B’nai Mitzvah Curriculum Overview

Please note that we are in the process of “webifying” all of our curricular sessions, both family and preteen. We will maintain 2 versions of each session: one if you are able to meet in person, and the other if you are meeting online. All online curriculum will be available by the end of the summer.

Family Sessions

All family sessions are designed for pre-teens and their parents (or other guardians) to learn together, to listen to one another’s perspectives, and to enrich the meaning of the b’nai mitzvah as a lifecycle ritual:

Today You Are An Adult: What Does It Mean To Become A Teen?

The first family session is recommended as a “kick-off” event for the program. It is a session that parents and children attend together. The session covers the basic stresses that come with preparation for the b’nai mitzvah—and it encourages parents and students to have empathy for one another.

Topics include mapping the transitions that take place from childhood to teen years, exploring risks and responsibilities, and making sense of the spoken and unspoken rituals of entry into Jewish adulthood.

Jewish text: Mishnah

B’nai Mitzvah: Why am I doing this?

This session provides some history and context to b’nai mitzvah in the Unites States and grapples with the question in the title – why have a b’nai mitzvah? Students and parents explore this question from different points of view and are given the chance to share what they have discovered.

Jewish texts: Modern Rabbinical thought, Kohelet

Repairing the World: What’s a Mitzvah?

In this session, participants will make a connection between the b’nai ‘mitzvah, ‘mitzvah’ projects, and the world of interpersonal mitzvot. and explore different ways of doing a “mitzvah project. ” Participants will also examine the differences between Chesed, Tzedakah and Tzedek and consider what aspects of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, are most meaningful to them.

Jewish text: 16th century kabbalist

Beyond Thank You: What Does It Mean To Be A Host? A Guest?

This session is still available in our in-person portal, but due to the content, is not being recommended for a covid-19 world. This session takes a close look at the social and ethical obligations of being a host and being a guest.  What are the best ways to honor the efforts of a host?  What are our priorities when we are planning to host an event?  The session has families practicing communication skills and etiquette skills related to both being a guest and hosting.

Jewish texts: Yiddish folktales, Mussar

How to Connect When You’re Never Apart

In the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents and their children are spending more time together under one roof than ever before. This session gives parents and children the opportunity to come together – even if on their own screens – to talk to one another in real time about the gifts and challenges of this new normal. They will reflect on their own needs and communication styles and explore strategies for truly connecting with each other at a time when they are in the same house or apartment but not necessarily finding genuine ways to connect.

Jewish texts: Torah

Fitting in and Standing Out: How Will I Navigate The Teen Years?

This session looks at today’s teens and the pressure they face to define their identities both in-person and in digital environments. This session explores gender codes and the ways that digital interaction shapes those codes, with particular attention paid to the context of the b’nai mitzvah celebration.

Jewish texts: Chassidic thought, Tanach

“You Just Don’t Understand”: How Do Parents and Teens Talk To Each Other?

As teens grow towards independence, it is typical to experience tension and communication breakdown with parents. How is communicating with a teen different than communicating with a child? What are the best ways for teens and parents to give each other constructive feedback about their communication styles? This session looks at the Jewish values of honoring parents, the ethics of speech, and the importance of critical feedback in a parent-teen relationship.

Jewish text: Midrash

Now What? Deepening Friendships and Finding Community

This session examines how society is constantly sending messages to our teens about who they are based on their gender identity.  What are the expectations placed on a female-identified teen? Male-identified? Non-Binary? This session also gives parents and teens a window into how these topics are explored and addressed in the Moving Traditions teen programs, Rosh Hodesh, Shevet, and Tzelem.

Jewish text: Tanach

Student Sessions

Growing Up

This session is connected to the idea of the b’nai mitzvah photo montage. It has each student looking back at childhood to ask: What were some of the events and memories that shaped childhood? What choices did they make? What were moments of deep learning? The session reflects on the transition inherent in the life cycle of b’nai mitzvah and exploring what it means to transition out of childhood and into becoming more self-aware.

Jewish text: Midrash

Center of Attention

This session focuses on the upside and downside of being at the center of attention and outlines the many ways that a b’nai mitzvah celebration can put someone at the center of attention. Introversion and extroversion are explored as well as Jewish concepts of responsibility and humility.

