When I was studying for my Masters in Religious Education, I was asked to imagine a "perfect" Bar-Bat Mitzvah program. My program that was based on Values, Questions and Actions, using the number 13 as a jumping off point.
In my practice of working with pre-Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, I try to use this outline for our lessons.
Finding personal meaning in Jewish tradition
Giving voice to the soul of each learner
Wrestling with the concept of God
Familiarity with prayer and prayer concepts
Familiarity with Torah and the story and history of the Jewish people
Familiarity with Jewish rituals
Appreciation of social and moral responsibilities
Participation in the Jewish community
A sense of awe, wonder and appreciation for the world
Respect for individuals and individual differences
Caring about individuals and about community
Appreciation of the importance of life-long Jewish learning.
Expressing joy through ceremony and celebration.
The Bar or Bat Mitzvah happens at a time when students are asking a lot of questions. No longer a child but far from being an adult, and with so many physical and mental changes going in in the body and brain, where does Judaism fit into one's life and how is being Jewish and doing Jewish important.
Why is the ceremony of Bar or Bat Mitzvah important in our family?
Is Jewish tradition worth passing down to the next generation and, if so, how will we pass Jewish tradition on to our children? (parents)
What kind of Jewish family are we?
What kind of Jew do we want our child to be? (parents)
What kind of Jew do I want to be? (student)
How much time are we willing to devote to achieving these goals?
What are the barriers to achieving our goals and how can we overcome them?
Why do we pray? Why do Jews hold services and gather together to recite from prayerbooks?
Why do we read from the Torah scroll? What is magical about it?
What is the source of joy, wonder and awe in the world? Is it more than science?
Is it important to participate in the Jewish community? How would we do that?
What are our family's social and moral responsibilities and how will we carry them out?
Is Jewish learning important after the ceremony? If so, how could we make that happen?
Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah literally means that one is taking on the adult responsibility of doing mitzvot. Mitzvot are the Divine commandments that Jews perform as part of our partnership with God. Most Jews do not follow all of the mitzvot. But the mitzvot are are about doing and not just believing.
Most mitzvot involve three general categories:
Prayer and Ritual
Acts of Righteousness
As a family, would you be able to decide upon thirteen mitzvot that can be done during the year preceding the Bar or Bat Mitzvah? Examples might be lighting Shabbat candles together on Friday night, volunteering in a soup kitchen or learning a part of the Passover seder ritual. What might your 13 mitzvot be?