What My Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah Means to Me

Students review the process of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah and explore the significance of their achievements and participation in this program.


Lana Schwartz (October 14, 2017)
Jakob Shonbrun-Siege (January 7, 2017)
Mia Shonbrun-Siege (January 7, 2017)
Jonah Edelman-Gold (October 23, 2016)
Camila Grunberg (June 25, 2016)
Raven Kaplan-Karlick (May 21, 2016)
Safia Singer-Pomerantz (April 30, 2016)
Alexander Kol Harris (March 5, 2016)
Julian Gerber (January 9, 2016)
Maya Mondlak Reuveni (October 3, 2015)
Liana Hitts (April 26, 2015)
Benjamin Bottner (October 11, 2014)
Andre Schoolman (May 10, 2014)
Liliana Franklin (April 27, 2014)
Samantha Streit (April 5, 2014)
Julian Keifetz (October 13, 2013)
Jolie Elins (October 12, 2013)
Caleb Klein (September 29, 2013)
Anna Young (September 22, 2013)
Alex Botwin (September 21, 2013)
Jordan Hallerman (June 30, 2013)
Adrianna Keller Wyman (June 15, 2013)
Yelena Keller Wyman (June 15, 2013)
Georgia Dahill-Fuchell (June 9, 2013)
Olivia Alcabes (November 8, 2012)
James Ryan (October 22, 2011)
Nicky Young (June 13, 2010)
Arielle Silver-Willner (May 15, 2010)
Alicia Blum (May 8, 2010)
Isaac Mann (January 17, 2010)
Ryan Kramer (December 5, 2009)
Yana Lyandres (November 14, 2009)
Emily Dyke (October 25, 2009)
Yoela Koplow (May 23, 2009)
Jonah Lieberman Flint (May 16, 2009)
Sophie Silverstein (May 9, 2009)
Gabe Zimmerman (December 20, 2008)
Abigail Lienhard Cohen (November 12, 2005)
Alex Rawitz (February 23, 2008)
Ben Farber (May 12, 2007)
Danielle Nourok (October 21, 2006)
Ethan Bogard (September 13, 2008)
Kyra Zimmerman (November 18, 2006)
Sabrina Frank (June 16, 2007)
Sam Lewis (June 9, 2007)

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Lana Schwartz
October 14, 2017

I have learned so much while going through the process of becoming a Bat Mitzvah. My parents thought that a Bat Mitzvah was an important rite of passage in becoming a young Jewish woman and they wanted to do it in a meaningful way; that’s why they chose a humanistic congregation. What they liked about this congregation’s approach was that it really made me think about and focus on my values and what’s important to me as I go into my teenage years, when it’s especially important to know who you are and what you stand for.

Sometimes it was hard to write my papers because of auditions, homework, and I moved to a new apartment! Sometimes, it took the threat of losing my electronics to make me do it, but in the end, I’m really glad I did it because standing here today, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

I learned a lot about my family that I didn’t know before; their childhoods, their experiences with the arts, their Jewish or non Jewish upbringings, their values and what is important to them. I never sat and thought about my values, and hearing my family’s values helped me figure out my own, and which values have been passed down to me through the family’s generations. I collected some wonderful humorous stories that I will carry with me and can pass on to the next generation of our family.

While writing my role model paper, I learned how much I look up to Anne Frank and her ability to stay optimistic.

Through this process, my parents also planned a Bat Mitzvah trip for me to Europe, where we visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, and the very first Jewish ghetto, which was in Venice. Seeing Anne’s annex was such an amazing experience for me. It’s one thing to read about her, but to see it in person, to actually stand in her bedroom, was a whole different thing. You can really understand what her situation was, instead of imagining. I found out that at the first Jewish ghetto in Venice, the Jews were allowed out during the day, but were locked in at night. I really got a sense of my heritage from going to the Ghetto. This trip really opened my eyes to so much that happened in the past and what is happening now. I know much more about Jewish history than I did before I went on this trip, and I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to go.

The final project was probably the most interesting work that I did, because I talked to writers and composers that I’ve looked up to for years. I learned so many behind the scenes secrets about their process and will now look at theatre in a whole different way.

In Kidschool, we learned a lot about Tzedaka, what it means to give, and having worked with my friends from school to make money for charities was the beginning of new ideas I have about continuing charity work.

I’ve really been looking forward to my Bat Mitzvah, and I’m so excited to share all of these things that I’ve been preparing for over a year, with everyone. This huge milestone means so much to me.

To me, my Bat Mitzvah means growing up. I’m passing my childhood and heading into my teens, and someone should wish my parents good luck. It means more freedom in my choices, but I know with more freedom comes more responsibility. As I was thinking about who I want to be, what became clear to me was that I don’t want to have to carve out, now, a person for me to step into in the future. I just want to be who I am and go forward from there. I think that it’s important to be open to all opportunities, and not to have a set plan, because as we all know life takes many twists and turns. So my hope is that I will be able to go with the flow and see who I become, instead of setting a skeleton to step into.

I worked extremely hard in preparation for this day, but I could not have done it without extra help from some people who I would like to thank.

Thank you to my parents, for helping me…pushing me to do all of this work, and for helping me through it even when it felt impossible. Thank you also for putting together this celebration and caring enough to make sure we are all here together today. I also want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t be here without you…literally.

Thank you to my mentor, Alice, for your time and flexibility with my crazy schedule. Whether on the phone or in person, you helped keep me on track and explained everything so I could understand it. I also want to thank Isabel, the head of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah program for helping edit my papers and giving me encouraging and wonderful notes to make them better. Thank you to Rabbi Peter for helping me think more deeply on the subjects I wanted to work on, and guiding me through this process, again, dealing with my crazy schedule. I’m thankful that you are here today for my service. We came to the congregation right after our big move from California which was shortly before my Grandfather passed away. All of you made us feel welcome. And where else can I express my love of theatre as part of my Bat Mitzvah?

I also want to thank Aram for playing beautiful music today, and to Aaron, Carolyn and Danny for helping me make this an even more musical celebration.
Finally, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for being here today to help me celebrate.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Jakob Shonbrun-Siege
January 7, 2017

So this is the end of my service and it feels great!! It took a massive amount of time, work, and now we’re done! It is so nice to be able to stand here today in front of you all and say those words after so much doubting if I ever would.

What does my bar mitzvah mean to me? Well, I’ve always known that I wanted to have a bar mitzvah. I knew it when I was going to KidSchool, I really knew it when I was tasting food for Carly’s bat mitzvah, and I even knew it when I procrastinated a bit too much and no one thought I still wanted one. I’m so happy and relieved that I did it. I really, really, didn’t want to end up not having one and regretting it when I’m older.

For me, this bar mitzvah means I have a place in Judaism. I’ve always felt somewhat less of a Jew compared to others. We do things very differently here at the City Congregation and sometimes that has made me feel like this doesn’t really count or I don’t really understand Judaism. But now, I’m so glad I did this process rather than the typical one. I have so much more freedom and it gives me a chance to learn what Judaism means to me.

This bar mitzvah is not being forced on me and it lets me form my own opinions. I feel like I’m a part of the community now since I learned the place Judaism has in my life independently, like an adult. I love how this bar mitzvah introduces me to adulthood in Judaism where I really reflect on my values, think about my beliefs, and most importantly, act on them. I know who I am now in this amazing community and no one can tell me otherwise.

I know my bar mitzvah is supposed to be the turning point to maturity and independence and it did show me what it’s like to grow up and have real work. But guess what, I’m bad at it. It has taught me how to handle work in the future like the adult I’m becoming.

A lot of people helped me in this process to be able to speak to you today and now I want to thank them for while this did teach me about independence, I could not have done it without them. First I want to thank Rabbi Peter and Isabel Kaplan for sticking with me with amazing advice and making this b’nai mitzvah possible. The program they put together gave Mia and me a wonderful, unique experience. I want to thank Mika Nishimura for providing the amazing music today and throughout the many years we’ve known her. She’s been with us since before Carly had her bat mitzvah, so it’s only fitting that she is here for us after all these years alongside my spectacular sister and mother. Of course I have to thank my family, and more specifically, my amazing parents who somehow kept with me and kept me going. It was definitely not easy, but their value of seeing things through outshone the anxiety and pressure.

Thank you to Dan, my mentor, for always giving me advice and guidance. Your ideas and easy-going style made me want to keep going, and more importantly, made me believe I could. I cannot thank you enough for giving me your time to talk or just get tacos at a restaurant made out of a van. I, of course, have to thank all of you for coming here from far and wide to join us on this special day.

And lastly, but certainly not least, I must thank Mia, for going through this along side me and for being someone I could always talk to about this whole process, since you were doing it too! Thank you all so much.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Mia Shonbrun-Siege
January 7, 2017

During this process I have learned so much about myself. As cliche as that sounds, writing these essays has made me take a step back and think.

I discovered my role model, Tina Fey, and learned so many things about her. I learned so many values my family has that before this process I knew nothing about. The paper that stood out the most to me was the challah paper. Not only was there an endless number of interesting facts to learn about challah, but what was considered “bat mitzvah work” was literally baking with my mom. I hate to say it, but I might be a little sick of eating challah!

My parents wanted me to become a bat mitzvah because I’ve been part of a Jewish community since I’ve been born. I have been going to Jewish education, or as we call it “KidSchool”, since I was about two years old and my parents thought having a bat mitzvah would connect me to Jewish people around the world. This process has been more challenging than it should have been for my brother and me, and insanely long, but I feel so proud and honestly relieved to have finished it.

I am so grateful I had my parents’ help throughout this process. Although it caused many fights and stress, they helped me with so much of this. They also put together the service and party and are the reason we are all here today. I love you guys! A huge thanks to my mentor, Molly, who stuck with me through this whole process no matter how long it was. Although it did take forever, she is the reason I even finished at all. Thank you to Rabbi Peter and Isabel Kaplan who helped me with every paper, by editing and offering amazing advice. Really this could not have been completed without you two.

Thank you to Mika who started out teaching Carly and me how to play piano but has now become an important part of this congregation and friend to my family for many years and is here tonight playing the piano for Jakob and me. Thank you to my sister Carly for not only being a great older sister, but also leading us in the music today. I love you! Thank you to Jakob for sharing a womb and this service for without him I never could have written enough alone to fill a whole service! And finally, thank you to everyone who came today. I am so happy you are here.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Jonah Edelman-Gold
October 23, 2016

First, I would like to request a moment of silence for my Grandpa Harvey, who died earlier this year, and my Grandma Dot, who died two and a half years ago. I miss them every day and I am sorry they were not able to be here today. I know they were looking forward to attending my Bar Mitzvah.

Thank you.

Before I started working on my Bar Mitzvah, if someone had told me I didn’t have to have a Bar Mitzvah, I would not have had one. If someone had asked me what I would rather be doing at any moment during my Bar Mitzvah process, I would have said, “Almost anything else.” But looking back on what I did, I understand why it is a tradition that has been carried on over the years.

A Bar Mitzvah is a coming of age ritual, and with age comes responsibility. Having a Bar Mitzvah is a responsibility that I didn’t really want to take on, but did anyway. When I first started my Bar Mitzvah I didn’t know why I had to do all of the things that City Congregation required, but now I do. This process gave me the tools and motivation to gain knowledge for when I am an adult.

What my Bar Mitzvah means to me is maturing into adulthood and having both more responsibilities and freedom. My dad had a Bar Mitzvah when he was my age and hated it. He hated it because he was told what to say and had minimal freedom, which didn’t make it feel like a transition into adulthood. As a Humanistic Jew, my Bar Mitzvah meant that I had freedom to do almost anything.

One of the first steps in my Bar Mitzvah was interviewing relatives for my family values paper. Through these interviews I learned about my relatives’ history. One relative who stood out was my grandma Beverly, who died before I was born. I didn’t know a lot about her, but after learning about her I realized she seemed like someone I would look up to. She stood up for her beliefs and wasn’t afraid to show them. Many people tell me I’m like that because I express my beliefs even if the majority disagrees. This is a legacy I am proud to have inherited and will continue to pass it on to further generations.

Learning about the suffering of the Jews in the 1930’s and 40’s in Europe, I wondered why more people didn’t stand up for them. Americans and Europeans were bystanders to what Hitler was doing. Now people are unable to imagine a world like that.  But today we have our own struggles, and I think we need more activists like Pete Seeger who are determined to speak out against injustice. His efforts helped lay the groundwork for many of the current protest movements such as Black Lives Matter, and those who advocate for Syrian refugees, undocumented aliens and gay and transgender rights. History has shown that people will often not help others in need until an activist arises and changes the public’s mind.

Now I would like to thank the following people because without them I wouldn’t be standing here today.

First of all, my parents, for helping me to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah, and putting up with my lack of enthusiasm for the process.

I would like to thank all of the family members I interviewed for my family history project, especially my Grandpa Jack, who couldn’t be here today, but gave me a lot of information about his time in China while he was in the Army during World War II.

I want to thank my sister, Lily, for having her Bat Mitzvah before me and inspiring me.

I would like to thank Nicole Miller, who helped me organize things and get through the papers I had to write.

I would like to thank my mentor Middy Streeter for always being there to help me.

I want to thank Rabbi Peter for writing the Bar Mitzvah service, Aram Rubenstein-Gillis for his singing, and Isabel Kaplan for coordinating the Bar Mitzvah process.

And, finally, I would like to thank everyone for being here today to help me celebrate.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Camila Grunberg
June 25, 2016

To me, becoming a Bat Mitzvah was the start of a journey that will continue forever. Although now I am officially a Bat Mitzvah, I will continue to consider my family history and values in my daily life. Not only will I consider them but I will also create my family’s history and my own personal values as I continue to grow older. Most importantly, I will make sure to continue to be insightful and thoughtful while completing any work, both academic and non academic.

The preparation for my Bat Mitzvah was a process marked by awareness. I interviewed family members, from the oldest person in my family (my great aunt Bella who lives in Lyon, France, and is in her nineties, who told me that in her view the meaning of life is true love) to the youngest one who responded “I don’t know” when I asked what is the meaning of life. I also found objects that belonged to my great grandparents, and received a very special present from Bella for my Bat Mitzvah: a beautiful ring that used to belong to her older sister, my great grandmother, Fanny.

As I learned about my family history and values, I was able to appreciate what being Jewish has meant to different family members, from the Hassidic relatives who live in Jerusalem and Brooklyn, to those who follow a secular approach to Judaism.

This process helped me be more aware of my heritage and family history, the sad moments lived as a result of the Holocaust and the losses we have had as well as the many joyful moments that followed. My Bat Mitzvah preparation process provided a space for me to think about my own Jewish identity, and is also a source of guidance I can always go back to.

One of the most challenging parts that came with preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, that I encountered later on in the process, was time management. At times it was very difficult to juggle both schoolwork and Bat Mitzvah work. However, I am glad that I was able to make time for both because it is satisfying to see the final outcome of all my hard work in the form of my Bat Mitzvah service.

One of the most rewarding parts of the Bat Mitzvah process is not only the work, but also the new thinking and knowledge that I now have from completing it. A lot of the reflective and insightful thinking that I had to do for school, is somewhat similar to my Bat Mitzvah thinking, although about very different topics. I also believe that my Bat Mitzvah work made my schoolwork more insightful.

I would like to thank all my friends and family for being here today and everyday. Your constant support and company makes every moment more enjoyable, therefore making my Bat Mitzvah preparation so much more meaningful.

I would like to thank all my family who supported me throughout this journey, and also all my friends who helped with my community service projects. I loved spending time with all of you.

Next I would like to thank my mentor, Rachel, whose everlasting support made today possible. She was always there to make sure I felt comfortable and proud of my work. I would also like to thank her daughter, Georgia, for speaking with me and giving me tips about the Bat Mitzvah service and celebration. I would like to thank Rabbi Peter and Isabel Kaplan for their help on my various Bat Mitzvah papers, and for their continued help throughout the process. A big thank you to Aram for the wonderful music he played today. This endeavor would have definitely not been possible without any of you.

Once again, thank you to everyone for being here today, and I look forward to continuing my journey as a Bat Mitzvah.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Raven Kaplan-Karlich
May 21, 2016

I have learned a great deal by working towards my Bat Mitzvah.

Through writing my Family History paper, I learned new things about my parents. For example, I learned that when my dad was growing up, his family felt that they didn’t fit in their Brooklyn neighborhood as it became increasingly Orthodox. Since I sometimes feel like an outsider, I related to this.

I was very surprised to learn that my mom’s secular Jewish family sometimes celebrated the holidays with a Christmas tree. It was fun to learn something brand new about my mom.

Through writing my Family Values paper, I got to ask my grandmother about her values and beliefs before she died. Those were the most important questions I ever asked her. I will cherish her answers forever.

My Beliefs paper really reflects who I am, although now I would add that I believe in equal rights for all human beings.

My Role Model paper showed me how like my grandmother I am. Like her, I care deeply about injustices to women and minorities. Like her, I don’t quest for money or fame.

