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Life Cycle Events as Celebrations of Community—the Entire Community

I have given a great deal of thought lately to the tension between public life cycle events in the community (such as bar and bat mitzvah) and the attempts to privatize them. Over the course of the last year, I have attended b’nai mitzvah in which all those in assembly had been personally invited to the event. In other words, it was a private affair and while the congregation did not have a policy de jure regarding such exclusive events, it certainly was the de facto rule of the congregation to allow them to take place. Services were still held on Saturday morning; they were simply held separately.

This past Shabbat I attended a bat mitzvah during which the rabbi of the congregation stressed that each celebration had to be a celebration of community. His statement served to emphasize the point that throughout history no matter what has happened to the Jewish people, we have survived. It is true that the rabbi contextualized the message in the midst of a Holocaust reference (something that I think undermines somewhat the value of the point he was trying to make) but his point is nevertheless still valid.

It is too easy to invoke shtetl nostalgia and bemoan the loss of “the old days,” when entire communities gathered to celebrate the life cycle events of individual families. (We still see a remnant of this in kibbutz life in Israel.) We can’t recapture that period of our history even if we wanted to do so.

Still, with rising intermarriage rates leading to a growing number of interfaith families who wish to celebrate life cycle events in the context of the synagogue, I got to thinking: perhaps we should strive to make these celebrations into communal and not private affairs. After all, when an interfaith family chooses to raise Jewish children and celebrate life cycle events (something that our Call Synagogue Home project—in partnership with STAR—is attempting to nurture), it is a statement both about the family and the inclusive nature of the community. Insisting on making these rites celebrations of community is not an appeal to nostalgia, but rather a way to ensure that these interfaith families feel like full-fledged members of the Jewish community. It announces that the family is indeed committed to joining us on our collective journey and that we welcome them as equal partners. This is an important affirmation, and should not be a private affair but rather something that the entire community sees and celebrates.

So at the next event in your community, especially when it celebrates the life cycle event of an interfaith family in the midst of the Jewish community, consider yourself invited.

Posted by Kerry Olitzky | June 5, 2007 |

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