A New Twist on Havdallah

by Rabbi Roger Lerner

Havdallah is one of those ceremonies that I have found enriching, fun, and in little need of change. It’s a quick ceremony marking the end of Shabbat, with all of the hallmarks and symbols of a ritual embodying a full sensory experience, allowing the sacredness of Shabbat to flow into the regular week. The wine, the spice box, and the twisted candle bring the tastes of Shabbat to all of the senses. When a congregant of mine asked me to participate at her son’s bar mitzvah party by leading the Havdallah ceremony, I was grateful for the opportunity to bring this sacred ritual to the bar mitzvah party as the capstone to a powerful day.

After I was asked to participate, she tentatively asked if I minded if they changed a few things. After my initial “uh-oh” moment passed, she allayed my fears when she suggested that everyone participate in the Havdallah ceremony by having sparklers. We had the wonderful idea that our bar mitzvah boy, with Havdallah candle in hand, would go around lighting each sparkler. As it turns out, when the time came, it took much longer than expected to light the sparklers and we were all happy that guests took the initiative to light their own sparklers using tiki torches. Amazingly, it had a wonderful effect.

After we talked about including the sparklers, she then broached the spices dilemma: how to allow everyone to participate in the part of the ceremony when guests pass around and smell a small bag of spices. We tossed around the idea of having little spice bags for everyone but quickly nixed it. Then my congregant, in all her creativity, came up with the idea of making a candied orange peel, for everyone to enjoy a piece. We used this recipe for Candied Vanilla-Masala Orange Peels. Far from traditional, it wasn’t your mama’s spice box; it became an extraordinarily inventive twist on spices, both sweet and savory to the nose and mouth.

When navigating between the sacred and the joyous, the prayers and the parties, we must encourage, support and leave space for those sparks of creativity and ingenuity to spill over and mix with each other while not subsuming the gravitas of these milestone events.

In an age where the bar mitzvah ceremony and party are often relegated to two different universes, it was really amazing, awe-inspiring, and humbling to see that chasm bridged by a family willing to engage in the narrative of Jewish life and make it their own.

Rabbi Roger Lerner serves Temple B’nai B’rith in Kingston, PA.

 Originally published at The Recyclable Rechargeable Rabbi Roger

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