A Name is a name is a name…”
By Rabbi Matthew A. Reimer, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills, New Jersey
Our names are as much a defining characteristic of who we are as our physical attributes, our likes and dislikes, and our values and personal stories. But, as the Tanchuma text illustrates, that name can change. It can evolve. It can become something new. Becoming a bar/bat mitzvah is just such a moment when all three names meet in one sacred moment.
Our Family Name
Becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a significant individual milestone in one’s Jewish life. But it is also much more. It is a moment that becomes a part of one’s family history. At Temple B’nai Jeshurun, we want each of our B’nai Mitzvah students to understand and appreciate that part of what got them to this moment was their family: their parents, their grandparents, their great-grandparents, their siblings. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s family name can beam with pride having reached this Jewish milestone.
Our Public Name
Ideally, the journey of becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a personal and meaningful one. We ask our students to begin to take responsibility for all aspects of this journey, and, of course, we encourage students to begin to think for themselves and bring “themselves” into the process. Students, in consultation with our clergy, and in discussion with their family, determine what aspect of their Torah portion they will speak about from the bimah. Mitzvah projects are highly individualized. Choosing a project that one is passionate about will only add to the meaning gained and, hopefully, will introduce them to a life of Tikkun Olam, of repairing the world.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s public name gives each student a sense of self, and that self comes with all of its special qualities, its imperfections and its uniqueness…and all of that is sacred.
The Name We Acquire for Ourselves
On Saturday morning, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is called to the Torah with a new name (their Hebrew name followed by the Hebrew words, ‘Ha Bar/Bat Mitzvah’). This new name connects them to the Jewish collective past. He/she is now a part of the chain of tradition that began at Sinai and has been passed down l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.
A Name is So Much More than a Name…
To help our B’nai Mitzvah students and their families understand their various “names” we have introduced the Family B’nai Mitzvah Class as part of the regular Bar/Bat Mitzvah process. Its goal is for families to experience the Bar/Bat Mitzvah journey together. Families spend four weeks together learning about the history of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service, how to write a d’var Torah, the connection between mitzvot and becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah and personal theology. Families share stories; often ones that the student is hearing for the first time; ask questions and discuss the importance and role our tradition plays in their lives.
On the day our Temple B’nai Jeshurun students become B’nai Mitzvah, they will be called by all three names. We hope and pray that they will understand their names – their family stories, their personal choices and challenges and the values of their tradition – as they come of age and become a Jewish adult.
And this is something that all B’nai Mitzvah students can do as they take this next step in their Jewish journeys.
This story is from the 2012 Mitzvah Market magazine. If you would like a complimentary copy of our magazine, click here.