As members of the Breaking Matzo community know, I have a great love for Jewish ritual experiences, particularly those that involve family and friends. These moments, whether marking a lifecycle event or a holiday, have the potential to inspire and guide us long after they are over. As I reflect on the meaning of bar/bat mitzvah in my life, four snapshots appear in my mind’s eye; each carries a distinct lesson that has remained important to me throughout the years:
I. A Garage Bar Mitzvah – Simplicity & Sweetness
My bar mitzvah celebration took place on March 21, 1981 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. We did not meet in a synagogue, school, or hotel, but in my family’s two-car garage! I vividly remember my mom and dad moving our cars onto the street and sweeping and decorating our garage. My friends and I celebrated in our basement. It was so simple and so sweet. I have been to many beautiful (and much more lavish) bar/bat mitzvah celebrations since that time, but when I think of our garage bar mitzvah, it reminds me of what is most important about these festivities: family, friends, and the celebration of life.
II. Alex’s Bar Mitzvah – Creating Personal Meaning
Unlike my bar mitzvah celebration, my parents held my younger brother’s service and party at the Allentown Hilton. What most impressed me was not the hotel lobby or grand ballroom, but the special, personalized service my parents and Alex crafted together. While they followed the traditional framework of the Shabbat morning service, they also included readings and songs that made it more personally meaningful. It was my first realization that Judaism can be enacted flexibly and that each of us brings something unique to this amazing unfolding tradition.
III. Passing the Torah to My Daughters: From Generation to Generation
I will never forget Caroline and Lucy’s bat mitzvah celebrations. These were two of the proudest days of my life. I still remember standing on the bimah (front platform of the synagogue), passing the Torah to each of them—symbolically handing the tradition to them, just as my parents handed it to me — and then listening to them chant from the scroll and share their thoughts on the Torah portion. It was so powerful to see my little girls with hair bows and child play, emerge as young women with thoughtful ideas and perspectives.
IV. Capturing Memories – Visual Touchstones
This memory actually blends two experiences from my youth and adulthood: I have always been a visual person. In fact, I used my bar mitzvah money—all 350 dollars—to buy my first painting (created by my mom’s artist friend). It is this same artistic sensibility that led me to prepare montages for countless family celebrations. For my daughters’ bat mitzvahs, my goal was to capture images from each of their 13 years in 13 minutes! I spent an enormous time preparing each of these photographic presentations, and loved every moment of the process. It was deeply gratifying to witness the joy it brought to the girls and our family and friends. I have watched the montages many times as a way of remembering these special events and the people I love.
What do you remember most when you close your eyes and reflect on your bar/bat mitzvah experiences or other life cycle rituals? What are the lessons you carry with you from these sacred moments in time?