B'nei Mitzvah Guide: Creating Jewish memories and connection for you and your child
“Mazel Tov!” The celebration of your child becoming a b’nei mitzvah is one of the greatest events in the lifecycle of a Jewish family and we want to wish you a warm Mazel Tov in advance! At North Shore Congregation Israel, our vision is to make the b’nei mitzvah service as meaningful as possible. It’s an opportunity for you to celebrate your child, and we want to work together with you so that the entire process and ceremony meet your expectations. You may find yourself swept up in the details of coordinating with out-of-town family, parties, transportation, and dress-up clothes that fit, and we want to help you design a service that holds meaning, that meets your family’s degree of religious practice, unique interests, and breadth of family/friend involvement.
“And you shall teach them faithfully to your children.”
We, as a clergy team, have set the following expectations on ourselves to make your child’s b’nei mitzvah as memorable, touching, and personal as we can. Your child’s Jewish journey began earlier than you may recall with a Star of David rattle or Shabbat candles at grandma’s house or the 1st day of Religious School at NSCI, but the journey and personal reflection ramps up in the years approaching the b’nei mitzvah date. The process and religious service are created to be:
Revelatory – The process is a great personal learning experience for your child as they uncover more about their talents, their desire to succeed, their connection to NSCI and the Jewish people, and what Judaism means to them.
Meaningful – The service can be customized to highlight your family’s values and memories while celebrating the uniqueness of your child. We want your guests to leave understanding the importance of this special milestone in your child’s Jewish journey.
Connecting – We want to highlight whatever connection to Judaism is most important to your child, whether it be community, family, friends, clergy, faith, social justice or their Jewish roots.
Joyful and Fun – We aim to limit the stress for your child, you, and your guests so you can revel in the joy of the present.
Catalyzing – Becoming a b’nei mitzvah can be a great opportunity to propel your child to do more, think more, learn more and say more, especially within the NSCI community.
The B'nei Mitzvah Process
While your child is in 4th grade, you will receive communication from NSCI asking for your help in setting your child's b'nei mitzvah date. You will be asked to complete and return the Date Preference and Facility Request Form in order to best match your dates with our calendar. You and your child will also receive an invitation to join us for a special ceremony at which your child will receive their b'nei mitzvah date. Your date can be changed through the next few years with the help of NSCI staff, but some families like to begin planning in advance, so we begin about 2 1/2 years out.
We look forward to celebrating your child's b'nei mitzvah and invite you to consider hosting your Kiddush and/or celebration in the beautiful spaces available at NSCI. If you decide to host a Kiddush or a party celebrating your child’s great achievement at NSCI, Jacki Sundheim, Special Events Coordinator, will be your new best friend. She will help guide you through upcoming decisions, from how to seat your guests to what time your room is available. She has years of experience and is happy to help you. Please take the time to meet her if you decide to host an event with us. Jacki can be reached at (847) 835-0724 x 624 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If your family decides to celebrate your child's b’nei mitzvah in Israel or another location, we’d love to be a part of your experience! Sometimes our Rabbis are traveling or have ideas to ensure your experience goes smoothly. You can communicate your intention to become b’nei mitzvah outside of NSCI to Sarah Duffin, Executive Assistant to Rabbi Geffen and Cantor Goldstein, anytime during the process. Sarah can be reached at (847) 835-0724 x 643 or email her at email@example.com.
Your child will begin to learn Torah, Haftarah, and all associated prayers typically 6-12 months before the b’nei mitzvah date — earlier when vacation, camp or students’ educational needs are a factor. Your tutor will contact you to schedule your first appointment. We have a delightful group of highly-qualified Hebrew tutors. Your child's tutor will provide a 'blue folder' and other materials at their first meeting with their tutor — Remind them to bring the folder with them to each tutoring session! After tutoring has kicked off, set up a meeting with Rabbi Ryan Daniels so your child can discuss their Mitzvah Project and D’var Torah speech or presentation. Finally, you'll meet 2 or 3 times with your ceremony’s Rabbi and/or Cantor to decide honors, add personal touches to the service, and do a rehearsal so everyone feels excited about the big day!
Roughly 4-6 months in advance of your child’s date, Jennifer McKeag will invite you to the B’nei Mitzvah Family Workshop. This is an essential component of your child’s preparation. Guided by our clergy, b’nei mitzvah children and their parents will meet a total of three times in a small group setting with other b’nei mitzvah families to learn Torah and discuss big questions appropriate for this important time. This is just the beginning of our partnership with you. You will have three group workshops during these 12 months.
The B'nei Mitzvah
The clergy invites you to the Friday night service before the b’nei mitzvah date as another way for the community to celebrate your child’s milestone. You can decide how you, your family, and your child will participate in this service. For example, you may choose to light the Shabbat candles or read a prayer. The lead rabbi that evening will coordinate with you. You may also choose to host Oneg Shabbat after services for the community.
To Do’s for Friday Night Shabbat:
- Honors – Parent(s) are invited to light Shabbat candles or read a prayer as a way to emphasize their role in raising the child.
