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Adult bar mitzvah

13 Going on 30

for The Brooklyn Paper

Youth is wasted on the young — no kidding!

How many times has an adult looked back on his life and wished that he had the opportunity to experience an important event again? But this time with the wisdom and perspective of age!

If you have felt this way, I’ve got a proposition for you. It’s a little something called “the adult bar mitzvah.”

This particular brand of ceremony has become increasingly popular in recent years and adults are attracted to them for several different reasons.

First, there are many Jews who, for whatever reason, never had the opportunity to have a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony at the traditional age of 12 or 13. This is particularly common among women, who might have grown up in a time when girls simply didn’t do the same thing as boys and now want to walk through a door that had previously been closed to them.

Alternately, some Jews might have been raised without much Jewish identity at all. They didn’t receive a Jewish education, had no affiliation with a synagogue, and perhaps were only vaguely aware of Judaism at all. Now that they’ve reached adulthood, their priorities are different and they want to rediscover their Jewish roots.

And then there are the large number of Jews who embraced Judaism later in life through the process of conversion and weren’t even Jewish at the age of 13.

For these kinds of congregants, studying and preparing for an adult bar mitzvah is perfect. It provides grown men and women the ideal opportunity to learn more about Jewish prayers, the Torah, and the haftarah on an adult level. And, as a cantor, it’s fun to delve into the texts and traditions with more nuance and not worry that the student will start fidgeting out of boredom. It’s also unlikely that adult students will have to reschedule their lesson because they have soccer practice.

In fact, a lot of adult students learn together in a group for added support and to encourage discussion.

And then there are the old-timers who have lived long enough to turn 13 twice!

Sometimes an 83-year-old man will want to mark his “second bar mitzvah.” This custom stems from a traditional text that refers to an average life span as being 70 years of age. Therefore turning 83 would be a logical time to have another ceremony.

Personally, I always love this type of bar mitzvah because it turns everything we expect from a ceremony on its head. Typically we see grandparents come up to the bimah and kvell over their precious grandchildren. Perhaps Grandpa will present a special tallit, while Grandma gives the bar mitzvah boy a kiss on the cheek and leaves a lipstick mark that I spend the next five minutes trying to get off.

However, in a second bar mitzvah ceremony, the grandchildren are invited up to the bimah to give their own congratulations. I can’t imagine how emotional and moving it must be for a second bar-mitzvah “boy” to look out over the congregation and see the generations of his family spread out before him.

Yet, no matter the reason for an adult bar or bat mitzvah, there is one important thing to keep in mind: regardless of background, any Jewish person over the age of 13 is already considered bar mitzvah. So, adult b’nei mitzvah are essentially wonderful occasions and opportunities to learn, celebrate, and recommit to Judaism.

And the best part?

Your parents won’t take your gift money away and put it away for college.

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