Jewish text: Liturgy

Looking Good, Feeling Good

This session is an in-depth exploration of how choices regarding clothing—particularly choices for a special event—are impacted by ideas about tradition, modesty, beauty, attraction, and social convention. Students will explore the way that clothing choices can create harmony or tension, looking at dynamics of conforming, resisting, and opting out.

Jewish texts: Talmud, Maimonides

Celebrate!

This session is still available in our in-person portal, but due to the content, is not being recommended for a covid-19 world. This session is specifically for communities where it is typical for pre-teens to have a social event with DJs, food, music, and games. Preteens explore the peer pressures around b’nai mitzvah celebrations and reflect on values that can guide them in how they experience, plan, and participate in celebrations.

Jewish texts: Talmud

Simcha: Where’s your joy?

This session focuses on how “Simcha, ” one of the core values of celebration in the Jewish community, might be in conflict with the average preteen’s b’nai mitzvah experience.  The preteens are helped to identify and embrace the variety of feelings that they might associate with elements of their b’nai mitzvah celebration

Jewish text: Pre-Modern Torah Commentary

Teen Stuff

This session asks: How are teens treated by adults? What expectations do teens place on each other? What unique challenges do teens face as they undergo physical growth? What are the ways that teens are judged based on gender stereotypes or other social codes? These questions animate this session and help teens to gain awareness of the social pressures that different teens face as they journey to young adulthood. The session also helps teens relate to Jewish wisdom on self-reflection and personal growth.

Jewish text: Pirkei Avot

Making Friends

This session looks at how ideas of friendship are shaped and how unrealistic expectations of friendships can cause social tension. In particular, the session looks at the ways that b’nai mitzvahs can put stress on friendships or help to support them. Topics include the challenges of being a “best friend,” the role of friends at celebrations, and expectations regarding invitation within the b’nai mitzvah class.

Jewish text: Maimonides

Posting

This session looks at the ways that students use online and smartphone posts across platforms and discusses how each platform changes communication with friends. It includes a discussion of Jewish values of privacy, respect, and honesty.

Jewish text: Talmud

Money and Gifts

This session looks at some of the traditional gifts given to a b’nai mitzvah, including money, as well as the role of “gift bags” and giveaways that people feature at their celebrations. The discussion reflects family expectations around saving, spending, and tzedaka, and the role of non-monetary gifts. Topics include communal gifts and ritual items.

Jewish text: Maimonides

Recommended Implementation Models

Below are the recommended models for implementation over the 6th and 7th grades. The full program outlined below is designed to have the maximum educational impact on parents and pre-teens. For communities that are looking to focus on 6th or 7th grade specifically, we offer other models.

The Full Program

6th Grade 7th Grade
Family Session 1 “Today you are an adult”: What does it mean to become a teen? Fitting in & Standing Out: How will I navigate the teen years?
Family Session 2

AND/OR

Beyond “Thank You”: What does it mean to be a host? A guest? Now what?: Deepening friendships and creating community through Rosh Hodesh & Shevet  (at end of year)
Family Session 3 B’nai Mitzvah: Why am I doing this? “You just don’t understand”: How do parents and teens talk to each other?
Preteen session 1 Growing up Teen Stuff
Preteen session 2 Center of Attention Friends
Preteen Session 3 Looking Good, Feeling Good Posting
Preteen session 4 Celebrate!
And/Or
Simcha: Where’s your joy?
Money & Gifts

Curriculum Excerpts:

The following are two excerpts from B’nai Mitzvah sessions to give you a taste of the material. The first excerpt is from a family session. The second is from a teen session.

Excerpt from “Today You Are An Adult!”: What Does it Mean To Become a Teen? (Family Session)

Becoming a Teenager: Text Study 1 (15 minutes)

SHARE your screen and show the PowerPoint slide with the following text from Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima. Ask for a volunteer to read the text aloud. If you want to turn it into a quick drama, break the 14 ages listed in the text up into “parts” and have 14 different people read them aloud.

SAY:

Two thousand years ago, this was the Jewish path of life. It starts with education and then it goes on to other topics.

