The 21st century B’nai Mitzvah

The Jewish Journal reported this week on the growing trend of teenagers exiting Jewish life once their b’nai mitzvah experiences come to an end – and what the Reform Movement is doing about it. Reporter Ryan Torok writes,

When Isa Aron considers b’nai mitzvah today, she gets the impression that parents — and sometimes synagogues — care more about their son or daughter performing flawlessly when on the bimah than they do about their forming lasting connections to Judaism.

“The moment itself is wonderful because the kid is up there performing and all that, but Jewish value of the moment is not really in there,” said Aron, co-director of the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution, an initiative launched in partnership by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) to radically change the ritual.

Those who gathered in Long Beach for the Reform Movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis convention learned more about the initiative on March 5 from Aron’s co-director, Rabbi Bradley Solmsen.

“One of the major places where we are engaging youth or disengaging youth is around the aftermath of the bar mitzvah,’” Solmsen said. “People find the bar mitzvah experience itself very fulfilling, but then they check out. It’s more a graduation ceremony than anything else.”

A study from the Avi Chai Foundation supports Solmsen’s claim. According to its 2006-07 census of Jewish supplementary schools in the United States, “The dropout phenomenon after bar/bat mitzvah is dramatic. More than one-third of students drop out after grade 7 and then the rate of decline accelerates so that by grade 12 only one-seventh of the number of seventh-graders is still enrolled.”

Tackling the issue in several ways, the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution has created a pilot cohort of 14 congregations across the country that is working on experiments to change b’nai mitzvah preparation and the ceremony itself. Los Angeles-area synagogues that are participating include Temple Isaiah and Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Read the full story in the Jewish Journal, and learn more about the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution.