By Matthew Levine
(AJNews) – Mira and Gary Campbell led a community information event discussing the various B’nei Mitzvah programs and options at different synagogues in Edmonton. This took place on February 12 at the Jewish Federation of Edmonton office and unfortunately had a small turnout due to the Super Bowl taking place at the same time. Four Rabbis were present at this event including Rabbah Gila Caine from TBO, Rabbi Steven Schwarzman representing Beth Shalom, Rabbi Guy Tal from Beth Israel, and Rabbi Dovid Pinson from Chabad.
The Rabbis started off by giving a short introduction describing what each of their synagogues offer for B’nei Mitzvot. Rabbah Gila of Temple Beth Ora emphasized that a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is just a pause in our Judaism to stop and celebrate. She went on to state that boys and girls can do the same thing at TBO, and that there is an option to lead Havdalah instead of Shacharit. For B’nei Mitzvah preparation at TBO, there are group, as well as individual processes. The group process involves the parent and child coming to learn together and becoming part of the community. The individual processes include a family history project, Dvar/Haftorah learning, and a tzedakah project. The requirements are a membership to TBO and regular shul attendance. They do not teach children Hebrew but can refer you to someone who does. They also accept patrilineal Jewish children into their programs. For more information visit templebethora.org.
Beth Shalom’s Rabbi, Steven Shwarzman, emphasized that you don’t need to go to shul to be Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Turning 12 as a girl or 13 as a boy is what makes you B‘nei Mitzvah. The things you do in shul like Dvar/Haftorah just show the congregation that you have the ability to do these things. In his mind, the most important thing is that the child learns to do things they didn’t do before and that the child stretches to learn as much as they can comfortably. Stretching without straining. He leads group sessions once a week to discuss the previous week’s Torah reading. This helps students understand a Dvar Torah and connect to the stories of the Torah. He can recommend individual tutors within the community to help brush up on Hebrew, learn the Haftorah, and learn the services. Beth Shalom also does a Mitzvah/Tzadakah project. For more information visit edmontonbethshalom.org.
The main program that Beth Israel offers is a 10-week co-ed program that includes a Shabbaton and other activities. There is also an option for separate boys’ or girls’ courses if that is what you want. To attend these courses you do not have to be a member of the Synagogue, and you can attend these programs without having your B’nei Mitzvah at Beth Israel. The first session is with kids and parents together, and the nine following meetings are with just the children. As this is an Orthodox Synagogue, girls are not able to read Torah at BI but they may speak and read informal Tfilot. For more information visit familyshul.org.
Chabad Rabbi Dovid Pinson offers traditional and unique B’nei Mitzvot. More than 60% of the children he works with choose to make it unique. Rabbi Dovid encourages parents not to have their child’s B’nei Mitzvah on Shabbat. This allows for photos to be taken, and microphones to be accessed. A unique Bar Mitzvah does not have to be at shul and can be done anywhere. Chabad offers group lessons that go over the fundamentals of Judaism and include social activities. These are not Bar Mitzvah classes, but rather an opportunity to learn. Rabbi Dovid also offers one on one sessions if necessary. These sessions do not have a curriculum, and instead, attempt to help the child connect to G-d in their own way through their interests. In shul, the B’nei Mitzvot must be traditional, but you can do any other type of celebration anywhere else. For more information visit chabadedmonton.org.
After these introductions, a couple of families that were present at the event had some questions for the Rabbis. The first question was about doing a Havdallah service as the B’nei Mitzvah. All of the shuls were open to it, however, Beth Shalom does not encourage it as there is no evening Haftorah and less prayer. Temple Beth Ora brought up an outdoor service as another option. The second question was about group sessions. A family was wondering if they only take place once a year. At Beth Israel, they only happen once a year and have already begun, but at Beth Shalom and Chabad they have rolling admissions, and each lesson is standalone. Another family asked if all synagogues had a set price for their group sessions. Beth Shalom is the only synagogue with membership required, but all synagogues have the ability to change the price on a needs’ basis.
Mira finalized the meeting by expressing how lucky we are to have so many options, all of them uniting us to Judaism. The Rabbi’s reflected this opinion as well, constantly pointing out how interesting and amazing the other Rabbis’ programs were and how happy they were to learn about what options are available to Jewish families in Edmonton.
Matthew Levine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.