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Putting the Bar Back in Bar Mitzvah (Not the One You Think!)

Atlanta clergy have noticed a perplexing trend. Parents and teens are dropping the words “bar” or “bat” when referring to a bar mitzvah.

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Wait, what?? The child is the bar or bat mitzvah. The event itself is all about the person.

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“If you’re only saying ‘mitzvah’ or ‘the mitzvah’ about your child’s rite of passage, it removes the individual entirely,” noted Rabbi Elana Perry, Director of The Jewish Education Collaborative in Atlanta. “There are so many mitzvot, but this particular milestone is so important. It’s not accurate to call it just by half its name.”

Cantorial soloist and bar mitzvah tutor Veronica Beskin agrees. “In Judaism, we have 613 commandments or mitzvot that were given to us in the Torah. However, a bar or a bat mitzvah is a mitzvah that specifically celebrates a boy or a girl entering adulthood in the Jewish community.  It is entirely unique from other mitzvot.”

For a gender-neutral option, both b’nai mitzvah or b’mitzvah can be used. But no matter the term used for the ceremony, it’s important that we remember it is about the person and their connection to their Judaism. Language matters.

In other words, when your teen is called to the Torah on the big day, the rabbi or cantor won’t be saying “Hey, you!” as if anyone could come up at that time. This is not an everyday, ordinary mitzvah. We should honor it, and teach others to honor it, by calling it by its full name.

Beyond using the correct terminology, and encouraging your vendors to do the same, families can place emphasis on this special simcha in other ways:

·         Think of it as an opportunity for learning, not just for the bar or bat mitzvah child, but also for the whole family. Study together, work on acts of Tzedakah together, explore your family’s history together.

·         Consider the most important values in your family and find ways to reflect them in activities that lead up to the service and in the service itself.

·         Incorporate loved ones who have a played a big role in forming your child’s Jewish identity to participate in the service.

·         CELEBRATE with family and friends!


“Whatever else you do, make it meaningful,” said Rabbi Perry.

As you bring the “bar” back into bar mitzvah, visit the Atlanta Mitzvah Connection Directory to find mitzvah project organizations and every type of partner you’ll need to make the big weekend memorable.


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