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B’NEI MITZVAH GUIDELINES AT FTJC

Mazal tov! We’re so pleased that you and your family may be preparing to celebrate your child’s Jewish coming of age as part of the FTJC community. B’nei mitzvah are Jewish young adults who take increasing responsibility for their Jewish choices, and who earn the respect of being counted in the prayer minyan and having leadership roles in the minyan and in the community. In our community, boys may become bar mitzvah at 13 (by the Jewish calendar), and girls may do so either at age 12 or wait until age 13. In all cases, Rabbi Guy can consult with families about what would be most appropriate.

At FTJC, we place the highest value on the learning that comes before the big day, and on the ability of young adults to participate in Jewish life after the big day. The big day itself—the celebration of becoming b’nei mitzvah—is a collaboration between the community and the family, with the family and guests joining the regular services of the community. These guidelines seek to reflect these values.

To have a conversation about b’nei mitzvah, please be in touch with Rabbi Guy Austrian. Rabbi Guy is always happy to sit down over coffee or in your home and to get to know your family. This is also a good time to discuss gender identity, disabilities, learning styles, finances, and any other circumstances that you want to raise, so we can partner with you and your child as successfully as possible, upholding the unique talents and dignity of each child and family.

A Note about Membership: If not already members, families are asked to join us at least 2 years before expected b’nei mitzvah. Your celebration and learning will be much more meaningful if you make yourself an integral part of this warm, inclusive community. Special circumstances? Please talk with Rabbi Guy.


TIMELINE

While it can vary depending on the child’s current skill level and family practice, we generally recommend the following timeline (a more detailed timeline and checklist for families can be found on page 11 of this document)


ROLE OF THE RABBI

Rabbi Guy’s goal is to build a positive personal relationship with the child and family. Typically, his roles would include:

Rabbi Guy’s presence at parties or meals depends on timing and availability.

Note: there is no additional fee families must pay the rabbi or FTJC; the efforts of the rabbi and congregation to support families’ learning and celebration is a part of membership. Of course, if you are moved to do so, we certainly appreciate and welcome donations to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund and/or the congregation’s general operating fund.


LEARNING

What will a bar/bat mitzvah student be expected to learn and do?

There’s no standard or cookie-cutter here.  Our approach is to ask: What Torah learning and skill learning would be a meaningful stretch for this child to accomplish in the time available? Every child brings different talents, background, and prior Jewish education. Rabbi Guy and the B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator will work with the family to create an individual learning plan that will set up a child not just for the “big day” but for a lifetime of being able to participate and feel a sense of belonging in Jewish communities.  An individual learning plan might typically include something from each of the following components:

What kind of support will we have?

Through our Anafim / Branches cohort (6-8th grade) as part of RIMONIM: A Family Learning Community at FTJC, children are encouraged to participate in monthly programming that includes study, discussing, and experiential learning, both on Shabbat mornings and at other times. These programs are designed to establish a supportive cohort of children preparing to become b’nei mitzvah, where they can learn, reflect, and socialize together.

Rabbi Guy and the B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator will sit with your family to help you create an individual learning plan and will provide a list of tutors who can work with your family on skills. Rabbi Guy will help with the Devar Torah once a substantial amount of learning has taken place.

Should we plan to hire a tutor?  Are there approved FTJC tutors?

Many of our families have found tutors helpful in preparation. We have a growing list of FTJC community members who are highly skilled tutors that families can independently hire. Please be in touch with the B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator for this list of tutors. We recommend a sliding scale payment for tutors of $80-100 per one-hour session.


CEREMONY

Services at which the bar/bat mitzvah can be celebrated

There is no cookie-cutter approach to celebrating children becoming b’nei mitzvah at FTJC. However, a typical celebration includes the young person chanting from the Torah and/or Haftarah (reading from the Prophets), giving a Devar Torah (sermon), and perhaps leading a section of the prayer service. There is no minimum or maximum, as long as it is a meaningful stretch for the child. Your family, along with Rabbi Guy and the B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator, will decide what aspects of the service and how much chanting/reading you would like your child to do together.

One option is Shabbat morning, typically our community’s largest gathering time. Another wonderful option which can present more opportunity to shape an experience around your child and family is Shabbat minchah and ma’ariv--the Saturday afternoon and evening prayers, including a brief Torah reading, separated by se’udah shelishit (a meal similar to a luncheon) and concluding with Havdalah.  Purim and other holidays can also be special opportunities and may be discussed with Rabbi Guy and the Ritual Committee.

Honors and roles for families to distribute on a typical Shabbat morning:

The B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator will share an Honors Worksheet with families to aid in decision-making. The Ritual Committee reserves final say on an appropriate balance between honorees from the family and its guests and the community at large.

Frequently Asked Questions about the B’nei Mitzvah Ceremonies

We welcome the inclusion of youngsters according to ability and comfort levels. Petichah, gelilah, “Adon Olam,” “Ein Keloheinu,” and other opportunities exist. If you would like to offer an honor to a youngster that is not on the Honors Sheet, please be in touch with the B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator when discussing honors (2-3 months prior to the date).


No. An aliyah at FTJC is an honor for only one person at a time. Additional family members may join us at the Torah reader’s table following the aliyah, for related ritual moments such as a “mi shebeirach” blessing, but not for the aliyah itself. As noted above, FTJC reserves 4 aliyot for the family, and the remaining for community members.  It is the custom of the community to give out those other aliyot at the service on that day, so please note that those names cannot be included in your program if your family decides to create one.

