Innovation Incubator

What if we could radically shift our mindset about bar/bat mitzvah and view it as a real portal into an engaged adult Jewish life? An innovative and pluralistic approach would captivate the interest of a wider range of our Jewish community. This would be a powerful tool for engaging not only our teens, but also their families.

Rabbi Rachel was recently asked to share her thoughts on "What is one area in which the Jewish community needs innovation? Here's what she had to say: 

What if we could radically shift our mindset about bar/bat mitzvah and view it as a real portal into an engaged adult Jewish life? An innovative and pluralistic approach would captivate the interest of a wider range of our Jewish community. This would be a powerful tool for engaging not only our teens, but also their families.

 This wouldn’t be simple. We need to undo decades of hard-wiring. “Adult Jewish life” means very different things to different people, so it stands to reason that the training process and ceremony cannot be a one-size-fits-all experience.

I have begun to experiment with different ways the bar mitzvah ceremony can reflect the diversity of Jewish lives. The solution I have found works best is simultaneously more flexible and more content-rich. With a broader lens, this coming-of-age process includes not just synagogue skills, but also conversations around Jewish identity, project management skills, community service, and the stretching of kids’ minds to see the world in shades of gray. Students and families work together to articulate personalized learning goals, and their different answers inform the multiplicity of approaches — from traditional Shabbat services (featuring prayer leadership, divrei torah, and Torah trope) to creating Jewish educational videos and games, learning tangible skills like Passover seder leadership, or incorporating art interests like photography or klezmer. The Jewish community is ripe for  innovation — over the past decade there’s been a flourishing ecosystem of Jewish innovation across the country, with hundreds of startup organizations connecting Jews in a panoply of ways. The bar/bat mitzvah is one of the few broadly practiced rituals that could reshape American Jewish identity, if only we can emphasize meaning over memorization. 

Published in the June 2018 issue of Jewish in Seattle Magazine