By RABBI REUVEN TRADBURKS
I think the “mitzvah” is really starting to get back into the bat/bar mitzvah.
Now, I need no convincing that the bar has been winning. The conspicuous consumption of our bat and bar mitzvah parties is not something to be proud of.
But I think the mitzvah is catching up. And we should be proud of that.
I am only speaking anecdotally. I am not a social scientist – I haven’t done any studies as to how much mitzvah and how much bar. I am only speaking from my own perspective. But it seems to me that a lot of young people, with their parents’ help, are wanting to emphasize the right things in their celebrations.
In particular, I am proud of what I see has become the “in” thing to give tzedakah as part of the bat or bar mitzvah. Kids get a lot of gifts – how many pens can you use? Or maybe now it is iPods. There is nothing wrong with getting gifts, and enjoying them. But when a young person makes a donation to a tzedakah at their bat mitzvah, it is a life-transforming moment. For a young person to donate $500 or $180 or $1,000 – that is something you remember the rest of your life.
I think this trend, and I believe it is a trend, to give tzedakah is one of those proud developments in our Jewish world. As parents and educators have wanted to reclaim these celebrations and to infuse meaning into them, a whole subculture of bar and bat mitzvah programs has sprung up – in the day schools, Hebrew schools and based in synagogues – all different types of programs. Through the programs different types of mitzvahs are working their way into the bat mitzvah year, but at the head of the list is tzedakah. Some programs are emphasizing chesed – and I am proud of that. Some emphasize some Torah learning – that is great.
But tzedakah has become the universal mitzvah that all these programs – whether Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, unaffiliated, boys or girls – emphasize.
I had this little dream – and, truthfully, didn’t really do anything about it until this year. This dream was to get young Jewish people from all walks of our city together to sing and dance and do a mitzvah. Now, I got this idea from the thrill I get every Yom Ha’atzmaut to see hundreds of young people dancing to the Moshav Band in Earl Bales Park. It brings tears to my eyes because it is happy, singing, smiling, energy, Jewish, and it includes all types of kids. That is a dreamy thing – happy Jewish.
So, how could we have happy Jewish focused around another mitzvah? Due to my involvement in the Koby Mandell Foundation and the sense that bar and bat mitzvah tzedakah has become as close to a universally held mitzvah as any for young people, we decided to have a city-wide concert with Shlock Rock for all bar and bat mitzvah kids.
The concert was great: a few hundred kids and parents, lots of energy, happy and focused on a mitzvah – donating to Camp Koby. It fit great for the kids because Koby, alav hashalom, was just past his bar mitzvah when he was brutally murdered. And I feel that Camp Koby is one of those line-crossing tzedakahs – it is Israel; it helps kids who have lost family members to terror and that crosses all lines; it helps young people, which also brings out universal feelings; and for our bar and bat mitzvah kids, it is a bar mitzvah-aged boy whose memory is being perpetuated.
There is plenty of social criticism we can level at our Jewish world. But when we have good trends, and good copy-catting, and when a mitzvah takes off as tzedakah has, we have every right to be proud. I am proud of the educators, the parents, and especially the kids, who are getting the mitzvah back into their bat and bar. And I hope this trend, with the help of the educators and the parents, will become truly a universal aspect of every bat and bar mitzvah.
Rabbi Tradburks is spiritual leader of Kehillat Shaarei Torah in Toronto.