students, parents and Journey Guides feel that they are part of a family.  To that end, we at Shma Koleinu strongly encourage B'nai Mitzvah families to extend their invitation to their child's classmates and if the parents are so moved, to their Journey Guides as well.

Mon, September 27 2021 21 Tishrei 5782