An Exciting Day for B’nai Mitzvah in the Age of Covid-19

Many b’nai mitzvah students and families have been forced to rethink their plans since the coronavirus began taking its toll in March.   Some families cancelled bar and bat mitzvahs with synagogues agreeing to reschedule at a later date.  Others have gotten creative, gravitating to Zoom or other settings.

Just before Passover, I participated in my first bar mitzvah on Zoom.  The family had planned to go to Israel with Jake reading Torah at the Kotel in Jerusalem.  Instead, 90 guests witnessed Jake read his portion from his torah sheets in his Manhattan apartment with the background of the Kotel visible all to see. He was “escorted” to the “Kotel” by a musician singing, and I had the honor of addressing him.  It was a lovely day, and Jake round out his bar mitzvah by sharing with his Zoom seder guests the haggadah commentary he had written.  This was “Phase I” of Covid-19 b’nai mitzvah. 

Today, I participated in a “Phase II” Covid bat mitzvah, a blended experience with Noa, her mother and father, the senior rabbi, the cantor and me—in suits, tallis and tefillin—in the chapel of their Upper West Side of Manhattan shul.  Noa and I stood at the bima, facing the computer (elevated on an upside down Pirate Booty cardboard box!), with a bright light behind in, assuring the participants would not appear too dark.  Noa and family greeted guests from New York, California and other destinations before the bat mitzvah started.   We wore masks, maintained social distancing—and even showered Noa with candy after her torah reading and d’var torah.  She is looking forward to a dance party for her friends at a future date. 

I am eagerly awaiting a “Phase III” Covid bat mitzvah later in the summer—scheduled to take place on 2 acres—with each family unit seated together, a safe distance from other guests.

My heart still breaks for children and families who had to reschedule or rethink this important life cycle event at the last minute.  Perhaps out of this unfortunate situation will come more innovation in the age old rite of passage.  Stay tuned!

Howard Blas,
Director-National Ramah Tikvah Network
cell: 413-374-7210

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