Teachings: Mitzvah Stories

New Mitzvah Stories for the Whole Family

Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel, (Eds) with Arthur Kurzweil, Peninnah Schram, Danny Siegel, Mindy Shapiro and Shoshana Silberman
Reclaiming Judaism Press

The Story of Pachi and How the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Revolution Got Started

Bmitzvah.org: B Mitzvah! The Bar and Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution

"The Story of Pachi"

The easiest way to learn why staff at Bmitzvah.org collect and create exciting new approaches to bar/bat mitzvah is through the story of Pachi, who taught Rabbi Milgram, this site's author and founder, the importance of mentoring meaningful bar/bat mitzvah processes.

During my son Mark’s bar-mitzvah preparatory year, since his Torah portion was Noah [and the ark], I felt fortunate to be serving for as rabbi on a Universe Explorer cruise up the coast of Alaska. We helicoptered onto glaciers, whale watched, visited tribes. The big "Ah Ha!" moment happened in Victoria, British Columbia at the Natural History Museum.

Free Discussion Guide for Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning

Crafted by acclaimed author and educator, Shoshana Silberman*, this free discussion guide for groups, book clubs and classes, will help deepen learning and build community through discussion of the provocative new adult-level collection Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning.

*Author of A Family Haggadah, Shema Yisrael Siddur, The Whole Megillah, Tiku Shofar & Active Jewish Learning.

The Bat Mitzvah Girl Who Loved Horses

Are there tasteful limits for B'nei Mitzvah? B Mitzvah! The Bar/Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution

There was a twelve-year-old girl who loved horses. She was preparing to become bat mitzvah and insisted on horseback rides for her friends in the synagogue parking lot as well as centerpieces with famous horses depicted upon them. She also wanted to wear her riding hat when she read Torah. What to do? What’s a parent or rabbi to say?

Reb Goldie: “Ashley, I’m so impressed by your love of animals, especially horses, that I’ve brought you some information from Judaism about animals and horses.”

What Can We Learn from B'nei Mitzvah Past?

Bmitzvah.org: B Mitzvah! The Bar and Bat Mitzvah (R)evolution

A Jew from Yemen once told me how he celebrated his Bar Mitzvah back in the land of his birth. What left an indelible impression on him was staying up all the previous night with his grandfather, and together reciting the entire Book of Psalms. Submitted by Rabbi Monty Eliasov, Austin, TX

Beth Ornstein was bat mitzvah in 2002. "This has been the best year of my life. I really worked hard, and everyone had a great time. My grandmother came from England, she’s 84. I was so happy to see her." Beth has a book of pictures and memorabilia she’d created from the event, it was bursting with masks and every note sent back to indicate attendance had a blessing on it. That it seems, was her teacher’s idea. "She taught us to make the return cards a spiritual message to lift each other’s spirits on the path to bat mitzvah. That works, you know!" What about the masks? "My bat mitzvah as around Purim time. I researched every midrash I could find about Queen Esther and wrote one of my own. I asked my friends to write midrashim (story commentaries) as presents for me, a few really did! They read their at the party and then they surprised me with a skit about Queen Vashti. Then everyone sang the Esther song, even the stodgiest people in our family got into the spirit of it. It was a day to remember!"

Grandpa Sam's Miserable Bar Mitzvah: A Cautionary Tale

The B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

Reb Goldie here. My dad called today, he’s 82 years old and one of my greatest sources of inspiration and wisdom. "So, Goldie. I hear you are working on a bar mitzvah revolution. Did I ever tell you about my bar mitzvah?"

Oddly, he hadn’t. In fact none of the elders in the family ever had. I bade him go on.

"I used to go to Talmud Torah, (religious instruction) between 3rd and 4th on Catherine Street in South Philadelphia. Mr Zentner was the principal of the school. It was an after school thing during Junior High.

Giving Meaningful Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah Presents

The B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

"The Silver Ring"

Two weeks before my bat mitzvah, my mother took me over to her jewelry drawer. She lifted out a silver ring with a turquoise stone in it that had cracks filled with drizzled in gold. "This is my bat mitzvah present for you. This ring is full of special memories and it comes with a blessing." She slipped it onto my right hand ring finger. A perfect fit. "What kind of memories? What do you mean it comes with a blessing?"

A Surprising Tefillin Story

As a child of maybe seven, while exploring the basement of our suburban home, I found a curious item, a velvet bag containing little boxes with long black leather straps attached to them. Hauling them upstairs I asked my father if I could use the straps for a craft project.

A Funny Tefillin Story

I didn't spend a penny on my last trip to Canada and so I noted that on the customs form. The smiling agent stamps a big red word "Extest" onto my form and sends me around the corner where all the people with large suspicious boxes go. Ugh. A zillion overseas trips and today, winging my way back to my beloved, to get stuck in bureaucracy. 

Review: Looking for Me...in This Great Big Family

Looking for Me…in This Great Big Family by Betsy R. Rosenthal is a powerful free-verse lament about the burdens of growing up in a large family. Laments are an important part of mobilizing oneself toward healing. This novel offers numerous worthwhile teachable moments for parents and educators who gift or assign it. The rising rates of

Sample Story "A Father's Gift" from Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning

by Noa Baum from Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel [Eds] with Peninnah Schram, Cherie Karo-Schwartz and Arthur Strimling

     Bilal grew up in Lahore, in the Punjab province of Pakistan. When he was a young boy there was a war between India and Pakistan, and Bilal asked his father:
     “Baba, why do the Muslims and Hindus hate each other? Why is there all this war?”

Sample Story: "A Single Seed of a Pomegranate" from Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Living

"A Single Seed of a Pomegranate," retold by Cherie Karo Schwartz, from Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, Goldie Milgram & Ellen Frankel [Eds] with Peninnah Schram, Cherie Karo Schwartz, and Arthur Strimling, Reclaiming Judaism Press 2011.

Kavannah (setting the intention):

Book Review & Video Interview: Converso by Mario X. Martinez

Converso: A Historical Novel from Gaon Press is based in the period of the Spanish Inquisition's manifestation in America's Wild West, Mario X. Martinez's short murder mystery provides a really good read that introduces a little-taught period of American Jewish history. Converso is also a valuable creative stimulant for creating effective discussion of difficult ethical questions.

Sample Story: Light

Light by Yisroel Bernath - from Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning, Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel {Eds] with Peninnah Schram, Cherie Karo-Schwartz and Arthur Strimling, Reclaiming Judaism Press, 2011.