September 3, 2013
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Rosh Hashanah during the bar mitzvah year

Get a Rosh Hashanah rush!

for The Brooklyn Paper

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, will soon be upon us, and I think it presents some superb teachable moments for families with bar mitzvah-age kids. Rather than dwell on the crowds and the endless hours spent sitting in services — like me, at least you don’t have to sing the whole time —let’s look at some of the themes of this very important holiday and find ways for your whole family to connect with the rituals.

I’m sorry

The most fundamental aspect of Rosh Hashanah is the act of teshuvah or repentance. You’re supposed to look back over your actions of the previous year, figure out where you might have gone wrong or made some bad choices, then take action and fix them. First, you’re supposed to apologize to those you have hurt in any way, and then you have to decide not to repeat the behavior in the future.

That simple instruction is a fairly amazing process. How often do we actually go up to people we know and apologize for something? That can be an extremely intimidating or scary thing to do.

Kids, especially teens, can be included in this practice as well. I always ask students in my Hebrew school class to raise their hands if they remember doing or saying anything that may have upset someone else — whether it was another kid in school or a member of their family. Of course, every hand goes up. Then I ask if they could imagine going up to that person and saying they were sorry for what they said or did. That’s the essence of repentance.

I think that this is a perfect time for bar and bat mitzvah students — who are about to undertake an increased set of obligations in the Jewish religion — to get in the habit of realizing that actions and words have consequences. It’s one thing to memorize a haftarah. It’s quite another to start taking responsibility for your deeds.

Recommit and reconnect

Remember that one important goal of bar mitzvah training is to get ready to take on new responsibilities. This applies to the whole family. Rosh Hashanah is a great time to make some Jewish New Year resolutions. And I’m not just talking about eating better and unearthing your treadmill from the pile of laundry you’ve buried it under. Instead, think of religious resolutions.

No matter what your personal level of observance or spirituality happens to be, you should consider making the bar mitzvah year a period of reconnecting to Judaism. That might include increased attendance at services, greater participation in temple activities, or even committing added time or money to a worthy charitable cause.

Have a blast

The shofar is probably the most recognizable symbol of Rosh Hashanah. Families make an extra effort to get to services in time to hear it, and kids love to listen to the loud sounds and watch the guy’s face turn purple when he tries to hold the note for too long. Bar mitzvah kids are particularly able to relate to the deeper meaning of the shofar. After all, they hear sounds and alarms all day long—the alarm clock in the morning, bells in school telling them to change classes, the alert tones on their devices—so they’re already primed to comprehend the idea that this very important set of blasts is telling them to pay attention and think about what kind of people they want to be.

Each Rosh Hashanah is a chance for new beginnings—isn’t that essentially what a bar mitzvah is all about? So encourage your young teen to fully embrace this year’s holiday.

Shanah Tovah —Happy New Year!

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