My Major Project, about growing up as a humanistic Jew, made me see that I’ve learned to be strong and unafraid to speak my mind.

Through my community service, I’ve learned how much I enjoy helping others of my own free will, and not because someone else tells me to do so.

My parents both made it clear from the beginning that it was my choice whether or not to have a Bat Mitzvah. I believe that now they are very pleased that I have done so. My mom says it was “a real growth experience” for me.

And now I would like to express my thanks to all those who have helped me get to this very special day.

Thank you, Mom, for being there every step of the way. You are so accepting of me, no matter what. I really needed you throughout this Bat Mitzvah process. I love you so much!

Thank you, Dad. You, too, have been there for me, even though you like to say I’ll “be the death of you.” I love you.

Thank you to my mentor, Janice, for not giving up on me for three years, and for turning my “gibberish” into words. Just saying thanks isn’t enough to express how much you have helped me.

Thank you, Rabbi Peter, for supporting me, and for not being dismissive of my ideas, even when they were “outside the box.”

Thank you, Isabel, for running such a terrific Bar and Bat Mitzvah program. Thank you, Aram. Back when I was a little girl, I told you that I would “force” you to play at my Bat Mitzvah, and guess what has finally happened!

Thank you to my friends. You are all very important to me.

Finally, thank you to all my guests today for sitting through my (long!)
Bat Mitzvah and for (I hope!) staying awake. You have made this special day even more special.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Safia Singer-Pomerantz
April 30, 2016

At first I was quite reluctant to begin the Bat Mitzvah process. My family started going to The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism when I was eight and, at that point, I truly didn’t see the need to become a Bat Mitzvah. During elementary school, I would ask many of my friends who already knew that they were going to be Bat Mitzvahed why they wanted to do this, and what the purpose was? Many did not have definitive or clear answers, and this prompted me to want to figure out how I would find meaning in this experience. Initially, my going through this process of learning and discovery was something that was important mostly to my mother, as a way to connect to our heritage and traditions. However, as time went on I took ownership of the experience, and it became just as important to me. Through this journey with Jean, Rabbi Peter, Isabel, and my family I have uncovered a truly significant and special sense of what it means to become a Bat Mitzvah. There has been a great deal of hard work that went into this, but it has also been fun and interesting, has let me develop a sense of creativity, and has given me freedom and independence to make choices about what I wanted to explore and write about. Having to write the majority of one’s own Bat Mitzvah service, as students at this congregation do, means taking responsibility for one’s actions and words.

This process has not only been about my journey but also about understanding the journey of my family and how they got to this country. I realized as I looked back on all of the essays I wrote for today that there are common themes of immigration, seeking freedom, and surviving in the diaspora- both for people and music. It seems fitting that today is the last day of Passover, a time when we remember how Jews broke free from enslavement in Egypt and began their own exodus. Throughout this Bat Mitzvah process I have constantly unraveled new things about my identity, against the backdrop of history and my heritage. I formed connections with my grandmothers, in the retelling of family stories, that I otherwise never would have made, and I have come to have a better understanding about what I value, what my family values, my family’s deep history, and Jewish cultural history. I have learned about what it means to be a Humanistic Jew: that we are all responsible to take care of one another no matter what one’s religious beliefs may be, and that we have a responsibility to shape our own lives and make our own decisions.

I could not have gotten to this point without Rabbi Peter, who led the ceremony today. Thank you for meeting with me over the last 18 months, for entertaining a few major project paper topics before I hit on the right one, and for emailing my dad all of the many klezmer music listening opportunities, in real time, that exist in New York City. I also give a big thanks to Isabel, the director of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah program, for helping with the edits on all of the papers, for her incredible sense of organization, and for her support. Thanks also to Aram for the fantastic music today and for rehearsing with me and with my cousins before we played. Music is what ultimately makes the celebration. To my mentor, Jean, who happens to live just down the street from me, whose encouragement and wisdom have been with me in this Bat Mitzvah process at every step, and who has become a friend of my family’s- I am deeply appreciative of all you have done. And of course, I am especially grateful to my parents, who have helped me to get here today, who have supported me with ideas and creativity in this Bat Mitzvah journey, and who show their endless love for me everyday. Finally, there would not be any celebration without people to share it with. I thank all of you, my amazing friends and family, for always being here for me and for sharing in this day.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Alexander Kol Harris
March 5, 2016

I am very proud of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. I had to work hard. I ultimately learned a lot about myself, my family, and the Jewish community as a whole, and I think that was what my parents wanted. They wanted the experience and the work I did to help me grow and accept that suggestions and critiques of my projects and writing are meant to help me to be as good as I can be and are not intended to make me feel that I did not do a good enough job. They also wanted me to think about my role in the Jewish community and the other communities I am a part of. I think I have.

I learned about myself and my family’s history. I gained a deeper appreciation of what my ancestors had to do to make it to the United States and to give me and my immediate family the things I enjoy today. I learned many other interesting things that relate to my life, like my dad’s uncle having been a pilot in World War II, and my dad’s father having been a member of the Newtown High chess club!

I learned more about one of my role models and his life and accomplishments, and the qualities I value in people. I now know how important and fulfilling community service can be. I discovered the long-standing connection between Jews and chess, and how important and intertwined chess and Jews are with each other. I am proud of the knowledge I was able to gain.

I would like to thank my parents for supporting me and making me work even if I didn’t want to. I would also like to thank my mentor, Alice Kaplan, for keeping me on track and letting me know about requirements I may not have been aware of. Thank you to Rabbi Peter for providing useful feedback on my work and helping me develop my major project. I appreciate your interest in my chess topic, your research, and your detailed suggestions. Thank you, Isabel Kaplan, for directing the enriching Bar Mitzvah program which I am proud to be a part of. And thanks to Aram Rubenstein-Gillis for providing the service with song.

Finally, I would like to thank friends and family for coming out to celebrate this important moment with me and my parents. It is good to get together for a happy occasion.

Thank you.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Julian Gerber
January 9, 2016

As you may have noticed, this service is quite literally un-orthodox. Instead, it’s a humanistic service. Humanistic Judaism focuses more on the cultural aspect of Judaism than the religious aspect. Humanistic Jews don’t regard the Torah as a divine truth, but more of a guideline for ethics and morals that can be changed, or added on to, depending on the society around us. Therefore, my Bar Mitzvah is less about a God or the Torah and more about a milestone in my life and the values and interests that I have chosen at this stage of my life. However, if my Bar Mitzvah is just about values, then what makes the thirteenth birthday the one we discuss our values on? The answer is, it’s a tradition. Ever since around the fifteenth century, Jewish boys have been having Bar Mitzvahs at the age of thirteen because it is believed that by the age of thirteen, you are now responsible for your actions and for following the commandments. However, although it was a tradition for boys, it took about 400 more years for girls to get bat mitzvahs. My Bar Mitzvah is non traditional in the sense that we don’t follow the commandments because of an all-powerful deity, but because we are ethically and morally compelled to do so as humans. We retain some of the tradition by keeping it on or nearby our thirteenth birthday.

This was a very long process and, reflecting back on it, the one thing I think of is the work. But through that work I have learned so much about the process of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. One of the more basic principles I learned from this is the responsibility and importance of planning my time. Over the past two years I have had to complete these five papers, including research, efficiently to get it done in time for around my thirteenth birthday. Additionally, during the family history project I got a lot of insight into the story of where my family came from and how we ended up here. Without this Bar Mitzvah, I most likely would not have gotten a chance to discover this.

I think there were a few reasons as to why my parents wanted me to have a Bar Mitzvah. Part of it I think was simply because of tradition. Neither of my parents became a bar or bat mitzvah but it was still traditional in my mom’s family to have a bar mitzvah. Another reason is that it’s an important part of being a part of this congregation. When my sister was in fifth grade, my parents decided to raise her (and eventually me) as a Humanistic Jew. They liked what Humanistic Judaism meant and felt connected to its message. A part of the process of understanding this message is through becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Lastly, probably the most important reason (to me at least) is the self-discovery involved in this congregation’s Bar Mitzvah process. Without this, I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to think about myself in the way I did here today.

Finally, I would like to thank the people who made all this possible. First and foremost, my parents, for continuously encouraging me throughout the entirety of my Bar Mitzvah preparation and for planning the whole celebration. Next I would like to thank Rabbi Peter and Isabel Kaplan for guiding me through this process as well as the thought provoking edits to make my papers even better. Thank you to my sister, Rachel for supporting me even from college. Thank you to Anne Shonbrun and Mika Nishamura for the amazing music. Thank you to Kelsey and Grant and everyone else at the Gotham for all the planning and tech support. Last but definitely not least, a huge thank you to my mentor Emy Zener, for all the guidance you gave in coming up with ideas for and writing these papers. Without you, none of this would be possible. Also, Emy, thank you for teaching me how to use a comma and that artistic license is not a good excuse for bad grammar. This has been a long process. A process that could not have been completed without you all and even though this has been challenging, it has most definitely been worth it.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Maya Mondlak Reuveni
October 3, 2015

First off, I’d like to thank everyone here for coming today. It makes me very happy to see all of the people who mean so much to me, who have come to support me on such an important day. I started this paper when everything else was almost done and thought to myself…Hmm… What does my Bat Mitzvah mean to me?

When I was younger, and I went to family or family friend’s Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, I didn’t really think about why it was important to have one. I didn’t think much about it, and I just knew that I would have one some day, without having to convince myself. Although my family and I aren’t religious Jews, we do think our Jewish culture is important, and therefore having a Bat Mitzvah was something that meant a lot to me.

I won’t lie. When Rabbi Peter first met with my parents and me to talk about how the Bat Mitzvah process works, I immediately thought to myself: “No way is this going to happen. People actually finish all these papers?” And then, I had my first meeting with my mentor, Amy and I realized, “Okay, no backing out now.” The first thing that had to be done was to interview family members. “Okay… easy enough, maybe this won’t be that hard.”

Boy, was I wrong!

This was a very long and hard process that seemed to never end. Once I was done with one paper, guess what, it was time for the next! Although sometimes, it took me a very long time to just get started because I am an expert in the procrastination field, but I kept going. And stopping… but then kept going again! I showed myself that I can really do something great if I am determined. I think that knowing this about myself will really help me in the future with anything that’s hard for me, and that’s something really great that anyone can get out of this Bar/Bat Mitzvah process.

As difficult as this process was, I also found it extremely rewarding because this way of having a Bat Mitzvah is very unique. I’m glad that I got the opportunity to learn about my family and their values because I never would have done it in my own time.

At times, I thought that this Bat Mitzvah process would last forever. There was so much stuff to do in so little time. On top of school, I had dance once a week, voice once a week, my tutor twice a week, and homework every day. Then on weekends I had more homework, lots of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs to attend, KidSchool every other Sunday, which left just barely any time for myself. So, I apologize to anyone who asked if we could hang out, and ever felt that I was using “I’m sorry, I have to work on Bat Mitzvah stuff” as an excuse.

This past summer was very full. My plan was to go to sleep away camp one month (my fourth year) and then do the three week theatre program at the JCC (also my fourth year). Before I left for sleep away camp my top priority was to finish the written part of my Main Project. It was hard to get started because I didn’t get into the groove right away and it took a lot of nagging from my parents, and frequent texts from Amy, but I did finish on schedule. Then I happily went off to Shire Village where I had my best camp experience yet.

However, when I got back from sleep away camp, and went right into the theatre camp, we hit a little bump in the road. In the beginning of the second week of the program, I developed a cough which turned into pneumonia. I was really sick for about two weeks, which was bad because I could’ve been writing this paper then, and gotten a lot of work done. Plus I didn’t get to act in the play!

As hard as this process was, I would not have changed any of it. I am proud of myself for having accomplished so much. But I couldn’t have done it without certain people. First, I’d like to give a big thank you to my parents for pushing me through this difficult process, and helping me stay on track. Next, I’d like to thank my mentor, Amy, for fitting me into your schedule, encouraging me to share my ideas, and always staying patient with me, even when I only wrote a paragraph when it was supposed to be a whole paper. I would also like to thank Rabbi Peter and Isabel Kaplan for helping both me and my family so much during this process, for always responding with such helpful feedback about my papers, and with such enthusiasm. I would also like to thank Anne and Mika for sharing their talent, and giving us such beautiful music. They definitely deserve a big round of applause. Lastly, I would like to thank all of my amazing friends for supporting me. I love you all so much. And once again, thank you all for being here.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Liana Hitts
April 26, 2015

To be honest, the journey towards becoming a Bat Mitzvah was a difficult one. I’m not going to sugar coat it and say it was awesome and amazing and I recommend it to everyone. It was hard. There were times when I wanted to give up and quit but I knew that if I kept going I’d end up being proud of myself later on. And I must say I am proud. I made many sacrifices throughout to make time for writing and I can now see the payoff.

I really do not like writing. I know, I know I’ll wait for the jaws to drop. Most of you know that my father is a journalist. Writing is the basis of his life but… not so for me. However, this process has helped me become a better writer. Writing all these essays has built up my stamina for writing long papers. I also became a better speaker thanks to the countless hours of rehearsing the essays where my mouth got dry from reading so much. Especially the major project!

I have been attending KidSchool at the congregation for the past two years. When we joined the congregation, one of the major factors was the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Although many times there were other things I’d rather be doing, I knew it was important to my parents and I knew it was important to my Bat Mitzvah to attend school. Both of my parents felt it was important for me to connect with my Jewish culture and heritage. It is nice to belong to a Jewish community.

Going through with this process was a huge commitment. I might have been at my friend’s house, just then to get a phone call from my mother saying I had to finish editing my major project. Oh great! Stop killing my fun! But I knew that I had to make time and complete my assignments. Much like school actually. So this process has enhanced my abilities at school as well, which will help me in the future.

In conclusion, I knew from the beginning that the process would be difficult. I wasn’t aware of all the time and effort that would be required but in the end I think it was worth it. I know that if I had dropped out of the program I would’ve deeply regretted it. I am proud of my heritage and of myself for completing the journey to become a Bat Mitzvah.

I would like to give a thank you to my parents for helping me with the difficult process. I would also like to thank my mentor, Renee for leading me through and answering my questions. Also thank you to Rabbi Peter and Isabel for assisting me and my family with much of the process. And thank you to our wonderful musicians Aram and Eric for performing all of my musical choices. Thank you everyone for joining me on such a big day. Thank you for being a part of my life.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Benjamin Bottner
October 11, 2014

Before the ceremony ends I need to consider and thank all of the people who made this possible for me. I want to first thank Jane Bottner, my mother, who went through all the fights, and arguments, and sweet times with me to help make this Bar Mitzvah a reality. Thank you Mom!

I would like to thank my mentor, Ben Lieman, and his wonderful helping hand in guiding my papers both big and small. Ben was always there for me– always willing to lend a hand and lift my load.

Let me also thank my cousin, Carolyn Petree! Thank you for making this wonderful video with me that we all saw at the end of my big project paper. From playing our Mario games, to walking on the beaches of Florida, I have to say with a cousin like Carolyn you will never be bored. Even when we were working on the small hard parts of the video, we still had a fun time.

Also a big thank you to my good friends Auden Wilson, Laure Sullivan, and Paul Wilson for helping me with tweaking and downloading the movie. I know you are very busy and I appreciate what you did for me.

I would like to thank Aram for the wonderful music you played today. I remember you as my song leader in KidSchool, and I’m glad I can hear your cool style this time at my Bar Mitzvah.

Now, last but not least I’d like to thank Rabbi Peter Schweitzer and Isabel Kaplan who made the Bar Mitzvah program possible. Peter and Isabel (who is not here), you know I’m quirky, and think outside of the box. You probably know I don’t like learning things that are meaningless to me. This Bar Mitzvah program was anything but meaningless. Thank you for supporting my mother and me as we took our journey through the Bar Mitzvah program, giving us help, and nudging us along the way, and probably feeling somewhat proud that another family was completing the Bar Mitzvah program. Isn’t that amazing? Thank you so much.

My Bar Mitzvah means a lot to me or else I wouldn’t have done it. But it also means much more. My Bar Mitzvah meant work – lots of it. It meant I had to sit down and do a couple of hours of work weekly. And let me be frank – it wasn’t always a labor of love.

The Bar Mitzvah also meant learning about things I didn’t know before. A great example is Janusz Korczak. Would I have known as much about his story and what he did if I didn’t choose him as my role model/hero? I don’t think so. If I hadn’t done this Bar Mitzvah, I don’t think I would have learned as much about my family’s deep history as I did. It gave me an appreciation and understanding of who they are, what they did and the values they hold.

My Bar Mitzvah also meant making connections. I reached out to relatives I didn’t know and that opened up more family connections and shed light on the fact that my family and chickens have a connection. Whenever I would tell people about my project on Jewish chicken farmers, someone often would say, “Oh I have family who were in the chicken business too.”

Little did I know that the Azerbaijani song, Jujalirim or Little chick would later on have this important meaning and connection to my Bar Mitzvah project.

