What could be more ingrained in the Jewish psyche as well as pop culture everywhere than the Bar Mitzvah ceremony?
For generations, families have joined synagogues and schlepped their kids to lessons. These hapless pre-teens struggle with cracking voices and unfamiliar melodies, fight with their parents about time spent (or more likely not spent) practicing, and eventually face a couple hundred of their closest friends and relatives to sing for a couple hours in a foreign language.
And even with all that, the vast majority of Jewish families would never imagine doing it any other way.
The current model of B’nei Mitzvah training, which typically includes memorizing rote skills, learning to chant a Haftorah, preparing a speech, and engaging in a token community service project, does not resonate with most 13 year old kids. It’s something they do because they know they have to do it. Their parents and grandparents went through the same thing. While the fashions have certainly evolved over the decades, everything else has amazingly stayed identical.
It’s time to re-evaluate how our kids learn and prepare to be knowledgeable and engaged members of the Jewish community. Raising the Bar Mitzvah is the book that will lead Jewish professionals as well as lay congregants on a more productive and meaningful path.
Written from the perspective of a long-time cantor in the Conservative movement, Raising the Bar Mitzvah contributes to the discourse about the mission and execution of children's Jewish education in religiously liberal communities. Written accessibly, Axelrod advocates for greater flexibility for the ceremony and preparation as the best way to encourage living "a life of Jewish value."
Cantor Axelrod has dared to grapple with a central truth of Judaism: the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is broken in all sorts of ways, but since people hate change, and Jews are people, nobody wants to fix it. He has seen a better way, and if we can open our eyes and ears to his suggestions, our children will be the beneficiaries.
By breaking the b'nai mitzvah rite of passage down to its core goals and rethinking how they can be achieved, Cantor Axelrod is truly encouraging educators to 'raise the bar' and expand our thinking about this core touchpoint of Jewish engagement. Through this process, each community, family, and individual can explore their unique visions for the bar mitzvah, and build experiences that are personally meaningful and collectively impactful.