Bar and bat mitzvah are the coming-of-age rituals that signal the transformation of a Jewish boy and girl into a Jewish adult. In Humanistic Judaism—one of the five branches of Judaism—each bar and bat mitzvah is a unique and meaningful event.
Becoming a bar or bat mitzvah means a child is fully initiated into the Jewish religion and is responsible for his actions and for fulfilling the Jewish ideals of mitzvot (literally, “commandments,” but with a modern meaning of doing good deeds); tzedakah (usually defined as charity, but in humanism, the emphasis is on raising the dignity of people so that they can help themselves); and tikkun olam (making the world a better place). These values form the core of Humanistic Judaism, along with the recognition that the responsibility for putting them into practice lies in our own hands.
The Congregation for Humanistic Judaism strives to make the Mitzvah experience meaningful for the entire family. Under the guidance of Fairfield resident Beth Ulman, CHJ’s mitzvah coordinator, each CHJ mitzvah candidate completes a two-year course of investigation, research, and at least 25 hours of community service. Our children become Jewish detectives, digging into family history and Jewish traditions to gain a good understanding about where they come from and where Judaism can take them. They keep a journal about what they learn and how they feel about it. At the same time, our children attend CHJ’s Sunday School where they learn about Jewish history, culture, and traditions from a Humanistic perspective.
The mitzvah program culminates in a research project on a topic of Jewish interest, which becomes the focal point of the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony. Each project is as distinctive as the child who creates it. Mitzvah candidates are paired with a volunteer mentor from the congregation, and the two work together for months to create a special presentation that is a source of pride for the young person, his family, and the entire congregation. Recent topics have included a study of where Humanistic Judaism fits into the greater Jewish community; a video presentation about adoption and Jewish culture; and an entertaining look and listen about Jewish Americans and comedy, complete with audio clips.
A CHJ mitzvah ceremony is a family affair. Together, the student and family create a beautiful, personally meaningful service that reflects Humanistic Jewish values. Common elements of CHJ mitzvah services include candle lighting, Torah commentary, songs, and blessings, in addition to the mitzvah child’s presentation, but the uniqueness of each ceremony itself reflects the Humanistic Jewish value of personal responsibility.