As much as I had to say about Jews and chicken farming, I needed to edit out a lot of what I wrote so you would not be going bonkers listening to me babble on about this subject. One thought I had to cut out and I want you to take away is that actually agriculture is an ancient Jewish job and many of our holidays are based on the agricultural cycle.

Many cultures/societies have a coming of age ceremony. Because we are Humanistic Jews, we have a different coming of age ceremony then other types of Jews, such as Orthodox or even Reform. I like the Humanistic Bar Mitzvah ceremony because I got a taste of my Jewish heritage, and I also got to be creative, and decide what it was I wanted to write about. Humanistic Judaism also ties into my school, and their values. So, hey all of you fellow Community Roots students, you also follow a humanistic set of values.

This is my second speech I have given at Baku Palace that connects to my identity. Four years ago I came back from a visit to my home country, Azerbaijan, and I gave a speech here with my friend Sabina Shifrin about our experience visiting our birth country and the Baby House we spent the first two years of our lives in. Now I’m fulfilling another milestone in my life standing in front of all of you confirming my identity as a Humanistic Jew.

Thank you all for being here today!

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Jolie Elin
May 10, 2014

What does my Bar Mitzvah mean to me? I’m not sure.

Does it mean that now I am a man? Well, I’m just 13-3/4.

Does it mean that I understand everything that I have studied and can speak knowingly about my life as a humanistic Jew? Not entirely.

I CAN say that being a Bar Mitzvah is now part of me –even if I am a work in progress.

This day, May 10th, 2014, represents a lot to me because here I am, standing before everyone, presenting all the work I have done. I am nervous and feel a lot of pressure to do a good job. But will this day really change me? That I can’t say right now.

It will not change my perspective on the world. It will not change the way that I look at people, even if it affects how people look at me. My Bar Mitzvah is something that I have pursued as part of the tradition in my congregation, to symbolize my role in the world as a Humanistic Jew.

In having a Bar Mitzvah I am like the men in my family. My grandfather Joe read from the Torah during Shabbat services and then his mother, my great grandmother Rose, offered cake and wine. In those days, fountain pens were popular gifts and instead of saying “Now I am a Man,” you would say, “now I am a fountain pen.”

My Uncle Richard Schoolman studied for his Bar Mitzvah at the Suburban Temple in Wantagh, where my mom and family lived. He read from the Torah, wearing a tallis that my great grandfather Max bought for him. There was a luncheon afterward in the temple.

My uncle Michael Schoolman had his Bar Mitzvah four years later when he was 13 years old. He told me he was very scared because he was doing it for his grandparents, and they wanted him to do it. He had it in the Wantagh Jewish Center. The party was in his backyard.

Now these Bar Mitzvahs were all different from the one that I am having. They were celebrated in different types of congregations, and the ceremony involved Hebrew readings that they didn’t necessarily understand. I am in a humanistic congregation, which means that I don’t read from the Torah, but I read papers that I have written over the period of a few years. I’m fortunate that I understand everything I have written.

The problem is that right now it is hard for me to judge how I will feel about all this looking back from the future. I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy interviewing my family about values. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like looking at old photographs of grandpa Joe at summer camp. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy working with my fabulous mentor, Marty Shore, who took me on a trip to the Lower East Side – the Jewish tour – where we ate matzoh fresh from the oven.

So what does my Bar Mitzvah mean to me? Family, friends, learning, history and a sense that I accomplished something I’m really proud of, which I can share with all those I love.

I’d like to thank the following people for helping during my Bar Mitzvah preparation:
Martin Shore-My mentor who guided me through this process, and showed me that it’s not as hard as it looks.

Rabbi Peter Schweitzer- My rabbi, who has checked my work, and helped me if I was stuck.
Isabel Kaplan- Responsible for checking, and editing all of my papers, and making sure that everything was perfect.

Aram Rubenstein-Gillis- for the fantastic music – and he was a fabulous KidSchool teacher, too.

Mom- who helped me when times got tough, and I felt like giving up.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Liliana Franklin
April 27, 2014

I am the first that I know of in my family to have a Bat Mitzvah, so this is very meaningful to me. I have chosen to be the start of a new link in the family. I hope to begin a new tradition in our family for generations to come.

It takes a lot of responsibility to come to this point. All the papers, articles, and writings have taken a lot of self-control and responsibility to complete by their deadlines, with all of the distractions like school and homework. Time management was a challenge. As a lot of my friends know, I have a huge procrastination problem. This has become an obstacle in my path, but I was able to deal with it. I wouldn’t say I have solved it, but I have definitely been able to work with it.

To me, my Bat Mitzvah is an important milestone; a memory for me to cherish for years to come and a story to tell to, well, anyone who will listen, especially my grandparents who unfortunately could not be here.

It makes me feel part of the Jewish tradition to have a Bat Mitzvah. Since we don’t study the Torah at The City Congregation, there are not many traditional Jewish things I can do to feel very Jewish. Having a Bat Mitzvah is a Jewish tradition that I am proud to be able to have and I have learned a lot from the preparation leading up to it.

Even at our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs we are not traditional, as you who are guests here today may have noticed. We don’t do Torah readings, so instead of reciting words that some people would not be able to understand, we put thought into writing pieces that convey who we are. We talk about our values and how our history has shaped us as humans.

It feels good to be part of this tradition. It makes me feel very Jewish. In addition to The City Congregation, I have done other things that have strengthened my Jewish ties and learning. I have gone to a Jewish camp since second grade. Because I am Jewish, I met some of my best friends there, and they have influenced who I am today. I have so many great memories with each one of them. I couldn’t live without them.

In preparing for my Bat Mitzvah, it was really fun to interview my relatives for this project, and learn about their pasts. I got the partial inside scoop on what World War II was like for my grandfather and my great uncle, Marvin. I learned how tough life was back then, and how little everything cost.

With the Congregation, I have learned many things leading up to this day. I got to do community service at the JCC on Martin Luther King Day. I loved making things there like dream catchers for kids and dog and cat toys for animals in shelters. I felt really good doing things to make people feel better. By enjoying the community service I did, I didn’t feel like it was something I had to do, but something I wanted to do.

By coming to KidSchool and singing in Kehilla Circle, I found out early on that I was very interested in Hebrew, and I wanted to learn Hebrew. I thought it would be fun to learn the language of my historical ancestors.

I remember certain things we studied and places we went that had an impact on me – like when we read the book Hana’s Suitcase – a tragic story about a girl, Hana Brady, who was murdered upon her arrival in Auschwitz at my age. Through her story I was introduced to how rough it was during Hitler’s reign for children, and how many people were killed. I know that my people have suffered and sacrificed their lives just to practice their religion. They have helped shape today as a time where we can practice our religions freely and publicly. It is because of them that I am able to be here in front of all of you. They have made it possible for me to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah, a new memory to cherish.

Another meaningful experience was participating in Theater of the Oppressed at KidSchool. Once every year, a group of homeless people put on a show about what it is like to be homeless on the streets and the brutality they face. It made me consider the hardships the homeless go through, and also that no matter what, you always have to stay positive and not give up.

I would like to thank all of the people who helped me with this process. First, I would like to thank my mom and my mentor, Carol Sternhell, who have helped me with my papers and pushed me to do my best. I would like to thank Rabbi Peter Schweitzer for leading this service and for the time he has taken to give me feedback on my ideas, and Hazzan Ayelet Piatigorsky, for the wonderful music. I would also like to thank Isabel Kaplan, who heads our Bar and Bat Mitzvah program, for going over my papers and making them perfect – well as perfect as they could be! Among all of the memories I will have throughout my life, I know I will definitely remember this day. Having all my family and friends and everyone who cares here today will create a wonderful memory.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Samantha Streit
April 4, 2014

Besides the party that I’ve been counting down the days, hours, and seconds until (which is one hour, 25 minutes and 36 seconds away), what stands out the most about my Bat Mitzvah preparation was knowing I was going to be sharing this significant day with all the people I care about.

Over the past couple of years of planning for this day, Humanistic Judaism has enlightened me. I am proud to be part of the Humanistic community because it is one that is accepting and open-minded. No matter anyone’s opinion or belief about God, Humanistic Jews welcome all kinds of people. It is an interesting culture because the variety of opinions that are accepted, lead to deep and meaningful conversations. Rather than simply reading from the Torah, which is a traditional Jewish custom, and which has its advantages – like not having to write eight papers! – a Humanistic Jewish Bat Mitzvah represents a more modern take on religion. As a Humanistic Bat Mitzvah I feel that my opinions are welcomed and that I am able to express myself fully.

This Bat Mitzvah was no simple task. Being here today is in itself an accomplishment. To prepare for this day, I began interviewing my family members to learn more about where I come from and my family’s values. I made a family tree and in turn, I began to think about my own values and heroes who represent them. I worked with my Bat Mitzvah mentor, Sam Maser, and many others, and then developed my major project. My project allowed me to learn more about Jewish history, Broadway, and take a deeper look into my hobbies. Thinking back on all the work I’ve put into this day, all the time I spent preparing, the pieces came together today and I feel at ease.

Planning for this service allowed me to understand how Judaism plays a part in my life and how it will continue to in the future. As I learned more about Jewish history and culture, I better understood the sacrifices of my ancestors and how lucky I am to be here as a part of this special community. All of my future plans, like going to college and performing in musical theater, will allow me to contribute to the Jewish community and I am grateful to all those who influenced these traditions and paved the way.

Completing this Bat Mitzvah would have been nearly impossible without the help I received behind the scenes. Thank you so much to Mika, Anne, and Carly for the wonderful music and Deena Kaye for helping me to prepare and accompanying me today. Sam, and no I’m not talking about myself, you have been a great mentor to me with your amazing editing and your husband, Jack’s, expansive knowledge of musical theater. You both have been a tremendous help. Isabel Kaplan, your editing and encouragement throughout the preparation for my Bat Mitzvah has been extremely supportive. Leigh, your help with completing these papers, no matter how hard I made it for you, was always fun and enjoyable. Rabbi Peter, not many rabbis would take the time out of their important and busy schedules to make this process so personal and meaningful. Thank you for your time. And finally, Mom and Dad, although I complain that I am being nagged by you all the time, I know that you have my best interests at heart and I would never be standing here without your encouragement and love. Embarking upon this experience, and growing in the process, I have had great influences around me and I am grateful for it all.

Years ago when I just started City Congregation KidSchool, I imagined my Bat Mitzvah to be a very small party with a chocolate fountain, which I fixated on for years. Though I will still have that chocolate fountain, I realize that what truly matters is being a part of the Jewish religion in a new and more independent way. This occasion has inspired me to continue learning about Judaism and appreciating what I have learned so far. After completing this process, I am awe-struck at how much more a Bat Mitzvah is than what I originally thought; it is growing, learning, and feeling Jewish traditions come to life. I appreciate all the steps that have led me to today. Through this rewarding process I have discovered and redefined Judaism for myself. I’m still really looking forward to dipping a strawberry in that chocolate fountain in a few hours, but the chocolate fountain can wait.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Julian Keifetz
October 13, 2013

When I look back on the preparations for this day, one thing comes to mind. The work! This was way more work than I’ve ever had to do before. From interviewing relatives, to going on a bus to Broad Channel Beach, to staying up late with my mentor watching Seinfeld clips on YouTube, I had to do so many different things! But in the process, I learned how to manage my time better and the importance of meeting deadlines.

I also learned about myself in the process of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. Growing older means taking on more responsibilities – and part of this involves doing more things for others, and not just for me. Along my journey to this day, I’ve been encouraged and pushed forward to be successful and try my hardest by the people who care so much about me like my parents, my teachers, my tutor, my grandparents, and my mentor.

In particular, after interviewing my relatives and learning more about my family history, I feel like I can connect with my family in ways I hadn’t been able to before—especially my great-grandparents whom I’ve never met. I feel deep respect for my ancestors and how hard they worked to make it in the world. Without their determination I might not be here today. My ancestors came to America to provide for their families and future generations. Now that I am becoming a Bar Mitzvah, I want to do the same so I can continue my family’s legacy. I feel fortunate to be a Jewish kid – I mean a Jewish man – and I plan to carry forward the values and ethics of my family, whom I love and respect.

I can say for sure that I wouldn’t be up here today without the help and support of my mother who is the most important person in the world to me. I would also like to thank Rabbi Peter Schweitzer and Isabel Kaplan for their wisdom and guidance throughout this process. Thank you to Anne Shonbrun and Mika Nishamura for providing the music today.

Lastly, I’d like to give a massive shout-out to Michael Otterman for being the best mentor and a true friend. His influence on me has been lasting and greatly appreciated. I know that our friendship will last way beyond my Bar Mitzvah.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Jolie Elins
October 12, 2013

This process has been very, very long. I am 14 now, and I started my Bat Mitzvah preparations at age 11. Three years of work has gone into this. At first I wasn’t sure how much of myself I wanted to put into this process, but as I’ve completed each step I’ve found myself becoming more invested, discovering more about myself that I didn’t know before, and I’ve changed in many ways since the beginning of this journey. I thought the experience would be limiting, and I just wanted to get this finished with and go back to sleeping through the weekends.

When I had to begin with the family interviews, I was a little discouraged. I don’t have many relatives, and it was difficult to keep track of all the information. The first step made me think that everything would be this confusing, and I stopped working for a while. Then I started working on my values paper. I started out just writing down some things I thought I could write about easily, but then I started really thinking about my values, and it not only helped me write the paper, but it helped me discover more about myself.

I thought that I would feel sort of weird, writing about myself and what I believe, but it was entirely different. These were things that I hadn’t even known about myself, and I was grateful to this entire process for helping me discover them. When I came to the fifth step, I knew my Bat Mitzvah would be a little different from my friends. I had decided on a role model that neither my mother nor my mentor really liked. Lady Gaga. I had just started the high school application process, so this particular paper was taking a very long time. I started to slowly just stop doing any Bat Mitzvah work, until I didn’t know how to start again.

I was stuck for months until my mentor tried a new tactic. She told me that I could use Lady Gaga for my paper, and that she would fully support me, if I could come up with reasons, values we shared, and put it into a paper. Well, let me tell you the paper was done. It was at this point that I was supposed to start thinking about a major project.

The idea of no real limits scared me and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Rabbi Peter told me it could be absolutely anything as long as I could relate it back to Judaism. The open-endedness of it scared me but I’d learned from this process to just think about myself and then put it into words or actions. I decided to make a movie, as I have always been really interested in filmmaking, and I wanted to make it about someone I admired. I found Gertrude Berg. She could’ve been in my hero role model paper, right along with Lady Gaga.

This entire process has been an amazing experience. I’ve become closer with people and learned more about myself than I ever thought I could.

I want to thank my mother for helping me with this entire process, my mentor Renee Fields for never giving up on me, Dan Wyman for his beautiful music, Helene Fisher for her help and encouragement with my major project, Rabbi Peter Schweitzer for his guidance, and Isabel Kaplan for her patience and hard work both on my Bat Mitzvah and on the B’nai Mitzvah program. (I also want to thank her for stepping in at the last minute for Rabbi Peter.)

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Caleb Klein
September 29, 2013

As I come to the end of my Bar Mitzvah service, I would like to tell all of you what this means to me. What it means to me is a coming of age in which I take on the responsibilities of a teenager or young adult, on my way to becoming a man. As I gain the responsibilities, I also have to earn trust from my family. I will have to show them that I am trustworthy by taking new tasks head on, and attempting to fulfill them as much as possible.

I went through this process also to follow in my family tradition, like my great-grandparents and all of my ancestors did before me. As I conclude my work for my Bar Mitzvah, I feel like I am not doing as much work as I should. For example, I have time where I can do anything, and I feel like I should be using that time to work on my Bar Mitzvah project, but there is no work left to do!!! What I’ve realized is that my Bar Mitzvah required so much hard work that I had gotten used to doing that work and now that there is none left, I still feel I should be pushing myself. This may be a good thing because I have gotten used to pushing myself to do the best work that I can, which will help me with school and later in life—in my adult jobs.

What I’ve learned about myself through this Bar Mitzvah process is that I focus my beliefs on proven events, and I tend not to bring the idea of unproven events or disproven events into my explanations or thoughts on how things work. I do not believe or have faith in a higher being that controls all. I believe that we can direct our own paths and shape our fates with opportunities and hard work. I also believe in coincidence and chance as things that shape our lives. Judaism, for me, is a way of connecting myself to other people, like all of you here at my Bar Mitzvah.

I am not the only person responsible for my Bar Mitzvah work. First I would like to thank my parents. My mother, for helping me write the essays for this service, and pushing me to do the best I could. And my father, for making me pursue a Bar Mitzvah, and also making my centerpieces, and critiquing my writing. I would like to thank Jen Orkin-Lewis, my mentor in this long process, for guiding me through the path to becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

Next, I would like to thank Rabbi Peter Schweitzer for conducting this ceremony and really making my Bar Mitzvah a reality. He is very smart, and intellectual, and I admire his views on the Hebrew Bible very much. I would like to thank Isabel Kaplan, who is the director of the Bar and Bat Mitzvah program. She helped me to make my writing the best it could be, along with all the other B’nai Mitzvot in our congregation.

