The symbolism of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is the start of a young person’s Jewish life. The responsibility of observing Jewish laws and keeping one’s Jewish spirituality whole. I ask myself why then, for most B’nai Mitzvah students, and their families, the ceremony and big celebration are the end of one’s Jewish life, not the beginning. Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, commented in response to the Pew research study on American Jews, "there is a huge drop-off in interest after the Bar or Bat Mitzvah process, certainly for the student and for the parent. There is little done to keep them coming back."
Families often quit their membership in our Temple after their last child has a B’nai Mitzvah. Many pull their children out of the community school, and stop sending their young teenagers to confirmation class, Jewish Youth Group Events and Jewish camps once their Bar or Bat Mitzvah has taken place.
As I reflect on our community at large and our congregation specifically this is a troubling thought. I take it personally and feel responsible, and yet I can’t but think strongly that this is a fixable issue. We know that young families become involved in Temple and Jewish life when their children are toddlers. Grand-parents again take an active role at the Temple when their grandchildren are welcome at Temple. Our community school offers a sense of broader Jewish connection with young Jewish friends from across Central Iowa. We must as a Congregation make a commitment to programming for toddlers and their families, young children, and yes, teens. Our Temple Youth Group is thriving because those young people involved have relationships that have been fostered from Sunday school, Hebrew school, camps, and youth group programs. Confirmation is being retooled so that our youth find it engaging and their families find value in the extended program now through seniors in high school.
Making the commitment to send one’s children to the community school and participating in the B’nai Mitzvah process proves that a family clearly has determined their child’s Jewish education and identity is important. We as a congregation will continue to encourage our young families to send their children to Beit Sefer Shalom.
As you begin your child’s Jewish life experiences, look beyond the ceremony and the celebration and ask about your Jewish life post B’nai Mitzvah. Our children are Jews for ALL of their lives, not just the first 13 years. These young people are truly the future of our Jewish Community.
B’Shalom, Judy Shkolnick