In education, stories

Adult B’nai Mitzvah program – A peak experience.

Bob Hodes, Temple member and Adult B’nei Mitzvah class graduate.

…All of us to whom Judaism, to whom being a Jew, has again become the pivot of our lives, we all know that in being Jews we must not give up anything, not renounce anything, but lead everything back to Judaism. From the periphery back to the centre, from the outside in…
Franz Rosenzweig, 1919 – Siddur Pirchei Kodesh, page 532.

At my advanced age, learned a torah portion and chanted at a congregational service. Wow!!! After the birth of my children and grandchildren, one of the peak experiences of my life. Really! Born and raised in Brooklyn New York during the 40’s and 50’s, I grew up in a city imbued with Jewish customs and surrounded by Jews whose life style was similar to my own. That was, a secular life style. I knew I as Jewish from my earliest memories, but to me that meant very little except that at certain times in the calendar, my large family would gather, the furniture in the living room suddenly included tables and a celebratory meal was enjoyed. Why? I had no idea. I learned the names of these holidays. Passover, the very late meal and reading from some pamphlet. Rosh Hashana, another big meal and no school the next day, Yom Kippur, another big meal and adult talk about “fasting”, whatever that was. Chanukah, lighting candles for a week.

I knew of no other holidays and even though I attended Hebrew day school from age 10 – 13 and learned and recited a haftarah portion, (much to the delight of my parents, aunts, uncles and grandmothers,) I was not an eager student and learned very little else about Judaism.

From that childhood until relatively recently, I didn’t know an akeda from an amida, First Temple from Temple Emmanuel in “the City” or anything at all about a prayer service and why even to attend one! Obligations Without Measure, in my secular world, seemed to be an oxymoron. Jewish history was confusing and less relevant to me than current affairs. I didn’t know I contained a small fraction of alienation but seemed inordinately proud of Israel after the Six Day War. Then I married and my education began. Married now over 40 years, I wish I was as sure about anything as I used to be about everything. My wife very kindly suggests that I am acquiring wisdom.

Two years ago, I was encouraged by Rabbi Thomashow to enroll in the adult Bar Mitzvah class, I was ready to engage in a process that would enlighten me about my heritage.

I wanted to relearn how to read Hebrew.
To learn about the nature and structure of the prayer service.
To learn about the Jewish calendar and the meaning and history of the holidays.
To learn about Jewish history from biblical to current and the in-between.
To learn about Jewish philosophy.

Most importantly, to learn more about menschlichkeit and Tikkun Olam. The adult bar mitzvah class helped me with all this and more. It was a transformative experience that fundamentally challenged my assumptions and preconceptions, as well as my beliefs and values. I have been exposed to resources that encourage continual learning because, there is no such thing as command of the subject. That is both humbling and enriching. The wonderful thing is that I have found a place where I can pursue this learning. The synagogue used to be a place where I dropped my sons off to attend day school and my wife had lots of friends. Now I am there several times a week and looking forward to each visit.

I have discovered that much of the frantic rushing around in the secular world is about reinventing wheels. The great questions in life about how to be a better person, parent/grandparent, son/daughter, friend, community member are exactly the questions that the Jewish Sages have been pondering for thousands of years. Sometimes there are answers. Sometimes not! Often, just viewing the problem through a different lens is helpful and illuminating.

If I had it to do over, I would have engaged this rich source of knowledge earlier in my life. I would have gained much, much sooner. I suggest that you explore and utilize the resources that the synagogue offers to enrich your life. No doubt, you will enjoy the view from the periphery!

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  • Ben Hodes

    “I have discovered that much of the frantic rushing around in the secular world is about reinventing wheels.” Bob, this was wonderful. You have come to our cycle of life not reinventing the wheels, but to enjoy the benefit of those who have and “see” the light and too understand better how the wheel works. Loved your writings.

  • Dena Perlmutar

    As always Bob, eloquently put!!! As a classmate I must agree, the adult Bnei mitzvah class has been a life enriching experience!

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