Next, I would like to thank the musicians here today, Anne, Mika, Matt, and my parents. I would like to thank Anne for singing all of the lovely tunes in this service, and Mika for accompanying her. I thank Matt for two reasons: for teaching my father how to be a fantastic singer, and for coming to sing a meaningful song to me here today. And I would like to thank my parents, once again, for singing a song to me about protecting me, and shielding me from harm.

Now I would like to thank all of you for coming here today, cheering me on throughout my life, and being my family and friends. Last, but not least, I would like to thank Rabbi Aliza Erber for teaching me my Torah portion, and Dania Greenberg, for teaching me all the Hebrew I will ever need to know in order to read traditional texts.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Anna Young
September 22, 2013

To me, my Bat Mitzvah means a coming of age, reaching a new point in my life. It doesn’t mean finding myself and what I am going to believe in because you can’t know that at 13. My Bat Mitzvah was about learning. Learning about the past and learning for my future.

I thought this would require a lot of hard work. It was a lot more work than I had imagined. But it was also more interesting than I thought it would be. I learned a lot about my family and my heritage.

As I read through my papers now, I see a common thread. All the papers have something to do with comfort and being who you are. My values paper includes values that comfort my family and keep us together. My community service paper is all about giving comfort after the hurricane tragedy, and my role model paper is about someone who is comfortable being herself and how comedy can be comforting. I didn’t know that they all shared the same ongoing theme while I was writing them over the past year and a half, but now that I look back, I see it. These ideas are portrayed in all of my essays and turned out to be the focus of my major project for this Bat Mitzvah. I think it’s cool to see how much I have to say and to see the common themes in the thoughts that I’ve had since I was a little girl.

After 9/11 my mom realized that she felt strongly that she wanted her children to have more of a sense of their cultural and spiritual community. My dad believes in God and my mom is not as sure about that. When my mom’s friend told her about the Bat and Bar Mitzvah program at TCC, she thought it would be a perfect way for us to connect with our cultural and religious history.

I think it’s fitting that my mom wanted to get a sense of comfort after the tragedy of 9/11, that a tragedy brought us to this congregation which then brought me to the podium right now. The same cycle of events as in my paper, tragedy, then comfort then new hopes.

I have thought about why it is important to remember. If you don’t remember where you came from, how can you know where you are going? If you don’t remember where you came from, you will have a difficult time getting to know who you are. I had the chance to find out more about my family’s past. And I have seen how much events in the past effect what goes on today. My Bat Mitzvah was not a religious adventure, it was an adventure of finding how I became me and this will help to me be more sure about who I am as I get older because the adventure isn’t over.

Thank you Aaron, my mentor, for giving up your time to help me put all the papers together and help me reach my deadlines, kind of. Even though you can’t be here today, I still want to thank you for everything you’ve done and say I wish you were here, or I wish I were with you, because I’ve never been to Hawaii. I also want to thank my parents for putting up with me for the past 13 years and for helping me write all these papers and for planning all of this. Thank you Rabbi Peter and Isabel for supporting me through this process and helping me edit my papers, and thanks to Aram and Rick for playing the music today. My Bat Mitzvah has been a long process and a lot of work and I thank you all for coming today to celebrate with me. I am very, very relieved that it is over but I think it was worth it.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Alex Botwin
September 21, 2013

When I first started my Bar Mitzvah experience, I was not sure how difficult is was going to be. My brother Sam had his Bar Mitzvah two years ago, so I had some idea about the process. What I didn’t know was that “I” actually had to do all of the work. Over the last year and a half I have written more than I thought I could and produced the work you heard today. This was a long and sometimes difficult process, but now at the end as I look back it was all worth it.

Throughout this journey I have learned many interesting things about myself, my family, Jewish history and what it means to be a Humanistic Jew. The papers took a lot of time to write. I had to balance school work, soccer, baseball, football and just being a 13 year old kid. My parents and my mentor Susan helped motivate me, they encouraged me, and sometimes when that didn’t work they would just nag me until I did it. They also helped by reading and editing my papers for me.

One of the things that I enjoyed the most about this process was getting to interview people. For someone who is a little shy this was very difficult, but in the end very rewarding. I first had to interview my family in order to better understand my family history and then when I was writing about soccer I had the opportunity to email and Facebook with Lior. I learned many interesting things about my family that I never knew and I found out many things about being a 13 year old boy in Israel talking to Lior.

When doing my hero paper on Sandy Koufax someone used the word “Mensch” to describe him. I looked up the word in a Yiddish to English dictionary and it gave me the following definition “Mensch” – an honorable and decent man. He has lived his whole life with honor and dignity and it is something that I aspire to do in mine.

In preparing for today I got to work with family friend Dave Hall. Dave had helped Sam with his Bar Mitzvah and he was glad to help me with mine. Dave helped me with my pronunciations and on keeping a nice even pace during my reading. So, how did I do Dave?

There are many people I want to thank for helping me through this process. First, I would like to thank my mentor Susan Ryan for all her meetings and emails. You helped me a lot and gave me many good ideas for my papers and projects. I would also like to thank Isabel Kaplan for editing my papers and giving me such great advice. I would especially like to thank Rabbi Peter for getting me in touch with Lior which led me on my journey with how soccer builds bridges. I would also like to thank Aram and Rick for singing and playing these great songs. I feel privileged to be part of The City Congregation.

I would like to thank my parents for helping me through this Bar Mitzvah process. I know I wasn’t always willing and agreeable, but neither of you ever gave up on me. Thanks for finding this great place to have the service and party and putting it all together. I want to thank my grandparents for helping with the family history; it will be something I will have forever. One other person who I need to thank is my brother Sam. After Sam’s Bar Mitzvah and listening to his long, long paper on Masada I knew I had to make mine much shorter. Thanks for going first. I also especially want to thank my Aunt Marcelle, who I interviewed before she died a few months ago. I know she would be proud of me today.

I am very proud of this entire process and hope all of you enjoyed it and found it interesting. I know that it was very different from what most of you are used to. I would like to thank all of you for coming today and celebrating my Bar Mitzvah with me.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Jordan Hallerman
June 30, 2013

When my parents first told me that I was going to have a Bar Mitzvah, I was very nervous. I had no idea of what was expected and I was overwhelmed. Slowly, I began to go through the steps required from finalizing my research papers to volunteering for community service work. It feels like just yesterday that I was interviewing my family for the family history project. To me, my bar mitzvah does not only symbolize me turning 13, but it will also mark the end of the hard work and effort that I put into this experience, that I will remember forever.

Because of the experiences that I have had throughout this process, I have changed in many ways. Now, if people ask me what my personal values and beliefs are, I can answer them much more clearly and vividly. If people ask where my family comes from, I can tell them stories that I learned from interviewing my relatives. Another way in which I have changed is that I have become better at taking criticism, even if I may not want to do the extra work or change something that I thought was already fine.

This experience has also taught me more about what it means to be a Jew, and specifically what it means to be a member of The City Congregation. Before I joined the congregation, I did not know a lot about Judaism, besides some of the holidays and what we did to celebrate them. In fact, when my 5th grade class took a trip to Brotherhood Synagogue, I held up the Siddur and said to my mom “Is this the Jewish book?” Yep, it was that bad. Now, I know much more about Jewish culture from what the difference is between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews is and how the situation in Israel is an issue with no easy or simple solution to peace. As I began to mention before, this procedure has taught me more about what it means to be a Humanistic Jew, which is that we are responsible to take care of other people, no matter who they are, what they look like, etc. As well as that we are responsible to shape our own lives and make our own decisions.

At the beginning of all of this, it felt like I was being forced into the process and that it was just for my parents. Yet after experiencing what I have gone through and doing the things that I have done, I have learned to appreciate the journey and have really enjoyed it more than I originally thought.

To end this I would like to thank a few people who were essential to me throughout this whole Bar Mitzvah process:
o Michael Witkin for helping me get settled into this stressful process and then later, sending me an amazing book that helped me greatly on my major project
o Aram for helping with the great music to go along with the service.
o Joelle Silverman for the time and effort that she put in to make my Bar Mitzvah so special and personal.
o Isabel Kaplan and Rabbi Peter for reading over my papers, giving me feedback, and helping me prepare for this big event.
o My Mom, who single handedly organized all of the festivities, and for helping to find just the right place to celebrate this special day and for going over all of my papers many, many times throughout this process.
o My Dad, for helping me with all of the final finishes and for being very supportive of my decisions and choices.

And finally my family and friends that were able to be here with me and share in this special day. I’m so glad that you could come.

“What my bat mitzvah means to me”
by Adrianna Keller Wyman
June 15, 2013

My dad wasn’t bar mitzvahed because he was given a choice and he chose not to; his mom, my abuelita, didn’t because it wasn’t done in her community for girls. My mom, her parents, and my dad’s dad didn’t have bar or bat mitzvahs because they weren’t Jewish. My dad had a few friends who were bar or bat mitzvahed, as well as his sisters. My step mom and her mom were not bat mitzvahed but her dad had a bar mitzvah.

My dad is glad about me having a bat mitzvah because he gets to work with me and he feels it is a way to belong to our community. My parents want me to have a bat mitzvah because my dad is living through his children. Also, they’re happy I’ve been learning about my family’s history.
My dad likes that I am growing up. As I grow up I am getting more responsibility. My dad teaches me what it’s like to work a minimum wage job (cleaning the house). As I grow up I’ll be making more of my own choices and getting more responsibility.

I have attended a few bat mitzvahs of people from our congregation, and one in a reform congregation. During the more traditional bat mitzvah, the girl read from the Torah in Hebrew and talked a little bit in English about it. At the bar/bat mitzvahs of people from our congregation, they all presented their major projects in English, which is what I’ve done. I think it’s kind of neat that there are different ways people do it.

I like that many cultures have different celebrations for people becoming young adults, and I like that I am having one too. I found it interesting learning more things about my family. I liked learning more about the Holocaust and what my family went through.
I want to thank my Mentor, Jane Bottner, my parents, Aram, Isabel, and Rabbi Peter for all their help in this process. I would also like to thank my family, especially those who came from far away, who helped make today possible.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
Yelena Keller Wyman
June 15, 2013

Thank you everyone for coming to my Bat Mitzvah. Thank you friends, cousins, uncles and aunts and grandparents. Thank you to my mentor Beth Jacobson, for being a good mentor and for helping me and for putting in a lot of time and for setting up the interview and for editing my paper and for doing stuff. And thank you to Rabbi Peter for helping me come up with an idea for my major project and for being supportive and for hosting the ceremony and for being my rabbi since I was 9. Thank you for making the Bat and Bar Mitzvah program. Thank you Isabel for running the Bar and Bat Mitzvah program at our congregation. Thank you Aram for the great music today. Thank you to my parents for feeding me.

I want to celebrate with important people in my life that I am now older and wiser; that I learned stuff about my family, and that I learned about orthodox clothing. Learning about my family was important because there was a lot of stuff I didn’t know, like about my grandparents’ childhoods. It wasn’t important to me to learn about orthodox clothing, but it was interesting.

Becoming a young adult means that I am becoming older and wiser and that I get more responsibilities.

My parents are happy that I am having a Bat Mitzvah because it means I am growing up, and because it’s an excuse for them to try to control everything. I’m excited for the party because its fun.

“What my Bat mitzvah means to me”
by Georgia Dahill-Fuchel
June 9, 2013

During the process of becoming a Bat Mitzvah, there were struggles. For instance, knowing how to start a paper or finding time to work. Finding time was a very big struggle because of my dance schedule. My dancing takes up so much time I even got a shirt that says, “I can’t…I have dance.” However, doing the work and finding time to work was worth it because if I hadn’t made time to do all of this work, we would not be gathered here today.

Some things stood out when preparing for my Bat Mitzvah. Writing my role model paper was something I enjoyed. That paper stood out because I got to learn all about Bette Midler, and really came to appreciate her amazing talents. Because of the fact that I chose Bette Midler as my role model, I have been eager to see her new show called “I Will Eat You Last.” In addition to writing the role model paper, I enjoyed writing the paper for my main project. I liked this paper because something I am good at is making connections. That is a really important trait to have, especially in 2013. This is an important characteristic to have if you are 13 years old because in school it is important to be able to look at historic events, find what lessons we can learn and connect them to modern day life. In this particular paper I got to make lots of connections. I found common characteristics in women from Biblical times and women from the modern day.

Having a Bat Mitzvah is a rite of passage. I believe this passage, or transformation involves me becoming a woman who can play a more active role in my community. It is physically impossible to just become a woman after a ceremony but what isn’t impossible and what is doable is continuing to develop your mind while taking a place of greater responsibility in the community. That is what I intend to do now that I am a Bat Mitzvah.

The road to my Bat Mitzvah was not one I traveled alone. Firstly, I want to thank my mentor, Helene. Her gentle patience and her ability to settle for my mother’s terrible coffee made her very valuable to my process. Thank you, Helene. I’d like to thank Rabbi Peter. I remember being at his house one evening, feeling like I wasn’t on a path leading anywhere with my major project paper, and I left there feeling confident and excited about this research.

I’d like to thank Aram Rubenstein-Gillis, our musician today, for leading the music, and for doing a great job with the songs I chose for this ceremony. I’d also like to thank my friends for being here for me, and for keeping me laughing even when I’ve felt blue or stressed. I would like to thank Grandma Judy for helping me through this process and being patient when I was stressed, and answering as many questions as she could about her namesake, Judith. And lastly, I’d like to thank my mother and father and brother. Jake, for sharing his wisdom from when he became a Bar Mitzvah and for being there for me. And my mother and father for helping me along the path toward becoming a Bat Mitzvah, being great mentors and great editors for me while helping me journey through this rite of passage.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Olivia Alcabes
November 17, 2012

To me, becoming a Bat-Mitzvah hasn’t been about religion. Becoming a Bat-Mitzvah means that I am becoming my own person, with my own thoughts and my own actions and my own words. I am no longer just doing what other people tell me to do. I am taking into account everyone’s suggestions, but in the end my choices are finally mine to make.

When I first started writing my Bat-Mitzvah papers, I was following what other people told me to do. It was great, too, my mentor Kevin, Rabbi Peter and Isabel helped me a lot. Still, it wasn’t really my own yet. Then, last summer, things suddenly clicked. Rabbi Peter helped me figure out what I was going to do. Instead of being stuck on something more general, such as poetry, he helped me figure out how I could incorporate my biggest value, creative writing. I could write science/historical fiction; believe me I was excited, creative writing in my Bat-Mitzvah, that involved me meeting my ancestors.

From there things took off. I’d already signed up for a writing camp at the beginning of the summer, and during the two weeks I was there I wrote and wrote and wrote, emailing my mom to send me more facts about when so-and-so was born and who so-and-so married. Also, I got to be in an environment with all of my writer friends helping me make this the best it could be. Still, throughout all of this, I was the one who was in control. I was running the show. I was the one who really could make things happen.

It was during the few weeks that I did my major project when I think I really became a Bat-Mitzvah. I learned what it meant to take suggestions but still do what I wanted. I understood what it meant to have a lot of responsibilities, but I also tried to have fun with it. What I really learned was who I am and what I stand for.

Throughout this process of two years, I’ve changed incredibly, and I’ve learned more than I thought I would. Now, when someone asks me where my family’s from, I can tell them exactly where and when. Now I can say I’ve had experience writing historical fiction. Now I understand and respect my grandparents even more than before. When I started I thought that all I would do is write papers. Now, I know that it wasn’t about writing papers. It was about shaping who I will become as an adult.
Really, all of this happened because of a few certain people. Thank you, Isabel, Peter, and Kevin, for editing my papers and giving me great inspiration throughout. Thanks mom, dad, and Daniel for helping me begin and making me stick to my work. Thanks Aram, for providing the music for my service. I want to thank all my relatives who helped me learn more about my family history. Without you, this would never have been possible.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by James Ryan
October 22, 2011

For me, becoming a Bar Mitzvah is a major milestone. When I started attending KidSchool seven years ago at City Congregation, I did not understand the significance of my Jewish heritage and beliefs. I figured that a Bar Mitzvah was just another thing in my life that would not matter to me in a few years, much like any other birthday, and that I did not have to think about it much.

Two years ago, after completing five years of KidSchool, I started on my Bar Mitzvah process. Although I had learned a lot about my Jewish heritage, I was still confused about why a Bar Mitzvah was so important, since neither of my parents or any of my grandparents had one. I figured that the process would only be a lot of work. I barely had any idea what to expect from a Bar Mitzvah with the congregation, since I had only been to one, and heard about more traditional Bar Mitzvahs at other congregations.

Traditionally, a Bar Mitzvah is the final step in a long process which eventually results in a 13 year old boy officially becoming a “son of the commandments.” This also means that the person is considered a young adult in the Jewish community and is responsible for all of his actions. Starting at the turn of the 20th century, girls began going through a similar process to become a Bat Mitzvah, or “daughter of the commandments.” It is customary for the student to learn and read a portion of the Torah (the first five books of the Jewish bible, or Old Testament), lead the service, and lead the congregation in blessings that pertain to the reading. To do this, the Bar or Bat Mitzvah must undergo study and training to learn to read and sing in Hebrew.

