At West End Synagogue, a B (or Bet) Mitzvah is about much more than a young person chanting from the Torah and leading a Shabbat morning service.
In becoming a “child of the commandments” (the literal translation of Bar/Bat Mitzvah), B Mitzvah students take their learning as children in our religious school into their Jewish young adulthoods. Students at WES wrestle with questions of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century and how to integrate Jewish identity into their overall sense of self.
Over the course of one-on-one sessions over many months, students study chanting and liturgy with our cantor and prepare a d’var torah (sermon) with our rabbi, reflecting on their learning about their Torah portion and their transition into Jewish adulthood. Ultimately, a B Mitzvah will help your child to feel at home with their Judaism and an integral part of the West End community.
What is the timeframe for B Mitzvah preparation?
- Ages 0-1st grade: Your child begins to explore Jewish learning through Tot Shabbat (ages 0-4) and Kef Kids (Pre-K through 1st grade).
- 1st or 2nd grade: Your child begins JFLL Hebrew School.
- 3-year study policy: Students must enroll in JFLL by no later than 5th grade in order to have a B Mitzvah in 7th grade/at age 13. Students who enroll after 5th grade will need to apply for an exemption to this policy.
- 6th grade: You and your child take part in the B Mitzvah Institute. Your child also begins attending Friday and Saturday Shabbat services if they haven’t already — we require attendance at at least 12 services before becoming B Mitzvah.
- 7th grade: Your child begins private lessons with the Rabbi and Cantor. Depending upon your child’s birthday, this may be the year that they celebrate becoming B Mitzvah. At the end of 7th grade, your child graduates JFLL Hebrew School.
- 8th grade: Your child becomes B Mitzvah (if they did not in 7th grade) and joins our JFLL Teen Program. Your child is invited to continue their learning and take part as a Jewish adult in religious and cultural life at WES.
What will my child learn?
Your child will learn traditional methods of Hebrew chanting as well as contemporary takes on Torah and prayers. They will learn how a Torah service is conducted, engage in Torah study, and study the craft of writing a D’var Torah (sermon). Your child will also learn about Jewish values and their application to modern life, and may have the opportunity to craft a Mitzvah Project either individually or in community with other B Mitzvah students in their cohort. This year's B Mitzvah Project is focused on supporting bees and bee conservation.
Will there be a group learning component?
In the second half of 6th grade, we will have several B Mitzvah Institute family learning sessions, followed by monthly student-only cohort sessions to build a sense of community, as well as to start thinking about what the transition from Jewish child to Jewish adult will look like. We also expect students to attend the B Mitzvah celebrations of everyone in their cohort so that they can support one another throughout the process. West End has a beautiful tradition of the previous B Mitzvah leading the communal aliyah (blessing for Torah) at the subsequent B Mitzvah.
Who’s involved in the B Mitzvah program?
Our rabbi and cantor are the primary educators of our B Mitzvah students. Cantor Melissa begins weekly private tutoring approximately 6-8 months prior to the ceremony and Rabbi Emily has monthly sessions starting approximately 6 months prior and weekly starting 2-3 months prior. At the B Mitzvah institute, families and B Mitzvah students may also learn with lay leaders and guest teachers. We also have a dedicated lay leader eager to work with your child on the creation of a tallit (prayer shawl) for use in the ceremony and beyond. Logistics for B Mitzvah ceremonies are handled by our office staff and volunteers.
Why “B” Mitzvah?
For hundreds of years, boys had a Bar Mitzvah at 13 to signify their readiness to become a “son of the commandments” responsible for their own observance of Jewish life. In 1922, one of West End Synagogue’s members — Judith Eisenstein (z”l), daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan — became the first girl to have a Bat Mitzvah (“daughter of the commandments”), demonstrating that women were also capable of taking responsibility for their Jewish adulthoods. Although many girls become Bat Mitzvah today, there are still communities where their coming of age is treated as less important than that of boys. At West End, we know that all children deserve equal opportunities and that not all children identify as male or female. Using the term B Mitzvah levels the playing field for coming of age in the 21st-century Jewish world. (That said, each child is welcome to choose Bar, Bat, or B/Bet to describe their individual coming-of-age!)
What kind of families and children are involved in the B Mitzvah program?
West End Synagogue prides itself on being an inclusive, multigenerational community, embracing people from LGBTQ+, interfaith, BIPOC, and other family structures. We are not perfect and are constantly seeking to improve our welcoming to all Jews and those who love them. We fully affirm Jews by Choice and Jews of patrilineal descent. Non-Jewish family members are included in the B Mitzvah process and are welcome to be as involved as they are comfortable.
My child is already 12— can they still have a B Mitzvah at WES?
Becoming a B Mitzvah is a process that takes time and is about both individual learning and community engagement. We require that our students be a part of our community for multiple years before celebrating a B Mitzvah. That said, a B Mitzvah can happen at any age and we would be delighted to celebrate your child’s coming of age as a 14- or 15-year-old (or older!). We have also had many adult B Mitzvahs in the past.
Can my child become B Mitzvah if we’re not members of WES?
We require that families of B Mitzvah students are members of WES. A B Mitzvah is a communal celebration as well as a family one, and we seek to create a community where your child (and you!) are known and celebrated before your child’s coming of age ritual. If you’re just starting to check us out, you are welcome to enroll your child in JFLL for a year prior to joining as full members.
What does it cost to have a B Mitzvah at WES?
At West End Synagogue we operate with a “fair share dues” model in which no one is turned away due to finances. There is a B Mitzvah fee that can be negotiated as needed.
I’m new to Jewish practice — can I learn with my child?
West End has a robust Adult Education program, including periodic introductory courses. Our rabbi is also glad to provide occasional family education sessions for those who wish.
I still have questions. Who should I talk to about this?
You’re welcome to reach out to rabbiemily [at] westendsynagogue.org (Rabbi Emily) or cantor [at] westendsynagogue.org (Cantor Melissa) with any questions about the B Mitzvah process. If you have general questions about membership at West End, please email welcome [at] westendsynagogue.org.