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03/03/2019 08:32:03 PM


Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

One of the most profound moments of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah occurs when a parent or parents stand with their child and deliver what we call “The Parent’s Speech.” I cannot speak for all other congregations but I know that at Shma Koleinu, our B’nai Mitzvah parents are encouraged to speak to their child about the meaning of this moment, what it feels like to be their parent, and perhaps a bit of life wisdom peppered in for good measure. "This is not a moment to relate a child’s 'C.V.,'" I share with them, "but an opportunity to speak in a most personal way, but in a very public manner." I am not sure there are any other religious traditions similar to this, in which a child is spoken to publicly, in ways that channel the best of parental love, affection, and, sometimes, a bit of “Mom/Dad jokes.”  

In this moment, a child is told, “You matter. You are so important that all of these people have gathered here because of you. Not in the often (and deservedly lampooned) 21st century-style of 'Perfection Parenting,' but in the mode of celebrating you for the unique image of God you yourself  reflect, as well as the incumbent responsibilities that this moment of Bar/Bat Mitzvah imbues."  

Some challenge the very value and worth of religion in our day and age. To live in a world mostly explained by science, a world where too often our religious institutions appear to be more interested in survival than living... What’s the point?  And my response is that there is no amount of science that will ever obviate the need for the affirmation of the dignity of the human spirit. If the walls of our synagogues and churches are undermining this most extreme value, then we need to cut through the walls. Because dignity, writ large, is the antidote to the dehumanization that religion opposes. And it starts with our children.  

In my congregation, I teach that the meaning of “Amen” can be summed up by a pseudo-homonym, “I’m in.” And when we Jews sing, “Amen,” following a child’s chanting of the blessing for the reading of the Torah, dignity is what it is all about. We say to him/her, “Amen! we are behind you, we believe in you, and now you are responsible for the dignity of the human spirit in everyone you know." A Bar/Bat Mitzvah exists for the purpose of challenging a child to study, to think, to sing, to chant, and to discover his/her voice in the sacred stories of Torah. Not so he/she can blindly affirm what others have said in the past, but to learn from the past and then make it matter for themselves today. When we do not strive for this kind of excellence, then yeah, I guess it doesn’t matter whether or not we raise our children as Jews.

But we do strive, and it does matter. We're in.

Sat, July 11 2020 19 Tammuz 5780