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
Beyond Thank You: What Does It Mean To Be A Host? A Guest?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
|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!
Simcha: Where’s your joy?
|Money & Gifts|
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)
Have everyone read the following text from Rabbi Yehudah ben Teimah. If you have a group that likes to read, print out a copy for everyone. 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.
“Two thousand years ago, this was the Jewish path of life. It starts with education and then it goes on to other topics.”
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)
“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?
Now we are going to write our own life stages based on Yehudah ben Teima’s formula.” (Pass out pens or pencils and a copy of the following text.)
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 ____________________________.
We recommend having them do this in small groups, parent(s)/child together with one other parent(s)/child from another family. Tell them to make sure that the ideas of parents and students are in the group’s responses. Give participants 5–10 minutes to fill out the card and share with one another.
Have all families read out their answers for 13.
Excerpt from Teen Stuff (Teen Session)
MARK three paper bags with the following category names and put them around the room:
“This is a sorting exercise about ways that Jewish teenagers grow. There are a few different categories of growth that teenagers may experience. For the purpose of this activity, we are going to focus on three types of growth: the first is growth of the body, the second is growth of the mind, and third is growth of the soul.
“The tasks included in this activity may not be representative of every Jewish teenager’s experience.
“I’m going to give you each a bunch of slips of papers. On each slip is something that might help you grow as you become a teenager or something you might encounter while becoming a teenager. What is on the slips of paper may not be representative of every Jewish teen’s experience. Around the room, there are paper bags. Each bag represents a category: spiritual/emotional, physical, or intellectual/cultural. I am going to ask you to look at what is written on each slip of paper and then put the slip in the bag that best corresponds with it. Think—is what’s on the slip something related to growth of your body, your mind, or your soul? Some tasks may fit into more than one category. For instance, eat a healthy diet might be categorized as a something that helps your body grow. Reading classic novels might be categorized as something that helps your mind grow, but depending on the novel, it might also be something that helps your soul grow.”
HAND OUT 5-–10 strips of paper to each person:
- Manage stress
- Manage emotions
- Eat a healthy diet
- Cope with disappointment
- Read classic novels
- Learn how to debate politics – figure out what I believe, how to talk about what I believe to others
- Figure out what films you like
- Figure out what music relaxes you
- Figure out what music motivates you
- Figure out your personal style in terms of fashion/clothing
- Deal with feelings of loneliness
- Make close friends
- Help friends in crisis
- Get good grades
- Excel at a sport
- Excel in the arts
- Take tests for college
- Challenge parents
- Decide what you believe about God
- Decide what you believe about the human soul
- Learn to make and manage money
- Learn to take care of a sick relative
- Know how to explain Judaism to others
- Cope with loss
- Take care of your body
- Learn to speak up when you see abusive behavior
- Learn to accept, understand, and appreciate your body and its needs
- Figure out who you are attracted to
- Figure out your boundaries in intimate situations
- Grow body hair
- Get acne
- Make responsible choices about alcohol and drugs
- Body changes in height and weight.
- Learn how to manage your time.
- Move from having the body of a child to having the body of an adult
DIVIDE participants into three groups and give each group one of the bags. Ask the groups to empty their bags, look at the contents, and talk about the following questions:
- What is one thing in the bag that you think causes a lot of stress?
- What is one thing in the bag that you think is exciting?
- What is one thing in the bag that would be easier if you had friends to help you with?
- Who sets the expectations that teens need to complete these tasks?
- What/who are some of the obstacles that stand in the way of meeting these expectations? (Facilitator’s Tip: You might invite participants to respond to this last question via a written reflection)
INVITE the group come back together and share highlights of their conversations.