The New York Times created something of a buzz in the Jewish world with its Sept. 4 cover story  about an effort by the Reform movement to overhaul the community’s concept of the B’nai Mitzvah. And two local congregations are front and center in the Reform movement’s newest experiment, what it is dubbing the “B’nai Mitzvah Revolution.”
Of the 13 synagogues nationally taking part in the movement’s two-year pilot study, two are based in Montgomery County: Temple Brith Achim in King of Prussia and Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.
The back story, detailed in the Times article and reported on often in the pages of the Jewish Exponent, is that staggering numbers — one recent study says two-thirds — of teens drop out of Jewish education after their Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony. Many in the Reform movement argue that, for decades, the Bar Mitzvah has been treated as a graduation ceremony and a private celebration, rather than an entry point, an occasion to welcome a youngster as a full member of the Jewish community.
The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution is a joint project of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Campaign for Youth Engagement and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education. The website, bnaimitzvahrevolution.org, states that the project aims to “empower synagogues to return depth and meaning to Jewish learning and reduce the staggering rates of post-b’nai mitzvah dropout.”
According to the Times story, some radical ideas are being considered, such as dropping the Torah reading, long considered a central part of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and focusing the whole experience around a community service project. However, the website stated that the 13 pilot synagogues taking part in the project will study “more effective models for learning Hebrew, kavannah (intentionality) in prayer, and Jewish literacy in general.”
Stayed tuned for more reporting on the pilot project and the larger issue of reforming B’nai Mitzvot.