Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Open Tent B’nai Mitzvah
Open Tent B’nai Mitzvah (OTBM) classes start September in Denver and Boulder
Judaism Your Way presents their innovative Open Tent B’nai Mitzvah and Beyond program for young people ages 12 and up. The program consists of two parts: (1) a year-long class; and 2) a choice of 5 paths to preparing for and celebrating the bar/t mitzvah.
The class is a “Judaism 101” for 12 and 13 year olds: history/peoplehood, spirituality, holidays and practices. For students with little formal Jewish educational background, it serves as a comprehensive introduction. For students with more substantial Jewish background, it revisits what they have previously learned – on a new and more sophisticated, age-appropriate level.
The class offers two unique features: The first is our emphasis on diversity within Judaism. The goal of the class is to help the students begin to discover Judaism their way. They are given opportunities to make their own Jewish choices and to explore the implications of their choices with each other.
The second feature is our emphasis on storytelling. We believe that stories lie at the root of Judaism and that all the various ways that people express their Judaism (cultural, historical, social, spiritual) evolve out of the stories that we share. A goal of the program is for students to become Jewish storytellers, to both learn the core Jewish stories and to tell them to others in their own way, using their own imagination.
Weekly gatherings over two semesters under the gentle and spirited guidance of Rabbi Brian Field and Professor Caryn Aviv capture the learning excitement found more often in summer camp settings and engage students as active participants in their own learning. Classes start twice a year, in January and in early September.
At some point, students together with their families get to choose among five different kinds of ceremonies. We offer these five different tracks to provide a bar/bat mitzvah experience that more closely matches the child’s learning style, areas of interest and the family’s orientation to Judaism.
For more information please contact Rabbi Brian Field at 303-320-6185 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Meaning of Bar/Bat Mitzvah
Little can match a bar/bat mitzvah in terms of meaning, effort and energy for a young person and his/her family. And for good reason: bar/bat mitzvah is a Jewish celebration of a young person’s coming of age – emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually. It is a time when a young person gets support to ask him/herself: Who am I? What’s important to me? Where do I come from? What are my gifts? To whom am I accountable?
For parents, it is a time of great pride and poignancy. Their child is no longer just a child. Their relationship is evolving, and matters of authority, autonomy, responsibility and privilege will be negotiated over and over again. It’s a time when parents get to ask themselves: Of the legacies from my past, what do I want to pass on to my child? What does he need to know about where he comes? How do I want her to take her place in the world? Into what kind of adult do I want to guide my child to grow?
And for extended family and community, bar/t mitzvah is a celebration of continuity, when a young person claims for themselves the Jewish identity that, to this point, they have received from their parents and their community.
What Should I Do?
Many people authorize their synagogue to guide them through the bar/t mitzvah process culminating in a rite that occurs in the context of the community’s worship service: the young person reciting blessings over the Torah, reading the Torah, giving a talk based on the Torah passage, and leading parts of the service. This is a powerful model. It brings the young person to the heart of a central narrative of Jewish spirituality – the giving of Torah through Moses to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai.
But for families not affiliated with a congregation, for interfaith families, and for any family whose relationship with Judaism is not religiously defined, the nature and meaning of the ceremony can be more complex.
As the diversity of life situations and spiritual temperaments among Jews and their loved ones continues to grow, the synagogue model may not best reflect the family culture within which a young person is coming of age as a Jew. A ceremony that assumes that everyone in the room is Jewish, or that everyone believes in God, or that Torah is this family’s primary way of finding meaning within Judaism, may, in fact, reinforce people’s distance from Judaism and keep them from affirming the non-religious Jewish connections they do have.
For example, what are the implications of a bar/t mitzvah celebration for the child of an interfaith family? For the child’s identity? For the non-Jewish parent? What might it mean for a child who sees themselves as Jewish plus… to celebrate a bar/t mitzvah? In the same vein, what are the most authentic ways for a young person whose family’s Jewish orientation is humanist or secular, to celebrate their coming of age?
The Open Tent B’nai Mitzvah Program
Judaism Your Way was created to meet unaffiliated Jews and their loved ones in the particularity and uniqueness of where they are. Thus the name: Judaism Your Way. In many ways, this is nothing new. The mission of meeting people where they are is reflected in the classical rabbinic image of the tent of Abraham and Sarah, the Jewish people’s first family. It is told that their tent had openings on all four sides, so travelers could enter in the direction from which they were coming.
That’s the intention behind Judaism Your Way’s two-part Open Tent Bnai Mitzvah and Beyond program. Here’s how it works:
Students take a weekly, two-semester “Judaism 101” class. This offers the student a peer group to accompany them on their journey toward their ceremony. It also offers a broader Jewish context than will be provided by simply learning skills for a ceremony. The classes typically comprise 7-10 students and meet during the school year. Classes begin twice a year – in January and in September.
Open Tent supports five different ways or tracks for the student to celebrate their Jewish coming of age.
Traditional service: the student develops skills to be a participant/leader of a service and to read from the Torah.
Four Worlds: Based on this Kabbalistic model, the young person explores aspects of their physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual selves. A service is developed that builds upon the themes that get identified in this exploration. In this way the service grows out of the individuality of the young person, not something external that s/he needs to learn.
Research project: The student explores in depth a topic or theme within Jewish peoplehood and makes a presentation based on it. This option may fit for families that have a more secular or cultural orientation to Judaism.
Activity model: The student completes 13 accomplishments from a variety of life and skill areas that demonstrate their mastery and commitment to their community, their family and themselves.
Storahtelling Maven method: In this track, the student learns an engaging way to think about and translate Torah verses. Students can create their own contemporary translation of Torah verses and incorporate elements of stagecraft that prompt a meaningful and lively conversation with participants at their B'nai Mitzvah.
Timeline: The timeline for Open Tent is flexible. Some students enroll in the class and complete their ceremony preparation concurrently. Others complete the class and then prepare for their ceremony.
Fees: There are fees associated with both the 2 semester Open Tent Class as well as for all matters related to officiating at the service (please see Rabbinical Service Fees, below). Families are responsible for securing a venue and for other costs of the service. Costs for preparing for the service will vary according to the track the student has chosen.
Locations: To be determined.
Peer Group Opportunity: Students can also concurrently participate in a facilitated peer-group such as Judaism Your Way’s Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing or J-Boys: It's a Guy Thing (please note, J-Boys is for 8th & 9th grade boys). There is a separate fee for these programs. Find out more about these programs here: Rosh Hodesh and J-Boys.
Open Tent Bnai Mitzvah and Beyond is based on the belief that young people will be most permanently affected by a bar/t mitzvah process that is congruent to the Jewish values of their family and interests and talents of the student. When young people experience the bar/t mitzvah process as an extension and expansion of who they are, it will be more natural for them to continue to explore their Judaism after the bar/t mitzvah celebration is over.
What People Say About Us
"The Bat Mitzvah experience with Rabbi Brian was awesome – beyond what we expected."
"I think JYW is really great because you can learn about Judaism your own way."
"I have been able to really embrace my Judaism at JYW."
"OTBM is truly a special place where you feel welcome."