I remember my sister’s bat mitzvah well. The glittery tablecloths, mini hotdogs, fancy dresses, and the beautiful table decorations – buckets filled with art supplies to donate to a local hospital. My sister, a young artist, chose table decorations that could double as donations to other aspiring artists. This simple act inaugurated her into a culture and tradition of responsibility, along with the other rich aspects of Jewish tradition that come with becoming a bat mitzvah.
A bar or bat mitzvah is a milestone event marking a transition to Jewish adulthood and the obligations and responsibilities of Jewish life. Judaism has developed precise rituals to mark this liminal moment, including festive occasions to celebrate the transformation. When planning these occasions, we must be cognizant of our consumptive power. The money we spend on a celebration can support dictatorships (i.e. Liberian blood diamonds) or women’s empowerment (i.e. fair trade collectives). It is our choice and responsibility to create global justice and fight injustice through our purchasing power. At Uri L’Tzedek, the Orthodox Social Justice Movement, we believe that individual actions can significantly contribute to justice in the world. Every time a person chooses celebration details including catering, venues, decor, and apparel, there is an opportunity for social change.
As a bar or bat mitzvah, a child can participate in creating a simcha (celebration) that reflects the values of tzedek (justice) and chesed. (loving-kindness). Uri L’Tzedek’s new Just Simchas guide provides resources to educate families about the importance of celebrating Jewish life cycle events ethically. The guide includes ideas for simple, fun activities and projects (to be done at the celebration or before), which make a significant impact, both on the person participating and the world around us. These projects emphasize the importance of tzedakah and social justice amidst the simcha and excitement. For example, in honor of his bar mitzvah, one child collected gently used and new instruments that his music school helped him repair and donate to public schools that needed them in his area.
Becoming a bar or bat mitzvah should mean more than fancy clothes and delicious appetizers. It should mean more than a beautifully chanted haftorah or powerfully delivered dvar torah. It is a chance to create a more just society when planning our simchas.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. As a community we can support each other in this endeavor. Uri L’Tzedek welcomes new ideas, pictures, and quotes to share on our website. We welcome the voices of b’nai mitzvah and their families to the conversation at this important transition!
- What have you done or seen that inspired a more just simcha?
- What aspect of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah is most exciting? What part of Judaism do you plan to embrace?
- How can you make this incredible moment in your life affect not just the people around you, but the world as a whole?