The War at Home: Bar Mitzvah Battleground

Not a very nice title for a popular TV series, but those who have children, especially burgeoning adolescents (mine are much older) understand the position taken by the producers of this engaging series called “The War at Home.” In a twist of unexpected plot turns, a recent episode focused on the desire of the young protagonist in the series to celebrate a bar mitzvah. After all, this is what his friends are doing. But - and here comes the rub - his family doesn’t belong to a synagogue. This is no surprise, since his interfaith parents (really practitioners more of American civil religion than any one religion, be it Judaism or Christianity) are like the majority of interfaith families in North America in that they don’t belong to a synagogue.

So they take him to the local rabbi and lo and behold the rabbi is happy to accommodate - as long as the kid is willing to submit himself to the three-year requirement of study and preparation. That would make him about 16. And the last thing that a 16 year old wants is a bar mitzvah, especially when everyone else is 13. So the storyline ends with a predictable ending. There will be no bar mitzvah.

While this is not a reality series, it does view like one: A growing interfaith population; an interest expressed in bar mitzvah - brought on by the attendance of b’nai mitzvah celebrations; a trip to the local synagogue where one is met with a barrier that the family and child are unwilling to overcome, especially since no one seems to want to help build a ramp to make it any easier to traverse.

Wonder what would have happened had the rabbi in the story found a way to support the child’s interest and figured out how to “fast-track” him without compromising his synagogue or causing resentment among those who had paid their dues, literally and figuratively. If we are to help people find portals into the community, especially as we have learned that b’nai mitzvah are important identification-building ceremonies for children who live in so-called interfaith families, then we have to be willing to develop new approaches and not force old paradigms onto people.

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