Volunteer reads:

Yehudah ben Teima used to say: Five years is the age for the study of scripture, Ten is the age for the study of Mishnah, Thirteen is the age for observing the mitzvot, Fifteen is the age for the study of Talmud, Eighteen is the age for the wedding canopy, Twenty is the age for pursuit, Thirty is the age for full strength, Forty is the age for understanding, Fifty is the age for giving counsel, Sixty is the age for mature age, Seventy is the age for a grey head, Eighty is the age for superadded strength, Ninety is the age for a bending stature, One hundred is the age at which one is as if dead, passed away, and ceased from the world. (Pirkei Avot, 2nd century, Israel)

ASK:

Once you have read the text, go back and look at ages 13, 15, and 18. Why, do you think, would they have these specific ages and stages when everything after them is by decade? What is significant about these three ages beyond what is in the text?

Facilitator’s Tip: You can invite people to respond to this question in the chat or out loud. Possible answers include: It shows how important the teen years really are, there is significant growth developmentally in this time period, it’s when we go through the most physical changes, etc.)
SAY:

Now we are going to write our own life stages based on Yehudah ben Teima’s formula.

Facilitator’s Tip: There are a few ways to do this activity. Choose the one that works best for you and your community.

Option 1: Share the PowerPoint slide with the “Five is the age for…” and ask families to come up with answers together and write them down on any piece of paper. Then, ask for people’s answers to a few of the ages. Participants can just call out responses or you can invite them to write answers into the chat as you call out each age. Make sure every family has the chance to answer to “13 is the age for…”

Option 2: Share a whiteboard with a “Five is the age for….ten is the age for…. etc.” Make sure you leave space between each line. Invite participants to write in their responses on the whiteboard by using the annotate function. Then, discuss.  Make sure every family has the chance to answer to “13 is the age for…”

Pirkei Lanu—In Our Community:

We say: Five years is the age for _____________.

Ten is the age for ___________________________.

Thirteen is the age for ______________________.

Fifteen is the age for ________________________.

Eighteen is the age for ______________________.

Twenty is the age for _______________________.

Thirty is the age for ________________________.

Forty is the age for ___________________________.

Fifty is the age for ____________________________.

Sixty is the age for ____________________________.

Seventy is the age for ____________________________.

Facilitator’s tip: An optional way to adapt this activity is to have participants fill this out thinking about a particular lens/theme. For instance, what do 5 year olds, 10 year olds, 13 year olds… like to do on a Sunday morning? What is each age group ready for, from a technological perspective (i.e. 10 is the age for cell phones, 13 is the age for Instagram).
Facilitator’s Tip: Be mindful that some may have a reaction to where their life is or isn’t in comparison to the answers given.  You may need to point out that the stages of our lives don’t always go as planned. And, say that in our current pandemic world, maybe the things we thought age 13 would be for are actually not happening or are happening differently than we thought they’d be happening. You can ask participants to notice if that’s something they’re feeling right now
SAY:

It is astounding how this ancient text from our tradition can be such an interesting way of thinking about our world today and what it means to move from one age to the next.

Excerpt from Growing Up (Preteen Session)

3) Reflecting on Childhood (15 mins)

SAY:

B’nai mitzvah is often the first time that you look back on childhood. Often, as part of a b’nai mitzvah, a family might create a video/photo montage to reflect on the b’nai mitzvah’s childhood. This exercise is another way of looking back.

Ask each participant to take out the post it notes they brought to the session. Share the PowerPoint slide with the following prompts:

  • Where you were born?
  • First school memory
  • Early friends
  • A toy you loved to play with when you were younger
  • A challenge you faced
  • An achievement
  • A movie that you loved when you were younger
  • A special place you visited with your family
  • A hobby
  • A dream

Invite participants to write or artistically depict their responses to at least five of the prompts, each on its own post-it note (or piece of paper).  Then, take that post -it note (or paper and tape) and stick it someplace on their own bodies.

Facilitator’s Tip: We recommend demonstrating this by taking out your own prepared post-it notes and randomly placing them on your body in front of the screen.  Have fun with this so they have permission to be silly too.

Then, ask everyone to stand up in front of their computers and “show” their bodies with the post-its.

Facilitator’s Tip: You may want to use “speaker view” and invite one or two participants to take you on a tour of the post-it notes on their body.  You may also want to grab a screen shot, with the participants’ permission, of everyone in front of their screens with post-it notes all over them!
ASK
  • What stuck out as being very common or very different among the answers? What surprised you?
  • What are some ways you feel you have already changed in the past few years?
  • Which from what you depicted on your post-it notes do you hope does not change as you become a teenager?