With this in mind, I learned that I would be preparing for a service that would be drastically different from a conventional Bar Mitzvah. For instance, instead of reading from the Torah, I would be writing and presenting research papers. When I originally heard that I would not be studying for a Torah reading, I first wondered how I could still go through the process to draw from it what another Bar or Bat Mitzvah student would.

Since I was born into The City Congregation nearly 13 years ago, my parents always wanted me to have my Bar Mitzvah with The City Congregation. They felt that this would be an extremely important milestone in my life as a Jew, and that I would always look back on it with pride and that they would help me to reach this point. With their support, I went forward.

After two years of working on my papers and the service, I finally realized that the service I was building up to was an actual, meaningful Bar Mitzvah, on my terms, based on what I believed. After this entire experience, I now feel that I am considered a young man in my Jewish community. I am more responsible for my opinions and verbal expressions, and I now take my place along with other Bar and Bat Mitzvahs who have come before me.

In addition to strengthening the connections to my Jewish heritage, I found through this process that I was able to connect more strongly with my Irish history as well, particularly after my major paper. When I did the research for that paper, I realized how much of a connection there was between the two sides of my family. Better yet, I was able to find that the history of Judaism in Ireland was something that I could identify with based on my Jewish and Irish background. I was able to relate what I had researched to who I am.

Of course, I could not have completed this process without the care and support of many people, the most important being my parents. They both helped me to edit my papers (and edit, and edit, and edit), helped me organize the service; find a place to have the service, and helped me make this day a reality.

I would also like to thank my relatives, particularly my Grandma Reva Ratisher, my Nana Jeanne and Oopa Jim Ryan, my aunt Julie Ryan, and my uncles, Dave Ratisher and Matthew Ryan for all of their support for this day. Whether they helped me get a sense of my family history, helped me to understand where my values come from, or traveled here to see the service, they were all extremely important in helping me understand who I am and what I believe.

Several people at The City Congregation, particularly Rabbi Peter Schweitzer and Isabel Kaplan, head of the B’nai Mitzvah Program, have given me support, encouragement, and editing advice with all of my papers. Thanks also to Aram Rubenstein-Gillis for his music. I would like to extend my thanks to my KidSchool teachers over the course of my Bar Mitzvah process, Rick Barinbaum and Daniel Levin. They helped me prepare and pace myself during the last two years.

Finally, I would like to give a very special thank you to my mentor over the course of this process, Devera Witkin. She was very helpful in editing my papers, providing support during the periods of intense work, and for helping me to understand the process better, one step at a time. I would also like to extend my thanks to Devera’s husband, Michael Witkin, for sharing Devera with me.

Thanks to everyone once again for coming to my Bar Mitzvah and celebrating with me and my family. You all made this process worthwhile.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means To Me”
by Nicky Young
June 13, 2010

Being a member of The City Congregation suits me. I only have Kid School every other week which is awesome. Also, my dad is not Jewish so my mother found a congregation that would focus on the human aspects of Judaism and religion. I think that this human aspect should be the core principal of every religion. Because my congregation’s Bar and Bat mitzvahs aren’t based in the actual religious aspect of Judaism, I think I’ve been freer to think and expand on my ideas. Of course, that isn’t to say that my friends who go to more traditional Hebrew Schools aren’t capable of thinking their own ideas.

Writing the papers for my Bar Mitzvah was seriously one of the hardest things I’ve done. There were many times that I wanted to stop preparing for my bar-mitzvah. But I learned a lot about my family and I got a chance to have conversations with the elders in my family about where I came from.

I felt really good that my Yeh-Yeh trusted me enough to tell me his story because it was a really hard story. Thank you, Yeh Yeh. I remember thinking that it must have been really tough for my Mah-Mah to have her house destroyed twice and to have to move to America during high school. I’m glad I had the chance to interview her before she got sick. Talking to my maternal grandparents made me think about how I have always taken choice for granted and how it’s the choices I get every day that make me a free thinking individual. Thanks Grandma and Grandpa.

My final project connected me to my Jewish culture, history and identity. As I celebrate this rite of passage from child to adult, I wanted to make my own connections to my heritage.

This bar mitzvah also gave me some opportunities that I never had before. I’ve never really thought too deeply about the subject of my religious views before. I just accepted that I go to Jewish Kid School, and celebrate both Jewish and Christian holidays. My major paper gave me the chance to dig deep and think about what I’d like to do with my religious life. Also, I never would have had the really deep talk I had with Aunt Irene. While I’ve known her for a long time I’ve never had a long talk with her. I spent an hour talking to her about her religious views and just her views about life.

I also got to meet Rabbi Bellino and talk to him. I had never talked to an orthodox rabbi before, let alone go to an orthodox Shabbat service, and the experience was amazing. When I went to the service there were about 15 guys and 1 woman who had to sit in the back. Besides the separation of the sexes, the overwhelming sense of community there was amazing; I might even want to go back. Talking with Rabbi Peter was also a great opportunity. By meeting with him I really tightened up my paper, and learned a lot about my portion. In fact most of the factual stuff in my major paper either came from him or was something he told me to research more. Thank you, Rabbi Peter.

I think that the biggest thing I started to think about throughout this process is what I want to do religiously after my bar mitzvah and into my adult life.

I was having a conversation with a friend who just had her Bat Mitzvah. We were talking about how I was going to be a Bar mitzvah if I don’t necessarily believe in “God”. I told her that religion itself makes no sense to me but I want to see how different religious views can make me a better person. No religion is right so why not gather views from all of them? She thinks it’s cool that people can so strongly dedicate themselves to religion. I think you can become restricted by religion but when I went to the orthodox service I was amazed by the sense of community there. All these people came to this place just to pray together. I would like to go to a bunch of different religious ‘meetings’ just to explore all the good and bad I can from religions. That’s the only way a person can come even close to understanding people and the world we live in.

My friend and I agreed that it’s hard to pick just one religion. I’m going to be a wandering religious person. If I see a cool service or gathering, I’d like to poke my head in to see what’s going on and just observe. I’d like to go to Muslim services, Christian services, Jewish services, and any other kind of religious service if it seems interesting.

Thank you to all my friends and family for coming today. I especially want to thank Rabbi Peter, Isabel and my mentor Jane for helping me revise and edit all my papers multiple times, Aram,for the music today, My uncle Andy for introducing me to Rabbi Bellino, Rabbi Bellino for letting me participate in a service and having a discussion with me that I can never duplicate, my aunt Irene for also having a discussion with me that I can never forget, and to my family. They all had to deal with me and I’m really thankful that my sister Anna helped me with my community service. Also to my mom for painstakingly helping me write my papers and my dad for being so supportive and open to the Jewish world and for organizing my party. Thanks again to everyone who came to celebrate this day with me.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Arielle Silver-Willner
May 15, 2010

When I first heard about what TCC Bat Mitzvah entailed, I thought, this is going to require a lot more work and thinking on my part than a traditional bat mitzvah! A little later, I realized that a humanistic bat mitzvah might be cool because it would be more modern and interesting to me. I also thought that I’d be really proud of myself when I was finished, I’d feel more Jewish, and writing all the

required essays would make me a better writer. I also loved the idea of having a big party at the end to celebrate what I’d accomplished.

My Humanistic Bat Mitzvah is the end result of a compromise my parents made when I was 3 years old. My dad was raised as a Conservative Jew, and wanted me to attend Hebrew school, as he had. He wanted me to have a Bat Mitzvah because he thought it was an important rite of passage for Jews. My mom is secular, and was opposed to enrolling me in Hebrew school, but she understood the value of belonging to an organized community. Fortunately, they found The City Congregation, which embraced a perspective they both respected.

My Bat Mitzvah has been the most demanding project I’ve ever worked on- with tons of research, essays, interviews and mentor meetings. I’ve learned a lot about my family history and values, Jane Goodall, issues involving Kosher laws, the unequal distribution of resources in NYC schools and about myself. I’ve learned that when I have to complete a very challenging project, I need to be pushed. Whoever’s doing the pushing shouldn’t listen to me when I say, “Stop pushing me,” because I’ll be so happy when it’s done.

Being Bat Mitzvahed makes me feel more Jewish. This is because I now share something in common with many other Jews. It feels like I’ve been formally inducted into the Jewish community. That’s pretty cool!

So many people helped me with my Bat Mitzvah…. First, and most importantly, thank you Sandy, for helping me with my research and developing ideas, editing the umpteen editions of my essays, and putting up with me forgetting about phone meetings and complaining. I’d also like to thank Rabbi Peter and Isabel for their guidance through the many steps of the Bat Mitzvah process.

Of course, thank you, mom and dad, for pushing me, planning everything, supporting me and for throwing me a great party that I’m going to have in a few hours. I am grateful to my grandparents for answering countless questions about our ancestors – I think they really enjoyed being interviewed about their family histories because it gave them an opportunity to reminisce about their ancestors and tell me

lots of interesting stories.

I am grateful to Jonathan Safran Foer for squeezing in an interview with me in the midst of his hectic schedule; to Liore from Hazon, and the people who keep kosher who participated in my interviews. I’m grateful to Joan Radigan and my friends who helped me shlep hundreds of books from the Project Cicero book drive from my school to my mother’s basement and to working at the book distribution. Lastly, thank you, Rachel and Louise, for contributing your musical talent to my service.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Alicia Blum
May 8, 2010

To me, being a Bat Mitzvah is a pleasure and a responsibility. It is also about commitment. It took two years to prepare for this – and here it is! I put a great deal of time into preparing for it and then explaining it to everyone who is here. I am proud to be a Bat Mitzvah. When I was doing the work in preparation for this event, I was thinking to myself, what is the impact of this project? What does it do to my life? Does it change the way I look at things? I found out it does all of those things. Each paper I have written describes something in my life. My family values paper really made me think about what is important to my family and me. As I am reading this paper to you now, I realize that this whole experience is changing my life. It changes the way I think about things.

I learned a lot going to KidSchool – Jewish values, history and culture. I never really thought about Israel, and Jewish life in Israel. Now I do. Before I started this process I knew very little about my family history. It was fun learning about my father’s parents who are with us today. I knew very little about my mom’s parents. My grandmother May, died before I was born. My grandpa Max died when I was four years old. Now I see how their lives and their values influenced my parents, which of course influenced me. And it helped me understand why I chose Barak Obama as my role model – we share many of the same ideals and I feel that I share some of the same experiences he had when he was growing up.

My Bat Mitzvah is not the same as my friends’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. My program is not Hebrew or Torah based. I had the opportunity to explore subjects that really interested me. I learned about different aspects of Jewish thought that I would otherwise not have known about. It made me think about how being Jewish affects our family vacations! There are different ways of celebrating this important milestone, and I hope my Bat Mitzvah was as exciting to you as it was for me.

In our City Congregation community, many people helped me prepare for my Bat Mitzvah. In addition to my parents, who did a lot, I wanted to thank my mentor, Lauren Block, who read every single one of my papers and gave me great suggestions. I also wish thank Isabel Kaplan, the head of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah program, for her input. And of course, Rabbi Peter Schweitzer, who gave me a great deal of guidance on my Jews of Morocco talk. And most of all, I want to thank all of my KidSchool friends who shared the City Congregation experience with me for so many years.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Isaac Mann
January 17, 2010

When I talked with Howard, my mentor, he told me that this was the least formal, and the most personal paper I had to write. I read some other of these bar and bat mitzvah papers to get a better sense of what was involved.

This was when I realized that a big part of this bar mitzvah experience and what it means to me is that through writing these papers, I get to know myself better and better. Some of the bar or bat mitzvahs admitted that they had trouble writing these papers, saying that they couldn’t always concentrate or saying they were afraid their peers and relatives would interpret what they said as being strange. Others

were very independent 13 and 14 year olds. Some of them wrote their papers all on there own. They sounded so mature, and I felt afraid that my papers wouldn’t seem legitimate or meaningful in comparison. Then I realized that I shouldn’t distract myself with comparisons. Instead I would figure out what this experience means to me.

I want this speech to be truthful and personal at the same time.

I definitely did not have the focus to do this all on my own.

Yet this process has given me a sense of my own identity, and perspective by having to choose topics and people to write about. I’ve learned about my family origins, values, and philosophy through interviewing grandpa, my great uncle Mike, and my parents, and hearing and reading memoirs of much more distant relatives, some of whom died a while ago. I’ve learned about serious environmental dangers by reading Al Gore. I’m getting more aware and taking responsibility more and more actively. Towards that end, I’ve asked my parents to convert from gas energy to windmill energy in order to heat our home, and I am giving two hundred fifty dollars to them from my Bar Mitzvah gifts to cover the extra cost over the next year of using the cleaner energy. I’ve learned about the Jewish tradition of folk tales. I read many golem stories and I became part of that tradition by writing my own Golem story. I was planning on reading you a version of it that is six pages longer than the one you heard, but my dad is an editing monster, and he just kept snipping away at it. At first I hated him for doing that but now I figure it was OK. My favorite version of the story might be the better one to read but I think this version was the better one to listen to. And besides, we’ll get to the party ten minutes sooner.

Peter and Myrna, thank you for making a great program and providing me with the opportunity to make stories, study films, research family history, and learn about the environment.

Thanks to Isabelle for editing my papers, and also for reminding us of the importance of a schedule. Even though we couldn’t always meet the deadline, it was good to have a reminder that Jan 17th was sooner than I thought it was. Thank you Aram for letting me star in, write, and direct my own Passover movie in 5th grade and for being an awesome teacher.

Thank you Rick for all of the interesting assignments in 6th grade, and making me more aware of the larger community that I am a part of. A special thanks to Howard, for setting reasonable guidelines, helping me express my own bar mitzvah experience, and making it easy for me to run the final mile.

Thank you Zooza, my dog, I wish you were here. Thank you for being adorable, fuzzy, and a good therapy dog for me and for all of the senior citizens.

Thank you students of Saint Ann’s, P.S. 261, and Children’s House

Thank you for being awesome.

Thank you Jake for being a great brother, a good role model, sharing the pleasures of performing with me, and thanks for the entertaining me and everyone, and for all of the exclusive brother moments.

Thanks mom and dad for raising me, discussing philosophy, and giving me your great traits.

And thanks to everyone for coming to my Bar Mitzvah.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Ryan Kramer
December 5, 2009

Becoming a Bar Mitzvah is a major step forward in my life. It is also an important moment for my family and friends. When I first learned about my Jewish heritage, I didn’t think it was of much importance. I assumed that it was just one of the many parts of my life. I also didn’t understand the importance of the Bar Mitzvah. It wasn’t until I started my life at TCC that I began to understand what it means to me.

Having been to some of my friends’ Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, my perception of the traditional Bar Mitzvah is the young adult “taking their place before God”. However, my parents and I see it in a different way. We see the Bar and Bat Mitzvah as a time when a young person takes his or her place in an age old tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. We also see the Bar Mitzvah as figuratively being at the top of the hill. You can look back at how far you have traveled, and then you look forward to where you can go.

This leads into another aspect of the Bar Mitzvah process in my mind; memories of all that has happened over the course of the past few years of work. For instance, all of the piano pieces that I had to learn. Then there were all the deadlines. I can’t begin to count the number of deadlines I missed while working on this project. I also can’t count the number of times that I procrastinated. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. It was also the cause of most of the arguments that sprouted up at home, not to mention the spark that initiated the famous line “well I never really wanted a Bar Mitzvah anyway.”

Then there were the projects themselves. When I first started the Bar Mitzvah process I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. Boy was I wrong. Not only were the projects hard as far as research was concerned, but they also were very thought provoking. The Bar Mitzvah process really started to make me question just what being Jewish meant to me. It was much more interesting than I ever thought it would be, and though I never thought I’d say this, I have to thank my parents for putting me through this process, because it made me realize things about myself that I would never have found out otherwise. For instance, I have finally found what it means to me to be Jewish.

Over the course of the Bar Mitzvah project, I came to realize that I didn’t really consider Judaism as my religion. What I consider Judaism to be for me is a set of customs. I consider my Jewish identity as a connection between me and my Jewish ancestors. Not only that, but I also consider Judaism as a way to connect with others around me who are Jewish, and to be able to share the experiences I have as a Jew with them.

I also want to take a few moments here to recognize one of the influential figures in the conception of the Bar Mitzvah project. My grandfather, Mike Kramer, died before I even started working on it. However, it was one of his wishes that I have a Bar Mitzvah. It was this wish that made us determined to find a place where I could become a Bar Mitzvah. Papa was an inspirational figure to me. I always loved going to visit him, and I loved hearing him talk.

Papa wasn’t the only grandfather in my life who had a big influence on this day. Baba has helped out a lot as well. He has given me a lot of information I never would have found out by myself. He is single handedly responsible for practically half of the research of my family tree. He is also the one who made all the awesome pictures for the invitation. He has been supportive of my creativity, and has always encouraged me to take even bigger steps in my musical career.

