AT CONGREGATION B’ NAI TZEDEK, we hold a semi-annual “B’nai Mitzvah Boot Camp,” where I gather the students who will become B’nai Mitzvah within the following nine to sixteen months. We talk about what B’nai Mitzvah means: It’s not a party or even a service, it’s a title. We talk about our responsibility to the Jewish community: Taking charge of our role in the great chain of tradition. We discuss the four things a child has to accomplish before they can receive the title of Jewish Adult: Lead services, Teach through a D’var Torah, Commit to a Mitzvah, and Give Tzedakah. Lead, Teach, Mitzvah, Tzedakah. As much as this talk may inspire them, which I hope it does, it still leads to the same thing. The children lead a service, have a party, give tzedakah, and maybe remember to keep doing their mitzvah.
Some kids have an easy time with this they enjoy it, they love performing and they thrive on the bimah. Others struggle. Even for the best of the best, it is not an easy process.
I wanted to encourage our emerging Jewish adults to make their B’nai Mitzvah experience more personally meaningful. But first I needed a guinea pig.
I had known Jonas Holdaway for nearly four years when he and his parents sat in my office to discuss his upcoming Bar Mitzvah experience. I knew he was already a passionate giver of his time and resources, and I asked him a question. Knowing that the requirements of becoming a Bar Mitzvah are still Leading, Teaching, Mitzvah, and Tzedakah, is there one he would like to highlight over the others? Jonas chose Mitzvah. He wanted to make sandwiches for the hungry, and he already had an idea for his guests to participate with him. I asked him if he would like to cut out some of the prayers from the morning service and do that as a part of his Saturday morning celebration.
Jonas became a Bar Mitzvah on September 9, 2017. Usually B’nai Mitzvah speak after the hakafah, with the Torah out next to them. Jonas just started speaking after only a couple of prayers. The look on the faces of the regulars was priceless. They were intrigued as to why he might be speaking at this point. He spoke eloquently about how important feeding the hungry is to him and his family, about volunteering at soup kitchens and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then he told his guests that they would be making sack lunches for the hungry that very morning.
We ushered his guests into the Social Hall where Jonas had set up stations for packing bag lunches. Participants went from station to station, making two or more lunches, which Jonas took the following day to Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa. After boxing up 346 lunches, Jonas led the congregation in the rest of the worship service, including reading beautifully from the Torah.