Teachings: Spirituality & Questioning

Identifying and Addressing the Spiritual Needs of B'nei Mitzvah Students and Families

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Bar Mitzvah & Bat Mitzvah: Setting Spiritual Goals

It is helpful to ask questions when forming spiritual goals for the bar/bat mitzvah.

Pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah Rituals: The Educators' Blessing

The B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

"There’s one week to go before your bat mitzvah. Let’s do something when I come over, can I surprise you? Pack some sun screen and a bottle of water, we’ll have a little adventure together."

The bat mitzvah girl was very psyched by the idea, her folks didn’t let on that I’d cleared the mystery trip with them in advance.

We found a spot beside a river dotted with butterfly bushes. Perfect. She helped me neatly set out a

A Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah Student Pre-Initiation Ritual

B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

Beginning to face life as a Jewish adult requires life skills, as well as ritual capabilities. The ability to face the darkness and listen for meaning while being supported and trusted by your elders to be able to make it, does lurk in the B-mitzvah process, in so far as our children are learning how to listen for the Torah as it applies to life.

It also helps to create something that helps frame the transition in stage of life. This might be a pre-b-mitzvah gathering to be held outdoors, perhaps with a bonfire.

For Parents: How Jewish Spirituality Can Help Your Intimate Relationship

We received a call from a leader of the Jewish community in Napa, California. "Could you come by to lead an evening for us? Something for couples, many are intermarried and trying we're integrate Judaism into our lives." What follows is a version of the worksheet we had emailed to them in preparation for the workshop.

Opening the Dialogue with God in B’nai Mitzvah Preparation

The B Mitzvah! (R)evolution

by Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel

An anxious pre-teen enters tentatively into my home for the first day of b’nai mitzvah training. We begin by chatting to learn the basics about each other. Listed below are some of the questions I ask and some of the responses I receive.

Finding the Prayer of Your Heart

Many complain of having difficulty finding deep meaning in the traditional prayer service. Many of us were conditioned to accept that for Jews "praying" is accomplished by simply reciting or chanting all the words, preferably in Hebrew. It is helpful and interesting to note that in the Talmud our ancestors worried that writing down their prayers could lead to just such a deadening rote recitation by subsequent generations.

While there is some comfort in repeating that which is familiar, there is deep healing and joy possible from engaging in meaningful Jewish prayer. For example, at the core of each service is a lengthy set of prayers, said while standing, known as the "amidah." While each of the numerous amidah blessings is set in a careful sequence intended to help us find the prayer of our hearts, many find the traditional amidah impenetrable.


For me God expresses the oneness of the evolving Cosmos. God is that to which I cry out when I am in pain. God is a direction for my praise of the stunning creation of which we are a part. God is that which you and I resemble..........in our creative and destructive nature.

God is everything unfolding, seeking all possibilities, becoming what it is becoming. God is the encoded consciousness of the cosmos which is aware of Its needs and deploys every one of us as an important part of the present and future.

Creating a Personal Community

A personal kehillah, "community" is a small group of mentors/advisors that the student and family create to meeting monthly and contemplate the roles and issues of adulthood, to help the student emerge with dignity and awareness into adult life. Besides, it's terrible to be isolated and this can happy in suburbia, small towns, and some families - here's how to get past all that to meaningful connections. [Credit for the basis of this idea is due to Rabbi Geelah Rayzl and Dr. Simcha Raphael.]

Parent Bar/Bat Mitzvah Preparation Rituals

As the parent(s)/guardian(s) of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah student become known to their peers in religious school, or through another context, it becomes clear that this experience is an initiation for them too, into being parents of a(nother) teenager, an evolving adult. This is a season of new parenting skills and perspectives.

One community of which I am aware holds a session of Bar/Bat Mitzvah prep where the parent(s) aren’t present so that the youth can outline any concerns that have been repressed. At such a session an assignment is planned for the parent(s)/guardian(s) that will help them prepare for the B-mitzvah day.

Finding Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah Tutors Who Can Be Real Mentors

The B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

For this to be a meaningful rite of passage, youth need something more than tutors who help with memorizing how to chant Torah and prayers; meaning-making mentors can be life-saving relationships. Mentors don’t have to be experts in the tradition, although your tutor might also be a perfect mentor, that's for you to say after reading this article. The best mentors love their lives and their connection to Judaism. A good mentor might be a great cook, artist, journalist, or doctor who is deeply, organically connected to living as a Jew in his or her own way. Who relates to Judaism and life in ways you truly admire? Might they be willing to mentor for your bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah process?

Introduction to Jewish Meditation

Jewish meditation offers a way to infuse each of facet of Judaism with deeper meaning. Jewish meditation is not an end in itself, rather a partner process for healthy Jewish living. Reports of meditation experiences are widely found in Jewish sacred texts. For example:

Lech L'cha - Sacred Names Matter

G*d said to Abraham:
Sarai, your wife,
no longer call her
by the name Sarai,
for Sarah is her name,
and I will bless her. . .

When the sacred name of a soul is heard in the heart of her mother, the name is said to resonate in every dimension of Being. This is the name through which your or your family announces your presence in the covenant of our people. This name is how you will be known when coming up to the Torah and when a Jewish community prays for your well-being.

Jewish Life Mentoring

Transcript of a Real-Life Session, also known as Hashpa'ah and Jewish Spiritual Direction

Thjs example of a Jewish Life Mentoring (hashpa'ah) session involves conflict between a Christian father and his adult Jewish son. It is shared with the permission of the individuals involved, as are all stories in this series. All names have been changed to ensure and respect privacy.

1. Focusing Invitation: “I wonder if you might take some time to sit quietly and share with me what is bothering you.”

Jewish Approaches to Vision Quest

What is Hitbodedut?

The vision quest is an ancient part of Jewish practice, documented in the Bible. Again and again the primary metaphor of Moses’ adult life is that of climbing a mountain in order to speak his heart and receive the insight and guidance he needed to sustain a meaningful life for the people in his charge. The importance of being able to reach out beyond yourself in this way, to pour out your soul and be able to listen for guidance is something youth deserve to experience and know how to do.

Uncomfortable with God

Dear Reb Shohama, I feel so uncomfortable with the word God, yet I keep searching for a spiritual connection. The strange thing is that when I see a beautiful garden or even a beautiful flower, I find myself thinking “Thank you, God.” Does this make any sense to you? Thanks, Renee

Dear Renee,

Yes, it makes a great deal of sense to me. You probably were raised with a forbidding concept of God as a serious old King on a throne, and have not adequately explored Jewish theology as an adult.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Dear Reb Shohama,

I recently lost my mother, who was not only a wonderful mother, but also my best friend. She had a very hard life, but always prayed to God and did good things for everybody. I don’t understand why God didn’t let her live longer. Sincerely, Joe

Dear Joe,

I am so sorry about your loss. It has left a big hole in your life, and you, understandably are very angry with God. God can deal with your anger. Tell God how you feel, and ask God to heal your pain.

What Age for Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah?

B-Mitzvah (R)evolution

Parenting Today

Healthy Friendships, a Jewish Value to Evolve During the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Process

Here's a meaningful family activity that also works well on retreats and in group gatherings: Write down up to ten people you would be sure to show up for if they asked for help and, who you know will also show up for you (not including parents, your siblings or your pets.)

Many people are startled to find they don't think they have ten true friends.