The Bar Mitzvah service is also a time of celebration. For me, it is the feeling that I have finally overcome another challenge in my life. However, it is more than that. It is the feeling that I have just reached another mile marker. I look back on what has come before, and then look ahead at what is to come, and I realize that this process has changed my life. The path I have been on for so long has ended, but even as it ends, it branches out into several new ones. If I hadn’t taken this path, who knows what would have come and taken its place.

Lastly the Bar Mitzvah service is a time for me to honor all those who helped me in this process. First, I would like to thank my mom and dad, who stayed with me the whole time, and made it possible for this celebration to come together. It was they who created this service with me, got the place, created the party afterwards, and forced me to work on all my papers when I wanted to do something else. I owe all the thanks in the world to them, especially since they put up with my whining, and screaming, and throwing a fit whenever they wanted me to sit down and practice when I wanted to be playing video games.

I would also like to thank my grandparents for being supportive and encouraging throughout this process.

I would like to thank all the relatives and family friends who flew in from all their respective areas to come and see my Bar Mitzvah, some of you flying across the country. If it weren’t for you guys, this service wouldn’t mean nearly as much to me, because I put it together for everyone.

I would like to send a special thanks to my mentor, Jim Ryan, who helped me through the process step by step. I would also like to thank Rabbi Peter, Myrna Baron and Isabel Kaplan for all their support and encouragement. In addition, I would like to thank Rick and Aram for their great music. Lastly, I would like to send a special thanks to the teachers that I assisted both last year and this year. Abby and Diana, you guys have really helped me, and given me an opportunity to help others, which means more to me than I can ever say. In addition to them, I want to thank the kids who were in my classes both last year and this year. You made TCC worth coming to.

One more thanks must go out before we conclude this service. I would like to send out a special thanks to all my friends from Rockaway who took time out of their schedule to hop on a bus, drive all the way out to Manhattan, and then listen to me drone on for two hours. You guys have been supportive and encouraging throughout the major steps in my life. We have had our disagreements, but if there is one thing that I don’t regret in my life, it’s meeting all of you, and spending the time that we had together.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Yana Lyandres
November 14, 2009

Working through my bat mitzvah process, I have learned a lot and grown a great deal. Going to my classes at The City Congregation, called KidSchool, was a lot of fun. I got to meet new people with different points of view. For example, a lot of my KidSchool friends were really excited about President Barack Obama’s inauguration. In my family, we welcomed it, but there was much more enthusiasm at The City Congregation. My classmates were also very knowledgeable about politics, making me feel out of place sometimes, since I don’t watch the news as much. One student asked me, “Did you watch Obama’s speech last night?” To which I replied, “Not really…” He comprehended, “Oh, so you’re a Republican?” I’m not sure yet, I have a lot to learn.

It was an interesting experience to go to classes with city kids, because they’re a lot different from my friends and me. Maybe even more mature, in the sense that they are able to navigate around the city by themselves and more responsible in that aspect too. I also enjoyed the discussions we had because they weren’t just about Jewish history, but also about Jews in today’s society and current events in general.

The Bat Mitzvah program that students at the City Congregation usually complete in two years, I completed in one. My family and I discovered The City Congregation when I was already 12. When we met with the Rabbi of the congregation, Peter Schweitzer, he was very kind and open to us, helping us to learn more about Humanistic Judaism. Once we learned about the cultural Bar/Bat Mitzvah approach, we decided it was exactly what we were looking for. I wanted to accelerate the pace and took both required classes in one year, every other Sunday. It was definitely a challenge, but my tutorial teacher, Rick Barinbaum, made the classes intriguing. He always had cool topics to discuss, and interesting activities to participate in. Though I was there for such a short amount of time, I had a lot of fun and it was amazing.

Working through the steps toward my bat mitzvah, I learned about myself, my family, and the world around me. I didn’t know much about my family history before my bat mitzvah. I also didn’t know much about the topic of my main project, fashion designers, or ways people can be a bigger part of their community. I learned a lot about myself too. Before this process, I aspired to be a novelist. Now, I found out I like to interview people and ask questions. I still want to stay with the theme of writing, but now the field of journalism seems more interesting to me.

I really enjoyed working with my mentor, Nikki Greenberg, as well. She is a very kind and nurturing person, and full of life and loves to laugh. It was very productive to work on my papers with her and she would always say something funny and witty, which helped me a lot with my writing. Thanks for being so cool, Nikki!

Also, Rabbi Peter and Isabel Kaplan, the director of Bar/Bat Mitzvah program, helped me a lot, editing my papers and keeping me on track of what needed to be done. They were great guides and made my Bat Mitzvah service possible. Thank you Isabel and Rabbi Peter!

I should also mention my parents. Though sometimes giving up a good sleepover opportunity and instead spending my weekend on writing five-page papers was tough, it was truly worth it. Thanks for pushing me when I needed it! Thanks for everything else too, from finding TCC, to helping me finish my Bat Mitzvah, to planning my party. You are the best. And of course, I can’t forget my guests! Thank you all for coming! That made this day extra special for me and my family.

A teenager becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is about reaching adulthood in the eyes of the Jewish community. Going to TCC and having a non-traditional bat mitzvah where I learned about my culture, background, world, and most importantly myself, meant a lot to me. It was a bridging year for me. I was able to “find myself”, so to speak. Everyone does it at some point in their lives, and I was fortunate to start that process sooner, rather than later.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Emily Dyke
October 25, 2009

It is surprising to many people that I wasn’t required by my parents to have a Bat Mitzvah but, rather, that I chose to have one on my own. I must admit that at first I was attracted to the idea by the fun party and the fact that many of my friends were having Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, but that was before I knew anything about Humanistic Judaism. When my dad found TCC, (which is kind of ironic, considering my mother is the one who grew up with this progressive practice of Judaism!) I was intrigued and wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought I would learn some Hebrew and read some passages from the Torah like my friends. Once I began attending the classes, however, I actually found myself having a good time! While some of my friends would occasionally complain about having to go to Hebrew school or study their Torah portion, I felt lucky to be able to attend this unique congregation.

After my first class at TCC, called Kidschool, I knew this would be a very different experience than most of the people I know had. I expected a long lesson on the Hebrew language and the Jewish history. Well, I was right about the “long” part, but we ended up doing many fun activities, creating plays, having passionate discussions, and analyzing the history of the Jewish culture and modern day situations that we would relate to Judaism. I would always come home with new facts or viewpoints regarding current events!

Kidschool was not only about learning interesting new facts, though. Our teachers invited and encouraged us to critically analyze and challenge the facts we learned. My homework assignments often involved researching a current political issue and taking a position on it. In class, we dissected quotes and examined stories from the Torah and converted the stories into similar situations that could occur in the modern day world in order to more deeply explore the message or moral of the story. Attending these classes was an enriching and unique experience for me.

Besides learning a lot from my classes, writing my papers has also taught me a great deal as well. I’ve gained many strategies that will help me to write good academic papers in the future. The massive amount of editing and revising that was done on my final paper has taught me to perfect my essays even further than what might be typical at an eighth grade level. For a few of my papers, I had to interview many friends and family members and use multiple sources to find all the information I was looking for. I gained research strategies that I will be using for all my academic years to come.

But clearly the most important things that I learned about were my own values and identity. I analyzed myself like I never would have done without this project to motivate me. It has brought me closer to myself. This Bat Mitzvah was most meaningful to me for that reason.

I would like to thank all of the people that have helped me throughout this program. First, my mentor, Isabel Kaplan, who has stimulated and motivated the writing of all of the papers that I wrote for this Bat Mitzvah. Thanks to my old teacher, Rick Barenbaum, and to Aram Rubenstein Gillis, for providing great music for this celebration. A huge thanks to Rabbi Peter Schweitzer who sparked the idea for my final project and helped me make my papers the best they could be. And a big thank you to my parents who have given me many ideas to help me create my papers, supported me throughout this process more than I could ask, and encouraged me to keep on going when I got tired or doubtful. Thanks to everyone who has traveled just to support me on this day. Thank you all for coming!

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Yoela Koplow
May 23, 2009

I have many Jewish friends. However, I’m the only Humanistic Jew out of all of them. The past few months have been what my mom and I call “The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Season”. Since everybody’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah happened in the past months, I could hear kids compare their Torah portions, whine about how long and hard their part is, or brag about how easy theirs is. Since most of them know that I’m Jewish, they would ask me about mine. I would say that I don’t have a Torah portion. They thought that I didn’t get mine yet, but when I explained that it’s a different kind of bat mitzvah, they told me that it wasn’t a real bat mitzvah then because you have to read from the Torah for it to be real. This argument went on for a while, but now I think it’s safe to say that this is a real bat mitzvah, but in a different way.

But this paper isn’t about proving them wrong – it’s about letting you know what my bat mitzvah means to me.

The first bar mitzvah I ever went to was my cousin Shaun’s. I was 10 years old. He was really good, and his bar mitzvah got me thinking about having a bat mitzvah of my own. I went to a few more traditional bar and bat mitzvahs before we joined The City Congregation. When I went to my first humanistic bar mitzvah, I realized that this kind of bat mitzvah would be perfect for me! It’s creative, you can choose your own research project and turn it into a power point, movie, or any other thing you want it to be! Now, many of you know that I’m a VERY hands on kind of girl, and don’t have a big attention span, so as you can imagine, I would have had a hard time trying to concentrate on a large Torah portion and learning a whole new language just for that.

So many different things happen in different kinds of bar or bat mitzvahs, it’s easy to forget that they’re all part of the same religion, and all leading up to the same purpose: to be seen as a man or a woman through the eyes of the Jewish community. Some people who aren’t Jewish think that having a bar or bat mitzvah means that you are actually becoming a man or a woman, physically and mentally, not symbolically through the eyes of a person or a community. To me, having a bat mitzvah means gaining respect from my peers and from my family, and finding out more about my family, my background, and more about me. I’ve learned more about my family’s history and background, which makes me understand who I really am, even though I am adopted. Even though it might not be where I biologically came from, I still feel like it is. I feel more knowledgeable, more informed, and more aware of how my family came to America and why. My bat mitzvah, to me, is not about being seen as a woman through the eyes of my community, but understanding who I really am. And I’m proud to have been able to share it with all of you.

I would like to thank Rabbi Peter and Isabel Kaplan, the leader of the bar/bat mitzvah program, for playing a big part in making this event possible. I also want to thank my mentor Sandy for coaching me, and my mom, Lesley, for all your love, support, and your endless amount of patience. Rosetta and Jon, Jane and Rhonda, thank you for making this day possible.I would also like to thank Aram and Rick for the music, my Uncle Bruce for helping me out with the slides, and all of my family and friends for your love and support. Thank you all so much!

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Jonah Lieberman Flint
May 16, 2009

For many people, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs nowadays seem to be more about the party and have little connection to a passage into adulthood. To me, becoming a Bar Mitzvah is a significant event indeed. It means acting responsibly in all situations. This process must occur while I keep my family, my beliefs and the work that got me here in high regard, never forgetting the importance of each of these things and the effect they have had on me. As I stand up here, it marks the end of a journey. I only knew that this would be a challenge, something I was worried about from the start, but something I wanted to do nonetheless.

I figured that becoming a Bar Mitzvah would hold strong the values that I must have in my teenage years. My family has been the single most important influence on who I am; if the way we are raised truly makes us who we are, then I can thank my family for helping me to turn out okay. You have already heard about some of my family’s values, so you know the kinds of things they try to teach me, as well as the values I try to incorporate in my everyday life. I feel that becoming a Bar Mitzvah means accepting more responsibility in my family, whether it is owning up to my actions or helping around the house more.

Although this is the end of a long journey, it is really the beginning of a new journey, one that is life long. As I end the Bar Mitzvah process I begin the process of young adult life, starting high school, after that college, and then hey, I am an adult. The end of this journey brings forth the start of another. Through this process, my sense of Jewish identity has been awakened. As I have reflected on the relationship between Judaism and Buddhism, I feel that both identities have become stronger. I feel a part of both communities.

I can also thank my family for helping me through the Bar Mitzvah process; together we have edited my papers, discussed the ceremony and party, and prepared one another for today. That thanks, the first of many, goes out to my parents specifically. My parents have been there for me throughout the entire process. They have helped me with the work, and have given me lots of moral support. My brother Ethan has always made sure to give me a thumbs up when I needed it and I feel that he has been there for me throughout the process. I thank Rabbi Peter for looking over my papers and leading this service and this congregation so ably. I would like to thank my mentor, Isabel Kaplan, for always being there and working so hard to make this service and my papers as good as they can be. I would like to thank Aram for the wonderful music. And, last but not least, I would like to thank you all for coming and celebrating this special day with me. Thank you.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Sophie Silverstein
May 9, 2009

I have always known that I wanted to be a performer. I have been working toward that goal since the age of two. I have been taking acting classes, voice lessons, and dance classes. When I was cast in my first production at TADA! — a youth theater company I have been devoted to since I was five — I was overjoyed.

I started KidSchool at about the same time. At that age, I honestly did not see its importance — I did not see where it was all going to lead. I just viewed it as something I had to do every other Sunday. But then I got into the show at TADA and I was unable to attend KidSchool for a month. I felt bad about missing it, but theater was my priority.

When I began thinking about my bat mitzvah in the summer of 2007, the latest Tada production stood in the way again. So the following summer, I changed my priority. You see, I’ve been going to City & Country School for ten years with most of the same people and we are all graduating this June. It was my goal from the beginning to become a bat mitzvah and celebrate this special milestone with the friends I have grown up with.

But when I met with my mentor Helene a week before winter break to go over one of my papers, she said that it was overly ambitious to finish the whole process, which normally takes a year and a half, in six months. I was so upset that I questioned whether I would be a bat mitzvah at all — it’s not that I didn’t want to do it, I just didn’t want to do it at age 15. So I decided to put all else aside, other than school word, accelerate the process, and become a bat mitzvah in May.

Over the past six months, I looked at my family history, my values, my personal beliefs. I chose a role model I feel exemplifies the values I try to live by. I did community service, helping homeless dogs and cats and getting the word out about ChemoComfort, and I researched the story of Noah and the Ark, the Holocaust and 9/11. In doing all this, I have learned so much about myself, my family, and my identity as a Jew. I learned about how my grandparents and great-grandparents came here from Europe. I figured out what my personal beliefs are, what values I hold close to me. I learned so much about so many things in these short six months, with the help of my parents and my rabbi and my mentor that I almost don’t want it to end!

There are so many people I’d like to thank for helping make this day possible. First, I would like to thank my mom for sticking with me through this whole year and encouraging me not to give up. I know she endured a lot, including me saying, “I didn’t want a bat mitzvah anyway,” every time something went wrong. I have to thank her too for putting together the whole party and service. Mom, I know sometimes it seemed like I didn’t appreciate all you were doing, but in truth, I am so grateful for everything you have done that words cannot properly describe it! You can expect me to be there next to you at every service. Thank you again, and I love you.

I would also like to thank my dad for helping me with my papers, especially the main project. He helped me find information for the paper, helped me understand it, and helped edit it. To be honest, the paper you all heard me read made no sense at first, but my dad helped me make it the best it could possibly be, and I am so grateful for all he did. I also want to thank him for helping me with the role model paper, especially for helping me find my values and beliefs within the music of John Lennon and the Beatles, and for helping me pick the music for the service. Dad, thank you so much for all you did to help me, and I love you.

I would like to thank my sister Stella for tolerating me through this whole process. It can’t have been easy to watch me get so much attention — and so many gifts. I will admit I was pretty harsh to her to begin with, and she did not get to use my computer as much as she would have liked, but she always kept her head when I did not have mine. So Stella, thank you for all the emotional support, and I hope I have given you an idea of what you are in for!

I would like to thank Rabbi Peter for helping me come up with the idea for the main paper and helping me put it together, and also for going along with the idea of speeding up this process. I know it was a stretch, and I am so happy it worked out, but it would not have been possible without Rabbi Peter’s insightfulness and input.

And my mentor Helene definitely deserves a big thank you for going along with me as well. It started out quite rocky because of a lack of communication on my part, but these papers would not have been any good without Helene’s edits. And I thank you for managing to keep up with the pace as well. I could not have asked for a better mentor, and I am so grateful for everything Helene did for me.

Isabel Kaplan also deserves a thank you for always keeping me up-to-date on what I still needed to do and giving me a push when I was moving slowly. And Isabel also is the one who gave the OK to accelerate the process, so Isabel, thank you so much for that. I mean it literally when I say this would not have been possible if not for you!

And I would like to thank Ann and Aram for accompanying me musically. Ann, your singing is absolutely beautiful and I was so happy with our harmonies for Imagine, and Aram, I think it is awesome that I got to have you here. The year that you were my teacher at KidSchool was the best year I had there, so thanks for that, and thanks for playing for us.