We honor the vital contributions that non-Jewish spouses and relatives make to the Jewish life of their families and the Jewish upbringing of children, and we welcome them at our services and in our community. Non-Jewish relatives may:

However, they may not recite Jewish blessings, receive their own aliyah to the Torah, or perform other Jewish rituals per se. Non Jewish relatives can also give a dedicated blessing in any program, brochure, or written material that your family decides to create and distribute.

The rabbi alone will address the child with words of Torah and blessing at the conclusion of services. Parents or family members may not do so during Shabbat morning services, but are welcome and encouraged to do so at Friday night or Saturday night services, and at meals and private events. As noted above, the child is encouraged to deliver a Devar Torah (sermon).

Children with high-level Hebrew and liturgical skills may be able, at the discretion of the rabbi and Ritual Committee, to lead any service. We aim to achieve a balance among our normal service experience, the family’s needs, and the child’s demonstration of skills.

Yes, in keeping with the values and balance described above. Discussions about roles in all services should take place 2-3 months prior to b’nei mitzvah ceremonies.

No. We pray and celebrate together as one community, and we need to work within the capacity of our current available spaces.


Our regular service space for Shabbat mornings is the downstairs Social Hall at Hebrew Tabernacle, and we encourage families who want a Shabbat morning celebration to work with us to stay in that space. If your family wants to use the Sanctuary for Shabbat morning, we will work with you to see whether Hebrew Tabernacle can make it available. The Sanctuary may also be available for services other than Shabbat morning. The Sanctuary presents several challenges including acoustics and physical accessibility, but it does offer increased seating capacity in a more traditional sanctuary setting.

Yes! Young adults of all genders who become b’nei mitzvah ought to wear a tallit at all Shabbat and weekday morning services, and tefillin on weekday mornings. We are happy to help families learn about, practice wearing, and affordably acquire these deeply meaningful ritual items. You can speak with Rabbi Guy about acquiring and using these items.


LOGISTICS

Kiddush & Luncheons

We encourage families to sponsor the community’s typical kiddush for the congregation and all guests on the day of the celebration. This can range anywhere from light snacks to a more deluxe luncheon. If cost is a hardship, please speak to Rabbi Guy. The kiddush system is changing, so please be in touch with the B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator for more information.

If the family wants a more elaborate kiddush or luncheon, Hebrew Tabernacle can make available a set number of tables and chairs (up to 150). Additionally, FTJC has access to 60 more folding chairs which can be provided with advance planning. Tables and chairs beyond this number should be rented in advance independently by the family.

Yes, depending on space availability. The community and guests can enjoy a light kiddush for a short while before invited guests proceed to a private luncheon. It is not necessary to invite the entire congregation, although families may want to be thoughtful about including other families with children who are near b’nei mitzvah age around that time.

Your family will need to make rental reservations directly with HT and it is recommended you walk through the calendar of the day so that expectations about which caterer is in the kitchen, how chairs and tables will be set up, etc., are all clear.  

Because we have significant space restraints, booking a date well in advance will be critical.  If there is a date conflict with HT, there are other local spaces available, and placing a reservation up to 12 months in advance would be appropriate.

FTJC works with our fabulous in-house caterer, Jack Greene, who prepares food for the weekly kiddush and many other events, and families are welcome to hire Jack for their luncheon or party.  Families may also choose to hire an outside kosher caterer. For a growing list of vendors and caterers compiled by local b’nei mitzvah families, see this document. Please note that FTJC does not provide on-site kashrut supervision for outside caterers; if the caterer requires that, it will be at the family’s expense.

If you would like a list of caterers that have previously been used by FTJC families for b’nei mitzvah celebrations, please reach out to the B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator.

If the celebration requires additional hours beyond FTJC’s regularly contracted hours at the facility, then the family will need to contract privately with the facility to cover the additional time. FTJC is happy to help facilitate that connection between the family and facility.

If the celebration takes place in FTJC’s normal rental space, even if beyond our usual rental hours, then FTJC's policy for kashrut and Shabbat must be observed. Preparation and set-up for a Saturday night party cannot begin until Shabbat has ended that evening. Rabbi Guy is happy to help families navigate these guidelines to ensure a beautiful celebration that honors our traditions and works well for the family, guests, and outside vendors.

Vendors

Families are welcome to contribute to the festive environment by purchasing flowers, balloons, renting linens & tableware, etc. For information about commonly used vendors we recommend families see those reviewed in this document, compiled by local b’nei mitzvah families.

Families are additionally welcome to purchase customized kippot and bentchers/birkonim for guests and community members if they wish. Please see the document above for a list of kippah distributors. When purchasing bentchers/birkonim, note that FTJC prefers the Let Us Sing/L’chu N’ran’nah and Yedid Nefesh editions.

To coordinate deliveries or discuss any questions about vendors, be in touch with our B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator.


WHAT’S NEXT?

Great question! Jewish life doesn’t end after children become b’nei mitzvah. We hope and expect that your family will have many more years to grow in and with the FTJC community. We are developing a Teen Leadership Team which offers opportunities to hang out with peers, learn about Jewish topics, develop leadership, and perform community service. Within six months, young adults can expect to read Torah again, lead a service, or learn a new skill, as coordinated by our Ritual Committee.

What a great idea!  As we enjoy the abundance of our meals and feel gratitude for these blessings, we strongly encourage families to make a donation of 3% of the cost of the celebration to an organization addressing hunger, such as Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, or the food pantry at the Jewish Community Council  of Washington Heights and Inwood. We also encourage families to be creative about additional ways to express and teach the values of gratitude, modesty, sustainability, inclusion, and justice through these joyful opportunities to celebrate.


CHECKLIST & TIMELINE FOR FAMILIES

2 years in advance

1 year in advance

8-10 months in advance

6 months in advance

2-3 months in advance

1 month in advance

3 weeks in advance

1 week prior