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My nephew’s Bar Mitzvah is delayed, but I don’t think that’s right

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to [email protected].

Dear Bintel,

I would never want to add more to the plate of my sister, who is running her household, holding down a full-time job, and helping to manage care for our parents. But I’m feeling as though I want to say something about a recent decision in our family.

Her second oldest son is supposed to have his Bar Mitzvah this August. The planning has been pretty back-burner, because of the pandemic and the world feeling so shaky. Now, her family decided to push the Bar Mitzvah further down the line, to winter 2021. Her friends think that with the vaccine coming, by that time everyone will be able to celebrate in person, and we can have more relatives join. Everything is already set into motion, and she plans to keep everything the same, just delayed. His parsha, which he is already learning, will be the same (the service is being organized by a cousin of ours who is a rabbi).

I love my sister, but this feels exactly the wrong message to send around a Bar Mitzvah. He’s joining the Jewish people, whether the timing is good or not. He’s supposed to leyn the parsha of the week, not some parsha he chose. I worry she hasn’t exactly thought this through, and is being persuaded by her friends. I want her son to feel honored and welcomed into the Jewish people, not like an afterthought arranged whenever it is convenient. Should I say something?

I don’t think you should say anything. It sounds like your sister has already made her decision, and I presume she made that decision in conjunction with her son and the rabbi overseeing the ceremony. I imagine it was a hard choice, but one she made with fuller consideration than you allow here. If she wanted your input, she likely would have called and asked for it.

I’m not saying your arguments are without merit — I’m usually partial to the ways in which the inconvenience of religion can reinforce its holiness. It’s a reminder that sometimes we have to work on God’s schedule, not ours. But this is a year which demands sympathy and support, especially for working parents and their school-age children. Your sister might already have intuited your disapproval, and will likely be relieved if you express support instead.

Lots of young adults had to delay their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs this year, and many synagogues across the world found inspiringly creative and beautiful ways for them to chant the original Torah portions they had learned, which for many students is a yearslong effort. Who knows what sort of ceremony your cousin has cooked up?

I’ll admit that at this point, I’m wary of any future planning that relies on assumptions about what will, or will not, be advisable in terms of group events. But you may be surprised at the thought and intention behind your sister’s decision to postpone. And there may well be factors that went into that decision of which you are unaware. Let it go. If the goal is to make her son feel honored and welcomed, then you have your marching orders, regardless of the timing of the event. (Remember, also, that there are so many ways to honor and welcome Bar Mitzvah students! For you, the right timing might be paramount, but for your sister and your nephew, the ability to embrace this moment within Jewish community might feel like a more proper and fitting honor for the occasion.)

Actually, what is your relationship with your nephew? I’d rather you reach out to him directly, and maybe offer to celebrate in some way on his Hebrew birthday. Just keep it light and positive — no side remarks about how this actually should have been his Bar Mitzvah weekend. 13-year-olds pick up on everything.

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to [email protected].


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