And lastly, I would like to thank all of you for coming today and witnessing this special milestone in my life. I would like to thank all the family members who traveled from California, Texas, Florida, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Atlanta, and — wait for it — New Jersey! This day is so much more special because you all were able to come and share it with me. I’d like to thank all my friends from City & Country — I’m so glad I am able to share this with you guys. And I would like to thank all my other friends who came from Upstate, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

While I have learned SO much in this process, one of my most important realizations is that even after this day, I want to continue having the Congregation be a part of my life. Before, I was under the impression that after my bat mitzvah I would stop going to KidSchool and would have little to do with it again. But after going through this process and learning so much about myself, I have learned that Judaism is a very important part of my identity. While I won’t be continuing in KidSchool, I will attend services and other events and will remain active in the Congregation.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Gabe Zimmerman
December 20, 2008

I would like to thank you all for attending my bar Mitzvah. This Bar Mitzvah is for me the greatest accomplishment of my life. Since the time I was very young I have been accomplishing tasks small and large from scoring a goal to getting all “4” on my fifth grade report card. But up until now I have never accomplished something that was so meaningful to me. This Bar Mitzvah has asked for so much of my time. More than I initially thought it would take, and more than I had initially wanted to give. But I realize that all this work was not for anyone else but it was for me. It was for me because I learned a lot about my family, an important time in Jewish history, and I learned a lot about my self. It has reinforced my sense of my Jewish identity because having learned about Jewish humanistic values and an important time in Jewish history, I realize that defining myself as Jewish tells the world a lot about who I am. I have also learned that the values I believe in are consistent with humanistic Judaism. I believe that if I continue to practice my values I will be living according to those tenets of Judaism that fit my own principles. Also, I will able to further explore the relationship between my values and Judaism as I get older.

This Bar Mitzvah experience has taught me that if I am really determined I can succeed at a task that takes real commitment and determination. Also I learned that I can do something that is different from friends and still be accepted by them. I learned from writing all these papers about research and interpretations of texts, and the benefits of editing and more editing. But mostly, what I learned about myself is that I want to take my own path and be original, and thinking about what’s important to me allows me to understand myself beneath the surface. This will help me in life.

Now, let me thank all the people who supported me with this tremendous task. Firstly, let me thank Rabbi Peter and Alan Siege, my mentor. Their guidance suggestions and editing were so helpful. And thanks to all of you who helped me with family values. Then I would like to thank my sister for paving a path for me and setting a high standard. The example she set was something for me to strive for. Grandpa David and Grandma Carla, thank you for all your help with my papers. You especially helped me when I struck a roadblock. You made me realize I could really do this. Dad, thanks for organizing the ceremony and the details of the party.

But I would especially like to thank my mother for cooking me all my meals, and assisting me in absolutely every step of the way. Without her, I would not be here tonight. Thank you all!

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Abigail Lienhard Cohen
November 12, 2005

When I began to prepare for my bat mitzvah at The City Congregation, it was mostly because my parents wanted me to. There was KidSchool about twice a month, almost always with homework, and then there were the essays. I had no problem with it, though, at times, I envied my friends, who didn’t have to do extra homework on the weekends, and could just enjoy holidays as an excuse to get presents. However, at other times I enjoyed the process, and felt that although it was challenging it was a very enriching experience. Having to look inside myself and articulate my beliefs and views now is something I believe will help me when it comes time to determine my goals in life and how I’ll achieve them.

One of the more practical things I have gained from my bat mitzvah preparation is greater ease with writing. And through the writing I’ve also become a clearer thinker.

Beyond that, I’ve gotten to know people like my mentor, Nancy Cohen, and Genevieve Faulkner, at Grace Church in Jersey City, where I volunteer. Nancy was the person with whom I worked most closely and helped me refine my ideas. In Genevieve, I got to see a leader in action. Myrna Baron and all the kids in my bat mitzvah class were more sources of discussion and ideas and challenge. Through talking and working with them, I’ve discovered what matters most to me and what I think about things. Our talks last year about tzedakah really helped when I was writing my main paper.

I’ve also learned a lot about both my Jewish heritage and my Christian heritage, and the historical experience of both, which makes me feel closer to my dad’s and my mom’s families.

My parents wanted me to have a bat mitzvah because they liked The City Congregation’s program. They felt that the way one prepared for a humanistic bat mitzvah would be more meaningful and special then the traditional kind that my dad had. They felt that this kind of preparation would pave the way to participation in the Jewish community and in the larger world. They feel that participating in life is thinking through one’s positions on issues of all kinds – political, moral, economic, social – and then taking action.

The City Congregation’s bat mitzvah program has marked the beginning of that process for me. I’ve begun to think more about the world around me, the Jewish community and my place in both.

My father’s family belonged to a Conservative congregation in Phoenix, Arizona, and he had a traditional Jewish bar mitzvah. He read from the Torah and participated in the service and then there was a big party at a nice hotel with a band and a professional photographer. To prepare for his bar mitzvah he met once a week with his rabbi to recite his Torah portion.

He remembers reciting at home along with the tape, repeatedly. He didn’t really know what the words meant and feels today that his bar mitzvah was not a very meaningful event. Something about his bar mitzvah that did resonate with him was the youth group he participated in before, during and after his bar mitzvah preparation. It was a community of young Jewish people with whom he discussed ideas and who helped forge his values. He is proud of all the work that I am doing and doesn’t think that he would have been able to put in all the effort that I am putting into my bat mitzvah training when he was my age.

My mother was raised Episcopalian and she had Jewish friends, but remembers going to only one bar mitzvah, the son of a friend of her mother’s. It was of the traditional sort but remarkable to my mother for the outpouring of love and pride for the bar mitzvah boy. My mother was confirmed in her church at age 13. The confirmation process is similar to a bat mitzvah in that the ceremony marks a young adult’s coming of age in the church community and there are written passages to memorize. There was discussion in the preparation classes about ideas and beliefs and church history. The class was confirmed in a group ceremony and without fanfare.

My bat mitzvah is different from their experiences because while they had to read established writings in their services, sources outside of themselves, I get to read my thoughts and opinions, what I think. They had to read what they were assigned, I’ve had many choices. I’ve chosen the music I find most meaningful, I’ve chosen who reads which passage from the ceremony, and I chose the topics of my papers. Their services were identical or little varied from everyone else’s in substance and arrangement but my service is unique.

Coming from those experiences, my parents found in The City Congregation Bat and Bar Mitzvah program people and a way of thinking that would prepare me for adulthood. They could see that my study of family stories and related topics would give me a way to form opinions about how I fit into my communities and the world. My father has said he hopes my becoming bat mitzvah will help me make the best decisions possible when I am an adult. My mother has expressed the hope that everything that I now know about myself will be projected into everything I do.

I see this course of study and ceremony as part of a long line of events that will help make me a mature and responsible adult. It has helped me discover who I really am, and has helped me find out more about my community. Not just my family, but my school, my congregation and the world in general.

There are several groups of people who really have helped me during my preparation for this day.

I want to thank my mom and dad for all their help with my essays and especially I want to thank the Lewit-Shapiro family for introducing us to the congregation.

While my brother Jack hasn’t always been what one would call helpful during my bat mitzvah preparation, I have to thank him for making me laugh when I needed it most. That goes double for my friends.

Thanks to my mentor Nancy Cohen and Myrna Baron and Peter Schweitzer for posing hard questions, never settling for the first answer and for helping me every step of the way through this learning process.

Thanks to Peter and Myrna, again, for all their help in preparing this ceremony, and to Ivan Rubenstein-Gillis for providing the music.

I’d like to thank those members of my family who generously shared their stories with me and answered my questions: all four of my grandparents, my parents, Great Grandma Sophie, Great Uncle Chuck, Great Aunt Joyce and Aunt Marcia.

And finally, a big thanks to all of you who’ve come to celebrate this day with me and my family. Some of you have come from as far away as Florida, California, Arizona and Pennsylvania and I thank you for your special efforts to be here today.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Alanna Olken
November 5, 2004

“Alanna, what’s your haftorah portion going to be?” has been the recurrent question asked ever since I began this bat mitzvah process. I answer with the unchanged words of “I’m actually not doing a haftorah. It’s really confusing, I’ll tell you about it some other time.” Well, I figure, what better time to answer that persistent question than during my actual bat mitzvah. We moved to The City Congregation about three years ago when I decided I didn’t believe in God and that my previous temple wasn’t right for my family and I. We found The City Congregation, a congregation that acccepted our views and opinions with open arms. Whether the case be that my brother and dad believed in God, my mom was unsure, and I definitely didn’t, we were all able to come to The City Congregation and learn about Judaism as a whole, and not only focus on God. Jewish culture, food, holidays, stories, the difficulties of the past, music, and much more were topics of discussion during Kidschool.

Now, another frequent question asked is “What does it mean to be a humanistic Jew?” To me, a large part about being a humanistic Jew is believing that humans, have the power to do anything, and that we don’t have to rely on a higher power or deity to make miracles happen. It’s a lot about being a proactive people and not waiting for God to talk to me and give me an A on a test I wasn’t prepared for. It means that humans will cure cancer one day, not God.

Anyways, I started a bat mitzvah process two years ago, and to tell you the truth, it has been a long two years. Now that I am 14, it’s quite obvious that I am having my bat mitzvah a year late. That is just one aspect of this bat mitzvah that would be considered different. The individuality and uniqueness that this bat mitzvah demonstrates really expresses my personality. The uniqueness is the best part about it, and is one of the fundamental reasons why I liked the process so much. Of course there were a lot of additional fights than normal, and lots more screaming. There was a lot of delay and a lot of “I’ll do it laters.” There was a lot of attention given to me by my parents and I thank them so much for their immense contributions and amount of hours and weekends spent on this. But most of all, I’d like to acknowledge my brother for being such a great sport during this whole process for never complaining, helping me out, lifting my spirits after a hard day of Judaism, and just being the best brother possible. So thanks, Hank.

I also have this congregation to thank. I feel that this process played a huge, if not entire, role in helping me discover my Jewish identity. It made me discover my values, it allowed me to hear stories about my family history that I would have never heard. It’s really great to be apart of this family. I would really like to thank Peter Schweitzer for being such a wonderful rabbi and for always providing me with a record to listen to, a book to read, an old picture to look at, and a great question for me to answer. You always help me out during meetings with Myrna, and thanks for being there.

Throughout this process, I have learned so many things. I found out that I enjoyed Woody Allen movies, that my grandfather, Aaron, was very generous to his community, that Arthur Ashe struggled with AIDS, that one of my most important values was trust, and that I have very little patience.

To conclude, although the complaints about the vast amounts of work don’t show it, I thoroughly enjoyed this whole process right down to the fights. All of my hard work really paid off and I couldn’t be more pleased with my bat mitzvah. The most important person in this process, who I would have never been able to do this without is Myrna Baron, my mentor. You could say I completely lucked out in getting the best of the best. I feel that we really got very close because of my bat mitzvah and that our relationship has grown to be really special to me. She couldn’t have been more helpful and supportive and I really admire her lack of complaint, when I didn’t necessarily follow my due dates, along with her kindness, her enormous intelligence and her never ending aid during these past two years. I can’t thank her enough. They say life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. Well, whoever gets Myrna next is a very fortunate person. Thank you so much, Myrna and to everyone who came today.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Alex Rawitz
February 23, 2008

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, in their modern forms, at times seem to be little more than excuses for a party, and have little connection to a passage into adulthood. To me, becoming a Bar Mitzvah is a significant event indeed. It means acting responsibly in all situations. This maturing process must occur while I keep my family, my beliefs and principles, and the work that got me here in high regard, never forgetting the importance of each of these things and the effect they have had on me.

As I stand up here, it marks the end of a journey that I chose to undergo. My parents certainly didn’t choose this for me; after all, they would have to pay for it. I chose to join this congregation and become a Bar Mitzvah. I did this because I wanted to get in touch with my roots, and become more of a man, with more responsibility. Plus, I would get to deliver a bunch of really neat speeches – and write them myself! However, I did not understand this at the start, and I did not realize how much introspection and self-examination would be required. I only knew that this would be a challenge, something I was a bit wary of, but something I had to do nonetheless. I figured that becoming a Bar Mitzvah would cement the values that I must have in my teenage years and help me become more of a man. And, I’ll admit it the party is a pleasant bonus. My parents though initially surprised, were also initially supportive, and they have helped and guided me, all the while, footing the bill.

My family has been the single most important influence on who I am; if the way we are raised truly makes us who we are, then I can thank my family for helping me to turn out relatively okay. You have already heard about some of my family’s values, so you know the kinds of things they try to teach me, as well as the values I try to incorporate in my everyday life. My family and I get along well, for the most part, and we are always willing to discuss the problems we face. One thing I like about my family is that we are all willing to learn from each other. My parents are always teaching me, even if I insist I already know everything. I feel that becoming a Bar Mitzvah will mean accepting more responsibility in my family, whether it is owning up to my actions or helping out around the house more, or combing my hair (my mother added that last bit).

I can also thank my family for helping me through the Bar Mitzvah process; together we have edited my papers, discussed the ceremony and party, and prepared each other for today.

That thanks, the first of many, goes out to my parents specifically. I would also like to thank my Grandmother Ann for all the wonderful stories and her even better love; and my Aunt Stella for always being a voice of kindness and reason. I would like to thank my Aunt Tina and Uncle Greg for coming up from Maryland to be here and being a great part of my life. I would like to thank my Aunt Marcy and Uncle Mitch for their constant hospitality and caring, and my cousins Andrew, Britney, Matt, and Alex for listening and being my friends. I thank Rabbi Peter and Myrna, for looking over my papers and leading this service and this congregation so ably. I would like to thank my mentor, Richard Mann, for always being there and working so hard to make this service and my papers as good as they can be. I would like to thank Aram and Rick for the wonderful music, and Rick especially for getting me up to speed on the year one program. And, last but not least, I would like to thank you all for coming and celebrating this special day with me, and staying awake for a good 90% of the service. Thank you.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Ben Farber
May 12, 2007

When I was asked to think about what becoming a bar mitzvah means to me, I didn’t have any answers right away. I know that becoming a bar mitzvah doesn’t make me a man – I’ll have to wait til I’m 21 for that. I do know that I become something today. I become a person who is responsible for passing down my family’s history and values. In this way, I am carrying on the Jewish tradition of teaching and learning, “Talmud/Torah.” Because I am a cultural Jew, and I didn’t learn Hebrew, I did not memorize parts of the Torah. Instead, I wrote about what I care about, my history, my beliefs and my actions, and I think these things will stay with me my whole life.

Through researching and writing these papers, I have learned a lot about other people, and also about myself. Even though at times I wanted to just quit and call the whole thing off, my Mom made me keep doing it. And despite some fighting – alright, a lot of fighting – we ended up doing it. And I am very proud of this accomplishment.

These papers help me understand who I am and where I fit in in our society. I don’t know what I am going to be yet, but at least I know who I am. My background means a lot to me. I am proud to come from the family that I have – full of courage, hard work and overcoming hardships. A family that is not afraid to stand up for what they believe in.

Like Hank Greenberg, I am figuring out what place Judaism has in my life. For me, being Jewish is flexible. For example, this past year I did not go to Rosh Hashanah services. Instead, I chose to go to a baseball game with one of my friends who was having her birthday party there. My Mom let me go to this game, because she is encouraging me to learn how to make choices about what is important to me. Instead of going to the Congregation’s services, I led our family service at home. This was a way of celebrating the holiday and keeping our culture, which is important to me, and I am thankful that my grandparents thought that it was important too.

There are many people who have helped me in this process and I would like to thank them all. I would like to thank my grandparents and great aunt Judy for having the lives that they had, and overcoming the challenges that they were faced with. Also thanks to Grandma and Grandpa for helping us have my bar mitzvah in this beautiful place.

Thanks to Cynthia for her help with these papers and for keeping me and my Mom from killing each other in the process.

Thanks to Aram and Rick for playing this great music. And thanks to all my friends and family for coming here today to help me celebrate.

I would like to thank Rabbi Peter for helping me figure out my major paper, and Rabbi Peter and Myrna for giving me ideas on ways to improve all my papers. Thanks to my mentor, Andy, for his guidance and for being my friend and a sports fan.

And lastly and most importantly, I would like to thank my Mom for her help with all aspects of preparing for this bar mitzvah. She was very patient throughout the project, and gave me a great deal of encouragement and support.

Without these people I could never have done all of this.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Danielle Nourok
October 21, 2006

When I first decided to have a Bat Mitzvah, it was because I wanted to understand my Jewish roots and learn where my family came from. I wanted to connect with being Jewish because up until this Bat Mitzvah preparation I had no formal exposure to Judaism.

I learned a lot about my family and where we came from. And from interviewing different members of my family I learned that the values I have are similar to those of my ancestors.

My dad wanted me to have a Bat Mitzvah for the same reason I did. He wanted me to get in touch with the Jewish part of me and to understand my Jewish identity. He was very pleased by the guidance I got from this Congregation and how the focus was on family values. He also wanted me to see that education in any form helps you to become a better person. So he thinks I learned a lot about myself by doing the different papers and by doing community service.

My mom didn’t have a strong opinion about whether or not I should have a Bat Mitzvah, but she was very happy when I chose to have one. She thinks it is good to identify strongly with something and was glad that I wanted to learn about Judaism.

