Friday, June 4, 2004

All families should emulate Jewish rite

Married with children

By Patricia Gallagher Newberry
Enquirer contributor

I'm considering converting to Judaism so my daughters can make their bat mitzvahs and my son, his bar mitzvah.

Fresh from my first such ceremony, I am still in awe of the personal, powerful process that marks a young Jew's coming of age.

On this particular occasion, a bat mitzvah, the eyes, ears, hearts and minds of some 200 guests honed in on the 13-year-old candidate for two-and-half hours. Her mother, father and younger brother rose to speak of her many attributes. Her rabbi and religious education teacher added their praise. Her grandparents joined them all on the bema - altar, to non-Jews - with warm embraces all 'round.

And, of course, the new bat mitzvah had the starring role, reading Hebrew from the Torah and pledging to continue to grow and learn as a student, a daughter, a friend and a Jew.

I wept along with the congregation and I barely knew her..

Where outside of a such a ritual do parents stand and detail the reasons they love and value their child? Where besides such a celebration does a 13-year-old declare, in mixed company, that she loves and values her family and faith?

In the non-Jewish world, such public affirmations are generally reserved for weddings and funerals. At the first, the bride and groom have already come of age, having passed through the difficult early teen years where a few kind words can make all the difference. And at the latter, words of praise may comfort the mourners, but are certainly lost on the object of their affection.

Yes, we tell our children we love them. But it's too often as a private moment - Love ya! See you at 3! Love ya. Go to sleep now - than a public declaration.

Yes, we tell our children they make us proud. But we offer complaint and correction - Get up. Get going. Please hurry. Cut that out! - more readily than we recite their good works for all to hear.

And yes, our children, sometimes, thank us for helping them make their way. But, really, when and where would the non-Jewish child proclaim responsibility for their own moral and spiritual conduct along with the thanks?

A friend, similarly inspired by bat and bar mitzvahs, decided to create a tradition of her own by praising her son during a family birthday party in his honor.

I'm planning to do the same when my children celebrate their next birth dates.

Then, I'll tell my 10-year-old daughter how much I appreciate her kindness and loyalty to friends, her hard work in class and on the soccer field, her love of arts and her increasingly willingness to help at home.

Soon after I will tell my 8-year-old son that I love him for his smarts, his wit, and his growing ability to make good choices in school and at home.

And just next month, I will tell my youngest, turning 6, that I value her sunny outlook, her exuberance and her love of learning.

Not being of the Jewish faith - and not really planning a conversion - my kids will never stand in synagogue, recite from the Torah and pledge to live moral lives.

But there's no reason their parents can't offer bar and bat mitzvah testimonials at regular intervals and no reason their children can't return the favor, offering proof that they are coming of age as they come of age.


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