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.]

A regular topic of discussion might be: ROLES

Scholar/poet/musician/Renaissance person
Sports person/competitive vs non-competitive
Family member/parent/grandparent/cousin/uncle
Lover/care taker/parent/child
Mensch/ethical human/tzaddik

How a personal kehillah works, in the instance of a bar or bat mitzvah student:

1. The student has the right to veto someone’s presence on the council as well as to suggest additions, you have the right to veto additions that make you uncomfortable, as well. Six to eight is a good number.

2. At the first meeting some recommend that the kehillah meet without the person whom they will be helping to initiate. This is a time to speak about what it means to serve in such a role, how would such a support experience have made a difference to you? Strong feelings may come up.

3. Agree upon a simple ritual structure, perhaps the circle will open with the reading of a poem or chanting of a phrase, for example:

Hee-nay ma-tove u’mah nah-eem
How good and nice it is for

shevet Dwelling/sitting

aheem [or] brothers (aka males)

nashim [or} women (aka sisters, akhayot)

kulam all of us

gam yahad. together.

4. You might place a shofar in the center as the object each person will hold while speaking, and agree to have someone be time keeper, so that each person has an equal sharing time. Take turns bringing refreshments.

5. It is very important not to correct any one or argue with them, each person shares what they believe to be true, real for them and each week the b-mitzvah student has an equal voice in this council and an added right - to raise any new question and ask any member of the council for private discussion time or clarification.

6. It is the case, by the way, that it can be helpful to have these councils be of the same gender as the B-mitzvah person.
There are unique aspects and issues to forming a male or female identity and cultivating role models and mentors simultaneously for this facet of life is very important. In some families, getting a voice of your own that is distinct from the parent most closely bonded to you is also an important life task at this juncture and might inform decision of how to compose such a kehillah.
Parents have to be prepared for many wrenching decisions around their child’s growing independence and this is one of the kinds of decision points that must be faced honestly and may require the guidance of the council at its first meeting.

7. The final meeting of the Personal Kehillah will be the month following the B-mitzvah Torah service. At this time the meeting will be led by the B-mitzvah graduate.

a. The B-mitzvah graduate will lead the opening chant/poem, s/he will take up the shofar and say "Now I am a Jewish woman/ man. Let me tell you the highlights of my b-mitzvah, the glorious as well as the sorry points, for such is the sacred journey called life."

b. A lovely custom to use after each person speaks (during all of the monthly meetings) is to say, "Shamati, I have sh’ma-ed, listened to the Torah of your life, as sacred to me." Then each member of the kehillah will speak their favorite memory, receive the groups’ shamati statement and the B-mitzvah graduate will give each person as they speak a gift, specially selected or made to reflect an understanding of who that person is.

Sometimes, such a Personal Kehillah might choose to continue, perhaps shifting emphasis and composition to deal with the life of another member of this bonded community. As the idea catches on, members may be needed to serve in new kehillot, forming for other young persons, and it may be wise to conclude it as a season in your life.

Two very interesting books on cross-cultural adolescent rites of passage are:

Mahdi, Louise Carus. Crossroads : The Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage, Carus Publishing Company, Chicago, 1996.

Mahdi, Louise Carus, Steven Foster & Meredith Little (Eds), Betwixt & Between: Patterns of Masculine and Feminine Initiation, Open Court Books, Chicago, 1987.