One thing I learned from interviewing my parents was that both of their families were not religious. In fact, my mom was raised with no religion at all.

My dad was raised as a secular Jew. He remembers asking his father if they believed in God, and his father said that as far as religion and God goes, no one should make up my dad’s mind for him. My dad’s parents were not raised religiously.

My mom’s mother, Grandmother Helen, was raised with religion, but when she got older she started to question it.

The only members of my family that seemed to be religious were my Grandfather Daniel’s parents. They were born and raised as Jews in Russia. My Great Grandfather went to temple often and my Great Grandmother kept a kosher home.

My Grandfather Daniel rejected religion at a young age, but he once told his cousin that he was proud of his Russian Jewish roots because there were a lot of outstanding Russian Jewish mathematicians, and that he was glad to be among them.

As far as my religious values go, I don’t think of myself as religious. The City Congregation provides a way for me to learn about and understand my background, but I’m not obligated to believe in God. In other congregations there can be an expectation or obligation to believe in what they believe. This congregation helps people realize they can have their own beliefs and opinions, while still being connected to their Jewish culture.

Even though no one was telling me that I had to have a Bat Mitzvah, I felt like it was an important part of my education. And it is even more special to me because I made this decision myself.

I am also the only grandchild in my family to have a Bat Mitzvah, and I would like to thank my Grandmother Helen for her generosity in helping to make this day possible. I would also like to thank my Grandfather Sam for his love and support, and I am so happy that he is here today.

I want to thank my parents for all their support and hard work. My dad guided me with the research of my major paper and made great comments throughout this Bat Mitzvah process. And my mom spent hours at the computer helping me edit these papers. And thank you, mom & dad, for always being there no matter what.

Next, I would like to thank my wonderful mentor, Isabel, who invited me to her house many weekend mornings, no matter how early. Isabel talked me through this Bat Mitzvah process and helped me shape these papers, which have gone through many, many drafts.

Also, I would like to thank Myrna for spending hours with me trying to make these papers as perfect as possible. And thanks to Rabbi Peter for making suggestions along the way and for being the rabbi of our congregation. Thank you also to Anne Shonbrun and Maxine Feldman for the beautiful music.

Finally, I am grateful for all my family and friends who are here to celebrate my Bat Mitzvah with me.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Ethan Bogard
September 13, 2008

Well…. I am finally up to the last essay of my bar mitzvah. This is the part where I share with you what this all meant to me.

Let me first say that this was clearly the most complicated and time-consuming project I’ve ever done in my life. From the beginning, I knew that the Humanistic Jewish bar mitzvah process would be very challenging, and unique. And I knew it would make me carefully think about my values, and would require that I push myself intellectually.

Through the process, I learned a lot about my family history and values. I also learned a lot about Judaism and the Death Penalty. I was really fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet Mr. Scheck and learn more about him and his work. He’s a very brave, interesting, smart and inspiring person.

Also, I learned a great deal about my personal values, how I wish to be a good Jewish adult in the tradition of Humanistic Judaism, and how I expect to continue this tradition throughout my life.

I am proud that I have continued the tradition of bar mitzvahs in the family. While my grandfathers’ bar mitzvahs were certainly more traditional than mine, my dad sort of paved the nontraditional path. He had his bar mitzvah when he was 19 years old, after returning from six months in Israel on a kibbutz.

And then came my brother Ben. By having his City Congregation bar mitzvah three years ago, he showed me that this was possible, even when it seemed like I could never do all the work that I saw him do. And he showed me that doing something that was very different was really okay, and could be very meaningful to me. With Rabbi Peter’s support, Ben also introduced to this congregation the idea of throwing candy at the end of the service. I know I really enjoyed throwing candy at him after his Bar Mitzvah Declaration and I’m sure that he, along with my friends, will also enjoy bombarding me in a few minutes!

I want to thank my parents for encouraging me, even when I didn’t want to be encouraged. There were times when I didn’t want to hear that we had to work more on my papers or presentation, but I appreciate the fact that they cared enough to be that involved and to push me to do a better job. The opportunity to work with my official and unofficial mentors, Steve Olken and Andy Taslitz, was invaluable, as they are both very smart, gave me so much of their time and helped me think through so many of the issues and themes I have discussed. I would also like to thank my KidSchool teachers, Rabbi Peter and Myrna Baron for all their support and the many questions they posed to make me think about things in ways that I probably would not otherwise have done.

I would like to thank Anne Shoenbrun for her beautiful singing today. I also want to thank all of my friends and family for being here with me today, with a special note of thanks to those who have come from great distances. Our friends Kristin, Hendrik and Sam came all the way from Germany; Richard and Suzie from Texas; cousins Eric, Pam and Melissa from Florida; Andy and Patty from Virginia; my friend Andy Murray from Scotland; and our friends who came all the way from Northern Jersey!!

I learned a great deal throughout this process. I certainly complained when we had to go into the city for KidSchool on Sundays. However, the schlep afforded me the opportunity to spend lots of time with my family, and to listen to a lot of music on my I-pod! I also made some great friends, got to see my dad act ridiculous as president of the Congregation, and learned a lot about Jewish history, culture and my values. Although I missed a few classes for tennis tournaments…okay, maybe more than a few, I still got it done!

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Kyra Zimmerman
November 18, 2006

Now, all of the pieces I have just read to you were created during a long process involving much thought, time and many revisions. I feel like its been one of the most life changing experiences! This piece, “What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me” is one of the most important to me. The whole process has been very long and tiring. But it has helped me to find my inner strength and allowed me to evaluate myself. I have found my main values, learned about my family history, and explored and identified the role that Judaism plays in my life.

I have always known I was Jewish. I also know I always will be Jewish. But being a part of any group, especially a religious group can be very difficult. For me, there are times when I wish I was not affiliated with Judaism. I might feel that way with any religious affiliation but it is especially true of Judaism, I think. There have been a few times I wished I could blend in and not be Jewish, because being Jewish has exposed me to feeling isolated.

The difficulty of being identified as Jewish became most obvious when I was in my fourth grade art class. We were studying religious art, a famous Christian cathedral, and Muslim art. The teacher polled the class to see who was what religion. 50% raised their hand to say they were Christian. When asked by the teacher, 20% of the remaining 50% raised their hand to state they were Muslim. She continued with asking who was Jewish. My hand went right up. I was proud and happy until I looked around. My face flushed. I was the only one with my hand. One boy in my class started to laugh! I was shaken into reality. I did not want to cry, so I started to laugh too. It was so funny, how could I really be the only one. It was not possible.

At first I thought it was a joke until I realized how real it really was. “Oh OK, was her reply. Who’s half Jewish, half Christian?” It was amazing how many hands shot up. I felt so secluded and alone. It was like I was carrying everything Jewish, from history to culture, on my shoulders. I wanted to throw it all on the floor and collapse. At the time I thought, this could only happen to a Jewish kid like me.

In retrospect I understand why I felt like that. And I know it is not true, that it can not only happen to a Jew. Our world is filled with so much hatred. People treat each other with so much disrespect and are so discriminatory. Most societies have had to struggle at some point in history to find a way to exist and be accepted. The weight of the world is on their shoulders until they find their spot and way to be accepted or partially accepted. I think what is especially hard for me is being completely Jewish.

Looking back on that fourth grade class there were so many children that were partially Jewish. Sometimes I wish I could escape from being a “whole Jew.” There is some much pressure sometimes to keep up or represent the religion, and my integrity. I will never disown my background and Jewish culture, but sometimes I want to surrender to all the discrimination and hate in our world and go with the crowd. But I don’t worry, I won’t!

I am an individual and believe in being my own person. I stick up for those who I believe in and support friends who are in need. This Bat Mitzvah is one way I am embracing my Judaism and sharing who I am. By doing this I hope that others will learn to be more comfortable with who they are and be willing to share who they are with me and others.

My parents have helped me tremendously and encouraged me with the Bat Mitzvah. They have helped me with this, but they also help me in everyday life. Mom, you really have been such a strong force the whole way through this, moving me along. Even though I probably yelled at you the most, I love you so much and I want to say thank you. And Dad, when you helped me, it was very thoughtful work. So I want to thank you too. Mom and Dad, even at times when I ignore you, you know I really love you.” And you guys are really mad cool!

In life, right now, I have a ton of guy friends that mean so much to me, but besides my father the real guy in my life is my brother, Gabe. I love my brother. I know sometimes we are expected to say we love our siblings, but I really do. My brother and I have always been close but recently I think we have become even closer. We tell each other things before we tell them to our parents, do activities together, and occasionally try to kill each other. But I also feel a closer bond since Gabe came to Shire Village Camp this past summer. He bonded and befriended everyone at the whole camp, just like I have done. But really I just want to thank you, Gabe, for listening to me complain about this occasionally. I can’t wait until it’s your turn. Then who’s going to be the one relaxing!

I also want to thank my mentor, Alan. We have shared so many experiences together beyond just the work. The B63 bus trips, the Tuesday afternoons at your house, the snacks of goldfish and raisins, and the late night telephone “work sessions.” You started off being the congregation storyteller who was my mentor. Now you are my mentor and an adult and friend I respect. You, and by extension Ann, Carly,

Mia and Jacob, have given so much time to my bat Mitzvah. I want thank you and Ann with a night out on me with free babysitting. Carly and I can have a girls night. So, again, I really want to thank you because none of this would have been possible without you!

I also want to thank Myrna and Peter. Their tireless rereads and edits have made each of my essays the best they can be. My thoughts about my first meetings with Myrna were that she would be strict. But she was supportive, helpful and very nice. So thanks to both of you for all that you did.

Ann, Maxine and Aram, the musical accompaniment today, made this service all the better. To have all three of you added a melodic quality and allowed my singing friends to join right in. Thanks.

This whole process has been a journey and if I could do it over, I would not change anything about it because I know this experience will affect my life. If I could have, I would have written this piece yesterday. Really I could write this piece every day. I think this sounds crazy. But my views of my Bat Mitzvah are changing every day. Every day is a new step in the journey, a new piece of the puzzle. Yes, this process has been long and hard, but I feel like I am starting a new chapter in my life, and though it is scary it will be an adventure! I know it has helped me prepare for whatever is ahead, and I know all my friends and family will be there to help and support me along the way. So I just want to thank you all for being a part of my life.

“What My Bat Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Sabrina Frank
June 16, 2007

Throughout my life, my family has taught me about many aspects of Judaism. I have learned about Jewish history, stories, holidays, and foods. Although these aspects of Judaism are important to my feeling Jewish, I feel an even stronger connection to Judaism when I agree with Secular and Humanistic Jewish philosophies. Agreeing with these philosophies has allowed me connect to Judaism in a larger way than counting down the days until Chanukah. I have let these ideas become a part of me, and by doing that I have let myself become a part of Judaism.

When I first started preparing for my bat-mitzvah, although I was excited- it seemed like just another step in my kid school experience. Then, when school work added up with High School and Bat Mitzvah preparation, I found myself being overwhelmed and decided to put my Bat Mitzvah preparation on hold. My parents backed me up on my decision because they understood how stressful this work could be on me.

Last summer, when High school preparation and school was not as intense, I started thinking about where my bat mitzvah was going. Then, in the beginning of this school year, my parents told me it was time to decide whether or not I was going to have a bat mitzvah at all. They told me that it had to be purely my decision but that they would (yet again) back me up no matter what I chose. At this point in time, I understood that having a bat mitzvah was more than a kid school experience. I wanted to have a bat mitzvah to feel more connected to the Jewish community. So with this in mind I chose to have a bat mitzvah, and I am very proud to say that I will be done shortly.

I feel like having this bat mitzvah is the end result of my whole kid school journey and the beginning of a more mature, Jewish, accomplished me. Through preparing for my bat mitzvah I have become smarter about topics that don’t even have to do with Judaism. For example, I have learned about global warming, Barbra Streisand and I have even learned more about my family and what I care about in life. I have also become a better writer. In fact, through my bat mitzvah preparation I was introduced to a new way of creating a paper. This method can be explained in one simple sentence: produce as much work as you possibly can- then cut until you have about one half of what you worked so hard to create. I hope I will use what I have learned throughout the rest of my life.

Mom and dad, I am most thankful for all the help you have given me throughout my whole bat mitzvah process. You have supported me and helped me with all my work despite any decision I have made concerning this ceremony.

Mom, from the beginning you have sat with me when I worked- even if you had a billion other tasks to complete. I really appreciate all the time you have spared for me.

Dad, when mom helped I know you were not at rest- you had to make sure everything around the house was getting done how it should be. Not to say you haven’t helped me directly though. Closer to the middle and end of my bat mitzvah preparation you helped me get my work organized and finish my papers up.

Wyatt, thank you so much for being supportive to me about my bat mitzvah up until this day.

My kid school teachers, Aram, Leia, Rick, Merna, Rachel and Meira, thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. Without all I have learned at kid school, my bat mitzvah would not come close to being as meaningful or interesting.

Rabbi Peter and Myrna, thank you for making the type of bat mitzvah I am having right now a possibility. Also, thank you for your mentoring help and putting me on the fast track.

Renee, thank you for being a wonderful mentor who shared so much time, energy and good ideas with me. I remember when I decided to put my bat mitzvah preparation on hold and my family told you the news. You asked, “does this mean I am being fired?” We were surprised you could ever come up with such a conclusion. You are a very helpful mentor and I am very glad you waited for me during the time I stopped working towards the completion of my bat mitzvah.

Meira, thank you for helping me develop some ideas for my major project.

Howard, thank you for jumping in towards the end of my bat mitzvah to act as a second mentor to me so I would finish up all my work on time. Your ideas and feedback were very useful and I am so grateful they were available to me.

Aram and Rick, thank you so much for performing the music at my bat mitzvah, you did a great job and you deserve a round of applause.

Julia, thank you for your help with my invitations, RSVPs and thank you cards. You let me tweak your wonderful design and colors choices until I thought there was absolutely nothing else that I could possibly want changed.

And last but not least thank you to all my fans… no, I’m just kidding. Thank you all for being here on this special day. It means a lot to me.

“What My Bar Mitzvah Means to Me”
by Sam Lewis
June 9, 2007

If I had not joined the City Congregation I would probably not be having a bar mitzvah or even a Jewish education.

My mom was really into the idea of joining a very secular congregation but my dad wanted something more traditional, or at least a place that was Reform where I could learn Jewish history, values and Hebrew, since he believed it was a valuable language. At that point I couldn’t care less. My dad had a better Jewish educational experience growing up then my mom did so their opinions on what to do were different. Meanwhile I didn’t care.

While my mom looked into temple after temple saying they were either too conservative or way too expensive or exclusive, she found whatever excuse she could to not put me in a religious one. By this time I had been to a few bar mitzvahs and instead of not caring, I really wanted to have a bar mitzvah, but I didn’t care what kind. Eventually the search was narrowed down to any temple that wasn’t all about god.

My mom’s cousin Isabel told us about an open house at the City Congregation so we decided to check it out. I thought it was pretty cool, not only because of the stuff we learned, but because of the kids and the teachers. They were awesome. One last thing about Kidschool that I liked is that my cousin Abby was in the same class as me and she just had her bat mitzvah in April.

Then a year and a half ago, as any advertiser would put it, the road to Bar Mitzvah ’07 began. That road was covered with potholes and detours, but I finally reached my destination today and it feels good. Now rewind back to ’06 when I met my mentor Kim Fader and from then on there were interviews, meetings, readings and plenty of typing in order to prepare for my bar mitzvah.

I am glad I am having a Humanistic Bar Mitzvah because it really has taught me about my connection to Jewish culture, a lot more than I expected it to.

And now for the Thank- you’s,

My first and greatest thank you goes out to my mom, who sat with me at the computer day after day helping me focus on my paper, and plotting to kill me. She withstood my constantly going off course and acting like someone who escaped from the loony bin. We also shared quite a bit of laughs and jokes, especially for the major paper.

Next in line is my dad, sorry I couldn’t put you first but don’t feel bad, you’re just as good as mom. My dad was the brain and library of this operation, the wise man that I looked up to for answers, historical facts, or tips for writing my paper, and a lot of moral support when my mom was nervous out about what would happen next.

Kim Fader, my mentor, has helped and guided me every step of the way. My mom, dad. Kim and I met at least once a month at the Dobbs diner discussing the current papers and what new angle I should think about. I also received lots of email

As is essential to every Bar mitzvah a rabbi was there for me. Rabbi Peter helped me with the backbone of my papers. When the major paper loomed overhead we weren’t sure where the project was headed, he met with us and helped guide me with all his knowledge and really set me on course.

And of course Myrna Baron started me on this road and the entire way was my map not just for the papers but for everything after them like how to prepare by reading the papers, and how the actual event would work.

Thanks to Aram for his musical talent and being kind enough to lead the music in this celebration. And also to Rick who did just the same. Thanks to both of you for teaching me in Kidschool.

Thanks to all of you for showing up and witnessing this event, and to all of those who have not had their bar mitzvahs yet, mazel tov.