We’ve reached an important milestone in my house: the traditional choice of a Bar Mitzvah date. I awaited this event with a great deal of excitement. It was a sign that my son was getting older and it was the first step in the Bar Mitzvah itself. And it brought back memories of the excitement (and anxiety) I felt as I faced my own Bat Mitzvah many years ago.
I know that my son’s Bar Mitzvah will be like mine in many ways. There will be the studying with the rabbi and the cantor. Then he will need to write a d’var torah, or speech, based on his Torah portion. And finally, there will be the big day itself, when my son leads the congregation in worship and reads from the Torah. There is comfort for me in knowing what to expect as my husband and I go on this journey with my son. The similarities will also allow me to assure my son along the way. And these rituals which are new to my son but familiar to me, also help reinforce the value of l’dor v’dor—from generation to generation.
Life cycle events, like Bar Mitzvah, mark certain transitions in our life from birth through death. They also connect each of us to previous generations and to our Jewish values. But where did these events come from? Why is a Bar Mitzvah held at the age of 13? Why is the Bar or Bat Mitzvah the age at which Jewish parents are no longer responsible for their child’s Jewish education? Bar Mitzvah is not prescribed in the Torah. In the Talmud, it says that a girl becomes an adult at age 12 and a boy at age 13, but the ceremony that we associate with Bar Mitzvah came hundreds of years after this was written. And the history of our other life cycle events is similar.
While it may not be necessary to know the history of brit milah, b’nai mitzvah, or the wedding ceremony to participate in these events, it can add more meaning to the events themselves when you know how they’ve evolved over the centuries. This summer Melton Orlando will be offering Soul’s Cycles, a six-week course beginning June 1, that explores the origins of Jewish life cycle events and the rituals and values associated with them.
When my son started kindergarten, I envisioned all the wonderful elementary school experiences he would have including a 5th grade year full of celebrations. I never imagined that he would finish his elementary school years taking his classes online as we continue to physically distance ourselves during Covid-19.
Today, instead of sending my son out to the bus stop each morning, I send him to the dining room table before making my way to my virtual office in the next room. At regular intervals, my husband comes out of his virtual office to check that my son is staying on task. It’s not easy having everyone working from home, and sometimes our house seems sooo small. This year, my son’s last year in elementary school, there will be no overnight school trip or 5th grade trip to Universal Studios. My son’s 5th grade yearbook probably won’t include his picture because he’s attending school virtually and won’t be there for school picture day. On the other hand, we all get to eat lunch together. Homework has become a family event with everyone pitching in. When any of us feel stressed about schoolwork, client work, or the next adult Jewish education class, we sigh and pet a cat.
It’s not exactly the year I planned, but neither is it all bad. We’ve learned to roll with whatever comes our way. My son’s time in elementary school, especially during this year of Covid-19, has reminded me that parenting is all about being flexible. Yes, we need to maintain rules and consequences. But there are also teachable moments, laughter, and the lots of practice learning how to change direction at a moment’s notice. This is the way we stay sane these days—or at least whatever passes for “sane” in the time of pandemic.
My name is Julia Berger, and I am the Federation’s new Adult Jewish Learning Coordinator. Although I’m not brand new to this role (I began in August), I wanted my introduction to be accompanied by some big news about the Melton Adult Jewish Learning Program, and today is the day!
We just released our course schedule for fall 2020 and spring 2021, and I want to share a few details with you. You can read full course descriptions (and my bio) on the Federation’s Adult Jewish Learning page:
Members of the Tribe
Together, we’ll examine aspects of what might be considered the Jewish mission, a blend of practices that distinguish us as Jews, and what to do with this idea of being called the “Chosen People.”
6 weeks, starting October 13
Modern Living: Maintaining Balance
Workers in the United States increasingly put work-life balance at or near the top of their priority list. Surveys show that most find that balance elusive. In this course, we will explore ways we can find balance in our lives.
4 weeks, starting December 1
Jewish Medical Ethics
Within the field of ethics, one of the most challenging frontiers is medical ethics. This new course, taught by Melton’s Yael Weinstein, explores what Judaism has to say on a number of challenging issues, including human and animal cloning, surrogate motherhood and multiple parents, genetic identity, and assisted suicide/aid in dying.
10 weeks starting January 19
OMG, Can You Believe?
In this exploratory course, we’ll seek answers to the BIG questions around God and God’s relationship to Humankind. Take for yourself a Divine moment to uncover and consider many different understandings of God expressed by Jewish thinkers, past and present.
6 weeks, starting April 6
And again this year, we are allowing community members to get a taste of the Melton learning experience with a one-night-only class, and we have a timely one planned for next month:
Rhythms of Jewish Living: Sukkot
Just after the high holy days end, we are again commanded to come together to praise God, only this time in fragile booths that are both reminiscent of the story of Exodus and our agricultural past. This year, gather with fellow learners as we delve into the ancient texts that tell us how to celebrate Sukkot and contemporary texts that help us come to our own interpretation and understanding of this joyous holiday.
Tuesday, October 6 (registration details coming soon)
If you have questions about any of these courses or the Melton program in general, please feel free to contact me.