The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Has Begun!



The Reform Movement’s B’nai Mitzvah Revolution is the widest reaching initiative ever, launched by the Movement to radically transform the entire B’nai Mitzvah experience. Earlier this month, the first set of pilot congregations participated in a weekend-long workshop with 65 professionals and lay leaders from 14 congregations including faculty and staff from Hebrew Union College’s Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE) and the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for Youth Engagement (CYE).

The goal of the workshop was to support the congregational teams in radically rethinking their approaches to the preparation for, and celebration of, bar and bat mitzvah. Session topics focused on adolescent development, visioning, developing experiments, new approaches to congregational education, alternative approaches to teaching Hebrew, and involving the broader community.  In addition, an entire day was devoted to training one representative from each congregation in Action Research. Action Research is an approach to gathering and analyzing data done by practitioners (in this case educators and lay leaders) in order to bring about change. This project is one of the first that is committed to systematically collecting data from all of the participating synagogues to help the pilot congregations learn and to share those learnings within the Movement and throughout the broader Jewish community.

Dr. Michael Zeldin, senior national director of the Schools of Education at HUC, who attended the workshop, said, “Rabbis, cantors, educators and lay leaders engaged in intense conversation about how to rethink patterns that were more than 50 years in the making.  If these congregations implement even half of what they are contemplating, we will be well on our way to seriously impacting how we engage our young people.” Read what other participants said about the workshop and the future of Jewish youth engagement.

Following the workshop, each congregation will work with a facilitator to gather and analyze data from the process of planning their experiments, to be part of a support network and will commit to developing a long range plan as well as a set of experiments they will implement by the fall of 2013.

Participating congregations include:

  • Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple (Beachwood, OH)
  • Congregation Har Hashem (Boulder, CO)
  • North Shore Congregation Israel (Glencoe, IL)
  • Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (Elkins Park, PA)
  • Stephen S. Wise Temple (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Temple Beth-El (Hillsborough, NJ)
  • Temple Beth El of South Orange County (Aliso Viejo, CA)
  • Temple Beth Elohim (Wellesley Hills, MA)
  • Temple Brith Achim (Kind of Prussia, PA)
  • Temple Isaiah (Lafayette, CA)
  • Temple Isaiah (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Temple Israel (Columbus, OH)
  • Temple Shalom (Dallas, TX)
  • Temple Sholom (Scotch Plains, NJ)

For more information visit urj.org/bnaimitzvah.

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Rabbi Bradley Solmsen

About Rabbi Bradley Solmsen

Bradley Solmsen serves as the North American Director of Youth Engagement for the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). For eleven years Bradley served as Director of Brandeis University’s Office of High School Programs which includes BIMA, Genesis, and Impact: Boston. Rabbi Solmsen was ordained at The Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and received a masters degree in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Bradley is currently pursuing a doctorate in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Davidson School. He has extensive experience as a Jewish educator in Israel and North America working with teenagers and college students and training Jewish educators. Bradley is married to Aliza Kline and is the proud abba of Ela, Gila and Nomi.

2 Responses to “The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Has Begun!”

  1. Larry Kaufman

    I’m disappointed that Rabbi Solmsen has not articulated the two very specific reasons that the Movement needs to rethink and re-engineer the bar mitzvah experience.

    1. Although intended as the entry point to membership in the Jewish community, instead it has become the point of departure. What we need is not to concentrate on what comes before “the day” but on what comes after.

    2. In a technicolor version of the Law of Unintended Consequences, the focus on the bar mitzvah child and his/her family has turned Shabbat morning servioes into an occasion for private preening and kvelling, rather than a community gathering for worship and study.

    If the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution doesn’t have at its core the reclamation of Shabbat services, it will have been a failure. It’s not just about keeping the kids, but also about keeping the adults.

    The Classic Reformers (whom I rarely praise) had it absolutely right when they substituted Confirmation for bar mitzvah –not only because it was egalitarian, and because it extended the expected period for formal Jewish education — but also because it was a communal event that brought the congregation together, rather than spotlighting a child celebrity; and with the creative tie to Matan Torah , the giving of Torah, brought new relevance to the oft-neglected Shavuot; and kept Shabbat for the shomrei Shabbat , those for whom the main event was Shabbat, not the performance of a 13 year old.

    In other words, maybe what we need is not a bnai mitzvah revolution, but a return to a solution that worked effectively for the Reform movement for most of the twentieth century. Chadesh yameinu kakedem . Renew our days as of old.

  2. Kate Bigam

    Hi, Larry,

    While these are all valid questions, I should be clear in explaining that, as is common on the blog, this post came from the text of a press release on the topic (in this case, the workshop itself) and so is not intended to be “the full picture.”

    I hope you’ll take a look at some of our past posts about the B’nai Mitzvah revolution and, perhaps more importantly, visit the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution website, where you’ll find answers to a number of questions, & hopefully to your own.

    In the meantime, I’ll pass your feedback along to Rabbi Solmsen. Thanks for reading.

    Kate

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