This afternoon, I shall be teaching Max. Max, as well as being a total legend, also happens to be my 1067th b’nei mitzvah student. In my soon-to-be half a century on this planet, I can honestly say that sharing the crazy roller coaster ride that is preparing students for their b’nei mitzvah, has proven to one of my life’s greatest joys.
During our first session, we often discuss what it means to be a ‘child of the mitzvot’. After the initial mandatory line of becoming a Jewish adult (I sometimes don’t even feel like I’m there yet), we begin to get to what I believe should lie front and centre of this journey.
“How can I play my part in partnering with G-d to make this world a better place?”
It may seem clichéd; however, once that question begins to be unpacked, we are well on our way to a meaningful and exciting year together.
I often find that identifying a specific cause or project on which to focus that resonates strongly with my students is a wonderful way to bring family and friends along on the journey.
When I celebrated my bar mitzvah in 1986, I had a ‘twinning’ ceremony with a 13-year-old Jewish boy Mikhael Viner, who lived in Kiev. At that time, he was unable to celebrate his bar mitzvah. This really helped me to focus on the theme of gratitude and also helped me to connect to the theme of Jewish peoplehood and the plight of Soviet Jewry at that time.
G-d works in mysterious ways. As national director of the world’s largest Jewish humanitarian organisation, JDC (The Joint), I am in the incredible position to help students and families find projects that best suit their circumstances.
These projects could be in Israel or in one of 70 countries around the world in which JDC operates. It may be building refugee centres in Ukraine, supporting lifesaving spinal surgeries for children in Ethiopia or working to give disadvantaged youth in Israel opportunities to shine.
From Morocco to India, from Cuba to Algiers, The Joint is there for every Jew in need.
Yes, chanting the parasha and haftarah is important. Yes, having the party and dancing the hora is awesome. However, let’s not lose sight of what b’nei mitzvah actually means. ‘The children of the mitzvot’.
The true magic lies in a combination of ritual, fun and giving.
This recipe is tried and tested.
Friends, after 1067 students, I can tell you that it works!
For more information on how you can partner with JDC (The Joint) in its lifesaving work, visit thejoint.org.au