Permission Granted: How the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Impacted Our Congregation

The Journal of Youth Engagement checks in with Rabbi Ben David, whose congregation has been participating in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution. The article “What the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Is, and Is Not” originally appeared in the Journal of Youth Engagement in October 2013.

In your original article, “What the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Is (and Is Not)” you highlighted what “revolution” meant for your congregation. We want to know: now that significant time has passed, what, if anything, has changed in your b’nai mitzvah process?

Our B’nai Mitzvah program continues to evolve.  Most specifically, we continue to look for ways to allow the students and their families to own the process.  For the students, this means not only picking their mitzvah project, but allowing them to select the verses they will chant from the Torah and what the music will be for their morning.  We honor them in our Teen Night program the week before and after their simcha.  Even these elements help them to feel ownership.  We continue to work on family education as it pertains to not only B’nei Mitzvah, but all transitional moments across Jewish life.

When we last heard from you, your congregation was asking many questions, such as,

  • What should sixth grade look like?
  • What do we want our children to experience?
  • What is the role of peer mentoring and community service?

Can you share anything about the answers you came up with to these questions?

In sixth grade, we are emphasizing family education more and more.  We are increasingly convinced that experiential learning is ideal, especially for this age group as it allows them to live Jewish practices in a way that is not at all theoretical or pedantic.  It’s a good age also to have students really transition to a place of their own, personal Judaism.

To this end, having families experiencing Shabbat together in conventional ways, such as Shabbat services and dinner, and slightly less conventional ways, including through art and social justice, has been really positive for all of us.

How has participating in the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution influenced your thinking around other areas of congregational life? What key components have you carried into work beyond b’nai mitzvah?  

B’nai Mitzvah Revolution has given us permissions to tinker.  To use a baseball metaphor, not every change has to be a big home run.  Singles and doubles go a long way toward updating a program.  It all adds up.


Read Rabbi David’s original article and other past editions in the Journal’s searchable archives.

Benjamin David is the Rabbi of Adath Emanu-El in Mt Laurel, N.J.  He is the co-founder of the Running Rabbis, a global social justice initiative. He and his wife Lisa are the proud parents of Noa, Elijah, and Samuel. 


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One Response to “Permission Granted: How the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution Impacted Our Congregation”

  1. avatar

    As a 57 yr old, as the father of a 10 yr old, and and as a congregant of Adath Emanu-El, Rabbi David’s synagogue I very much like the whole concept of ownership as an owner/”co-planner” nowadays compared to my day when one was strictly a participant and all parts were planned by The Grown-Ups and I appeared/did/said/read according to their plan like it or not. As a 57 yr old, change is bad. However change is always different and can be scary, the other side is that taking a risk can yield far better results, like in this case. As the father of a 10 yr old, doing things to encourage our youth to want to stay and participate after confirmation is a challenge especially in 2015. As a congregant I think the bold steps forward in which Rabbi David and other forward thinkers are taking will ultimately benefit multiple generations of my family in a “l’dor va dor” kind of way.

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