If You’ve Never Been to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Beth Jacob
Sample handout from a Bar Mitzvah Family
It’s a long service – about three hours – and most of it is in Hebrew. If this may be difficult for you, please feel free to come a little later – any time before about 9:40am is alright. Once you are in the sanctuary, however, it’s best to stay there and participate as much as you comfortably can, by following along in the English on the right side of the page, rising when the congregation rises, etc. I do know also of one or two people who bring a small book that is related to Judaism, Torah, or nature or science, and slip it into the prayer book for a little break. But you didn’t hear this from me.
The Bar Mitzvah is integrated into the regular Shabbat service. What makes it a Bar Mitzvah is that Joseph is called to the Torah to read from it, leads the congregation in prayer for the first time, and teaches from the Torah after he has chanted from it, giving a d’var Torah (in English!) D’var Torah means literally “a word of Torah” and is a kind of sermon. In this way, by chanting Torah, teaching Torah, and leading the congregation in prayer, Joseph shows that he is ready to be counted as an adult Jew in the community.
Joseph’s family – all of us – are invited to stand together and recite shechehianu, and then the whole congregation sings with us siman tov u’mazel tov. Siman tov u’mazel tov means “a good sign and good luck” may it be for us and all Israel and the shechehianu prayer means the following: “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this wonderful time.” If you don’t know the blessing in Hebrew, a hearty amen serves to say you agree with the prayer. You may be able to catch on to the siman tov u’mazel tov song, and it’s fun to clap hands along with it. Then we’ll sit back down and settle in for the last section of the service. It’s usually over around 12:15pm.
Joseph’s teachers are acknowledged as a group – teachers, please stand when the Rabbi asks Joseph’s teachers to stand, as we honor you with a short reading that says “when all of your children are taught of the Lord, great will be the peace of your children.” Don’t worry if you taught him secular and not religious subjects – we believe that all truth is of G-d, and honor all of his teachers, not just the religious ones.
Once we move to the social hall, there is one last prayer before lunch. There are trays of little cups of wine and larger small cups of juice for the kiddush, the blessing over wine. Everyone who wants to, takes one and holds it while the rabbi leads the prayer, then we all say amen and drink. Only after that may people line up at the buffet tables (kids, please take note – even if you don’t want the wine or juice, no one eats until the blessing has been said.)
There will be explanatory booklets about the service on the table by the kippot/yarmulkes just outside the sanctuary door. Men must cover their heads as a sign of respect. Women can if they choose, and only Jews wear the prayer shawl, another thing that Joseph will do for the first time on his Bar Mitzvah.
Joseph and I (and Bill and David) are really excited to share this with you, and hope that you find it interesting and meaningful. Even if you don’t, we’re pretty sure you’ll like the food at the kiddush lunch and we really look forward to greeting and visiting with you there. Meanwhile, feel free to call with any questions. There is a wide range of Jewish practice and some of this is new to our Jewish friends and family as well as our non-Jewish family and friends. (952)432-xxxx or email@example.com
Love and hugs from Pam and Joseph!