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Grieve for Israel with Jewish Joy: A B’nei Mitzvah Story

Grieve for Israel with Jewish Joy: A B’nei Mitzvah Story


Grieve for Israel with Jewish Joy: A B’nei Mitzvah Story By Drew Isserlis Kramer

The Jewish people are in mourning. The world is in conflict. Since Hamas attacked Israel on  October 7, 2023, the atmosphere hasn’t felt very celebratory. In the United States, Jewish Americans must grapple with how to grieve and cope with anxiety, while still embracing everyday life. For those who have been studying and planning for a B’nei Mitzvah, the celebration of entrance to Jewish adulthood, families ask themselves how to embrace joy in this tragic moment. 


In Judaism, our sacred texts offer guidance on how to grieve. According to Amanda Kleinman, Senior Cantor from Westchester Reform Temple (WRT) in Scarsdale, NY, families grieving a loved one are instructed to “avoid public parties and large celebrations for a period of time following the death.” However, “the community is instructed to continue in its joyful Jewish observances.” She offers the example of Jewish festival holidays. When a death overlaps with celebratory milestones in the calendar year, “the shiva is either postponed or canceled entirely, depending on the circumstances of the death.” She explains that this is because “we are commanded to rejoice during our festivals, and that commandment takes precedence.” To Kleinman, this tradition reinforces the importance of observing meaningful Jewish milestone moments as a way to bring strength to our community.


In that spirit, Jewish people across the diaspora have taken to social media to showcase their commitment to living a beautifully Jewish life. Shabbat candles sparkle through content feeds, declaring that our light will not be extinguished. Likewise, as families choose to move forward with their B’nei Mitzvah plans, parents announce their commitment to Judaism in the face of violence and antisemitism, the way they have for generations. 


At WRT, the temple and families discuss the opportunities to pray and acknowledge the significance of the moment. If you are hosting a B’nei Mitzvah in this complicated time for the Jewish people, Cantor Kleinman has a few words of advice to feel the poignancy of the moment, while preserving the joy of the occasion for the family and child. 


  • Include a prayer for Israel as part of the B’nei Mitzvah service.
  • Add a Mi Shebeirah prayer for healing in the service or another prayer for peace.
  • Take an opportunity to acknowledge those killed as a part of the Kaddish prayer for the dead and grieving.
  • Incorporate Israeli melodies into the service and celebration.


For Hailey Genicoff, a Long Island teacher and mother to a recent B’nei Mitzvah, canceling her daughter’s B’nei MItzvah scheduled for October 14, 2023 was not an option. While the decision to move forward with the milestone came with some guilt, the family decided to move forward with their plans. On October 13, 2023, with the Hamas call to followers for “a day of rage” against the Jewish people, guests felt some anxiety to attend the Friday night service that traditionally precedes the Saturday morning service. While some gave in to nerves that evening, everyone came to celebrate the milestone moment and Jewish joy on Saturday. During the ceremony, the clergy acknowledged the conflict in Israel. Both Jewish and non-Jewish guests alike appreciated the call for peace and prayers for hope. Despite the guilt and apprehension that preceded the event, in hindsight, Genicoff says, “what better time to celebrate Judaism than now. 


Without an end to the conflict in sight, the Jewish people and its leadership must help Jewish youth find meaning and purpose in the now. In their mentorship of students now preparing for B’nei Mitzvah, both Cantor Kleinman and concierge Rabbi Rebecca Keren Eisenstadt encourage them to think about supporting Israel as part of their Mitzvah project. One child decided to contribute a percentage of her monetary gifts to an organization supporting Israel.  In response to the crisis, WRT’s B’nei Mitzvah students opted to develop bake sales and car washes to raise money to help their sisters and brothers living in the Jewish homeland. 

Now more than ever, the B’nei Mitzvah milestone is an opportunity to strengthen ties with Israel. Sadly, for families organizing a pilgrimage to Israel for a B’nei Mitzvah, many will change their plans for safety. In Rabbi Eisenstadt’s busy international practice, she observes many families pivoting from celebrations in Israel to meaningful locations with calmer shores. 

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In the current climate, the messaging and destination might shift, but, as Rabbi Eisenstadt puts it, “you don’t stop praying.” There is no greater resistance to terrorism than continuing on with simcha, or joy. At Jewish weddings, we remember destruction when we break glass under the chuppah. For thousands of years, the Jewish people combated struggle with joy. The B’nei Mitzvah is a precious moment that we won’t let anyone take from us.

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