- Host Oneg Shabbat – If you choose to host Oneg, please coordinate with Jacki Sundheim (firstname.lastname@example.org) for estimated number of attendees, food and drink choices, and payment.
We believe in inclusion. Any of your family members and friends can participate in any aspect of the service, regardless of their religious background, affiliation, or beliefs.
Adding personal touches to your child’s b’nei mitzvah ceremony is exciting to some and daunting to others. We encourage you to attend any b’nei mitzvah service at NSCI in advance of your date. It’s interesting to see how each family chooses to highlight their values and beliefs. The most common b’nei mitzvah ceremonies include the following checklist:
To Do’s for B’nei Mitzvah Ceremony
Here are a list of things to keep in mind while planning your celebration. The staff at the NSCI Judaica Shop would be happy to help source many of these items and most are available in house.
- Invitations – Order the invitations for guests to attend the b’nei mitzvah service. Include information for the Friday night service and Oneg, Kiddish, party, or whatever else you decide to celebrate this great milestone.
- Personalized kippas – Love baseball or hot pink? Many websites offer customized kippas to express your child’s uniqueness.
- Programs – You may opt for the lovely program produced by NSCI or add more meaning with memories of lost loved ones, parent blessings, and more!
- Readings of Honor – Choose family/friends to lead one of the many prayers, aliyot, etc. as a way to thank and honor them for helping to raise your child.
- Opening the Ark, Passing down the Torah, Dressing the Torah, and Lifting the Torah – Choose family/friends to participate throughout the service and coordinate with your officiating rabbi during the 'Honors Meeting.' Remember, we believe in inclusion so anyone who you deem special to your child is invited to participate.
- B’nei Mitzvah Tallit – Your child may choose to wear a Tallit ("prayer shawl") which can be purchased at the shop at NSCI or perhaps you have one to pass down from a parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent.
- D’var Torah – Your child is invited to speak about their Torah portion in relation to their life. Or maybe your child has a different idea to bring to life their learnings, such as a choreographed dance, song, or art exhibit?
If you wish to add deeper meaning and purpose to the service or highlight your child’s special gifts and talents, you can work with the clergy to brainstorm additional ideas. Here are some examples that families at NSCI have chosen:
- Do you love music? Both the b’nei mitzvah child and family members have brought their wonderful voices and musical instruments to join Cantor Goldstein in song and music.
- Do you want to add additional Readings? We’ve had families include favorite poems, passages, and quotes that they believe added more meaning to their ceremony.
- Do you want to highlight an artistic talent? B’nei mitzvah children have danced on the bimah and showcased their Jewish artwork as a way to express their connection to the ceremony and Jewish tradition.
- Do you wish to honor a child who died in the Holocaust? Some b’nei mitzvah children have chosen to have a b’nei mitzvah student “twin” and in this way remember a young Jewish person who perished in the Holocaust through organizations like World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants.
Remember that the clergy at NSCI is interested in working with you to make your child’s b’nei mitzvah a moment to remember for a lifetime and a catalyst for future engagement.
The Nitty Gritty
There are a few standards that NSCI staff and clergy have put in place to reflect the values of our congregation while allowing us to live in the modern era. If you are renting one of our spaces as a party room, please click here for a more complete list of guidelines.
- Open Participation – Parents, family, and guests of different faith backgrounds can participate the same as any Jewish parent, family or guest. Also, the b’nei mitzvah service is not a private ceremony – all worshipers are invited to come to the service.
- Videography Permission – You are invited to record sound and video during the service as long as the electronic device is left unattended and using only natural light. In fact, if you have family and friends who are away or unable to make the Friday night service, we live stream Shabbat services for anyone to enjoy.
- Don’t Miss It! – Services begin on-time so please remind your guests to be early. We start most of our services with a song to allow time for everyone to be comfortably seated.
- Food in our Building – We maintain a Biblical kashurt (no pork or shellfish in the building) and peanut-free facility. Please see our expanded Kashrut & Food Policies.
And the Journey Continues
The clergy at NSCI knows your child’s Jewish journey does not end at the b’nei mitzvah date. Instead, the journey begins to be about choice for them. We have created a plethora of options from which your child may choose so they remain as connected to the NSCI community as they desire. Intense school commitments? No problem! We have programs that meet 1-4 times a year like Build and Be Built where we renovate low-income homes, Navigating College with a Jewish Lens, and Stress, Spirituality, & Yoga. Looking to keep the conversation going weekly? Great, we have programs meeting weekly like Visual Arts Studio, Selah, Machonik program, and our strong Teen Youth Group program led by Neil Rigler. Or even travel with fellow students on Ta’am Yisrael where 8th graders make lasting friendships while touring Israel in a customized tour for teens. And there’s more!
Overall, we have learned there are two keys to success at this stage:
- Encourage your child to find a friend who shares a similar level of interest and time commitment, and plan programs together.
- Help your child create a plan for the year and check-in to ensure they are following through on their interests.
We encourage you to help your child sort through these options and give strong consideration about how to best grow, explore, and thrive from here. Talk to your rabbi for a complete list of opportunities - We’ll see you on the other side of the b’nei mitzvah year!