Your beloved child who was born almost thirteen years ago will soon enter the congregation of Israel as an adult member. A young boy will be known as a “bar mitzvah.” According to our earliest rabbis, a male child upon reaching puberty at the age of “13 years and a day” could be counted in a minyan, be a witness in court and sign a contract. In other words, at 13 and a day, a boy was considered to have reached the age which he could function as an adult. To this day, in traditional congregations, the father publicly recites a prayer that blesses God for “relieving me of the responsibility of this boy.”
The term “bat mitzvah” was first used in 1922 when the daughter of Reconstructionist Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan chanted from the Torah before her father’s congregation. Our ancient tradition never included women of any age in the ritual life of the community; but with the advent of the feminist movement, liberal Judaism began to encourage girls to become bat mitzvah in the same way as their male counterparts.
Liberal Judaism does not encourage either parent to recite the prayer that blesses God for “relieving me of the responsibility of this child." Parents are the most powerful role models for their children. As the parent of a son in his twenties, I know that I will always feel a responsibility to be my child's teacher. Children learn more from us than we can ever imagine. I hope that you will teach them that their Jewish learning does not end at "13 and a day;" Jewish learning, like all learning, continues throughout life. It is our hope that you will encourage your child to continue his or her education through confirmation and to become active in youth group programs of learning and leadership.
As your family embarks upon the journey toward a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony and celebration, I encourage you to learn together, to enjoy our synagogue community together, and to make yourselves known to each other and to our community so that when your child becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, the experience will be richer and more meaningful for all of you.
I look forward to getting to know you and helping you along the way!