Over the past several years that I have been involved with the Board, there have been several debates over requiring a minimum standard of preparation for Bar and Bat Mitzvah. The discussions have always been thought provoking and interesting, but never seriously moved towards a motion or the setting of policy due to the lack of consensus. The focal point of the discussion each time has been educational standards. For example, should students demonstrate some level of Hebrew fluency, some knowledge of the holidays, or some basic grasp of our customs and traditions surrounding Shabbat? Should they be required to attend services a certain number of times in their Bar/Bat Mitzvah year?
In the past, I have maintained a consistent bias towards some demonstrated level of mastery and could not understand how some people found this to be anything but critical. If the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the ultimate rite of passage, then surely you must know something to be prepared for this, right? Maybe not.
As I have watched the young adults perform their Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, the common thread has been the joy and spirituality of the occasion. While the education we provide to our children is certainly important, it is not what will ultimately determine their Jewish identity. We can provide children with knowledge and information, but you cannot make them believe or have faith. This has to come from their own life experiences and will provide their inner drive for their future quest for knowledge into and through adulthood.
So, what can we really do to encourage our children to maintain our faith and traditions? We can give them happy memories: memories of candle lightings, memories of family Shabbat dinners, memories of Jewish holidays, and memories of a spiritual and meaningful Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony. For some, this memory and feeling of warmth, love, and community may be all that holds them to our faith until their next encounter.