Ask participants to remove the post-it notes form their bodies and just stick them all on a regular piece of paper.

4) “At What Age?” Brainstorm (5–10 mins)

SAY:

Now that we have looked at where we have been and what we have liked or done in the past, let’s turn our attention to what comes next. As you get older, you often have different responsibilities and the autonomy to do new things. For instance, when you were 5 years old, you probably couldn’t cross the street by yourself, but now most of you probably can. Some of this is based on what your parents allow—like crossing the street—but some of it is cultural, some is legal, and some is the result of you wanting to take on a certain task or responsibility.

ASK

What is something in your life that has an age requirement attached it to it? It could be a legal age requirement, a cultural norm, or just something your parents have said you can’t do now, but will be able to do as you get older?  You can invite them to respond out loud or via the chat.

WRITE down all their answers on a shared word doc or whiteboard.

Facilitator’s Tip: If they need help getting started, suggest any of the following:
  • To get into a movie (PG-13, R, etc.)
  • To get a part-time job
  • Movie ticket prices change
  • To ride in the front seat of a car
  • To get an Instagram or Snapchat account (13 years old)
  • To play certain video games (they are rated 10+ or T for teens 13 and older)
  • To swim by yourself at a hotel pool
  • To go on a ride in an amusement park
  • To drive a car
  • To vote
  • To get your ears pierced
  • To work as a babysitter
ASK
  • Why do you think there are age requirements for these things?
  • Which of these age requirements make sense? Which don’t make sense to you? Why? If you had the power to revise the age requirements that don’t make sense, how and why would you change them?
  • What age-related responsibilities are you most looking forward to? Which responsibilities are you most nervous about?
Facilitator’s tip: If you want, give the students the option to write their answers to one of these questions in the chat.

5) Jewish Wisdom (10 mins)

SAY:

We just spent a few minutes thinking about what new things you will be able to do as you become a teenager. But along with the freedom to watch certain movies, play certain video games, or drive a car, also come some responsibilities. In fact, did you know that, according to Jewish law, when you become b’nai mitzvah, your parents are no longer responsible for what you do?

In traditional Judaism, children younger than b’nai mitzvah age are exempt from the spiritual obligations of observing the commandments. This means that children are not required to do things like fast on Yom Kippur, observe Shabbat, or perform other religious rituals.

But in Judaism, all that changes when you become b’nai mitzvah. When you are called to the Torah for your aliyah, you become legally (under Jewish law) and morally responsible for your own actions and religious observances in the eyes of God. So…your parents are no longer responsible for any mistakes that you make.

In some circles, at a b’nai mitzvah, parents publicly declare this fact by reciting the following traditional blessing:

SHARE PowerPoint slide with the blessing and ask someone to read it out loud.

בָּרוּךְ שֶׁפְּטָרַנִי מֵעֹנֶשׁ הַלָּזֶה

Baruch shep-ta-rani ma-an-sho shel zeh.

Praised are You (God) who has freed me from being liable for this child.

SAY:

When parents recite this blessing, they are publicly declaring their children to be both ritually and legally responsible adults in matters of Jewish tradition and practice.

ASK
  1. What do you think about this traditional blessing? Do you think it is fair for parents to not be responsible for mistakes their post-b’nai mitzvah children make? Why or why not?
  2. In what ways do you feel ready to be a legally and ritually responsible adult? In what ways do you not feel ready?
  3. How is a teenager responsible for things in a way that a child is not?
SAY:

The prospect of taking on adult responsibilities all at once, right after your b’nai mitzvah, sounds a little stressful, doesn’t it? In more and more Jewish communities today (including our community), people think of the b’nai mitzvah as a ceremony that marks the transition from “child” to “teenager.” This is still a significant transition that comes with new responsibilities. However, it’s not quite as intense and abrupt as transitioning from “child” to “adult.”

This curriculum was made possible in part by funds granted by The Covenant Foundation. The Statements made and views expressed, however, are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Moving Traditions’ Bnai Mitzvah Program is supported by the Breakthrough Fund: An Innovation of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.

Moving Traditions’ Bnai Mitzvah Program is
supported by the Breakthrough Fund: An
Innovation of the Jewish United Fund of
Metropolitan Chicago.

We would also like to thank the following for their support of this program:

Anonymous
Auerbach Family Foundation
Combined Jewish Philanthropies
The Crown Family
Lasko Family Foundation

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