Saturday, November 24, 2007

Not Religious

Despite the plethora of Hebrew names in this house, we are not religious. We call ourselves Jews and pay some homage to the major Holy days, including Shabbat, but we are not religious. This presents a problem as one of us prepares for a Bat Mitzvah.

One of the requirements for "qualification" for her Bat Mitzvah is that she attend 5 Shabbot morning services. That is exactly what the handbook says and what was said in our "orientation to b'nai mitzvot." Since Squidette qualified for the Borough-wide band, which meets every Saturday from 8:30 until 1:00, we figured that we would do the required services on 3-day weekends and during the school breaks when band does not meet. Or, worst case, every Saturday in June, after band is over and the kids have done their thing in Carnegie Hall. Oh, did I mention that she will be playing with the New York Pops and will be performing in Carnegie Hall? Yes, this is a big deal.

On Monday, we met with the assistant Rabbi who is in charge of seeing the kids through this process. When she asked if we had started the 5 Shabbot requirement, we explained our issues and our solution to them. At which point we were told "oh, there are not b'nai mitzvot on 3-day weekends, it has to be a Bar/bat mitzvah service. Maybe we can count one non-mitzvah service." I've been obsessing on this all weekend long. We were going to go to services this morning. We are not going to do so now.

I am willing to pull Squidette from band for one Saturday (Mike is not even willing to do that.) I am so upset that I cannot even write a coherent letter to the Senior Rabbi (who is the final word on this). Frankly, there are two B'nai Mitzvot in the month before her's (and before Borough-wide starts up in the fall), so we are only talking about 3 which all, according to the Assistant Rabbi, have to be done before Memorial Day weekend because there are no B'nai mitzvot over the summer (which is why Squidette's is in September.)

Borough-wide is a limited run. It, too, runs only until Memorial Day weekend, with the big Carnegie performance right after that. It is, in our opinion, more important. It is not something that she can do in the future. This year and next year are it.

Is it about the religion or about learning the routine of the b'nai mitzvah service? If it is about the religion, then the smaller, non-b'nai mitzvah services should be even more important. They are, theoretically, more intimate and include actual Torah study. They sound like the kind of service that I might actually enjoy.

And, what is the actual consequence of not fulfilling this requirement? Are they going to deny her this opportunity if she is otherwise fully prepared? After 8 years of Hebrew School and the insane schedule we are following this year to provide our kids with this training so that they can make an informed decision later in life?

We are raising our kids to be good people who do good things for others. Both kids helped me during this last Mitzvah Sunday and Squidette has now done 3 of them as well as helping with the additional meetings of the Sanctuary Stitchers that I led. Will she be denied an opportunity because she only gets to 3 of the mandated b'nai mitzvah services? Will her ushering during Rosh Hashana and attendance at Yom Kippor (which was on Shabbat this year) not count?

Well? What do you think?

(Mike will be writing a letter to the Senior Rabbi later tonight. As I said, I am too angry to do this.)


Paul said...

Hey there.

I'm always amazed that religions are always taking about how their numbers of followers are declining, but then they are not only adamant about having people jump through their hoops, but also inflexible about helping people to "jump through". I totally understand having requirements, and having a structured process, but there has to be a way for all to be welcomed.

I'm sorry for all your frustrations in this situation. There has to be a way to make it work. *hugs*

CygKnit said...

I initially waffled a bit on my opinion. I briefly worked at a Hebrew School and found that nearly every parent has special circumstances why their child can't follow the standard format. This format was designed not to restrict, rather it is meant to be a standardized enough plan so that the kids have roughly similar experiences. That's important at this age.

However, when reminded of the volunteer work that Squidette has performed, I could see that instead of working against the temple (as some families seem to do) yours has been supporting it--just not in the pre-formatted way. I can't see a thing wrong with that, and (in fact) see it as a BETTER plan than following an inflexible program. Rather than teach the kids they have to jump through hoops to observe, working with you guys could show the young Squids that secular and religious life don't have to be so conflicting. I hope they go that route for you. I really do.

Devorah said...

I think the reason I am so upset is not the requirement but rather the fact that 1. the synagogue keeps b'nai mitzvot to a limited set of weekends, making the requirement more difficult to complete then it seems at first and 2. the specific bit about the service attendance being specifically a b'nai mizvah service was not made clear to us until this week. If I had not asked, we would have done our own thing in ignorance and gone to the 5 services and probably managed to miss b'nai mitzvot for at least 3 of them.

I understand the requirements I just bristle about the fact that so few weekends are available, relatively speaking. If the summer were available, we would be all over them. And the band is a once in a lifetime kind of thing.