Judaism guides us along a pathway through life by providing rituals that sustain us through birth, learning and growing, family building, and loss. Buoyed by community and inspired by Torah, these life transitions are opportunities to reflect on where we have been and what lies ahead. They help us consider what is precious to us and to convey our most deeply held values.
There are few moments more glorious than the sight of a newborn or young child hoisted high in the air by the Rabbi before receiving a Hebrew name. Relatives and friends join the congregation for Shabbat morning service. Before the open Torah, spontaneous words of blessings, songs of praise and expressions of delight shower the family as we welcome another new life to our community.
Hanukkat banim (dedication of the children) is the commencement of a young student’s formal Jewish studies (usually a kindergartener or first-grader). We celebrate with blessings, hand-made kid-size tallitot (prayer shawls), and a welcoming to Torah. Every student creates a wimple which will be used to bind the Torah when he/she is called to the Torah upon becoming a bar/bat mitzvah, thus providing a symbolic link between key life cycle moments.
After mastering basic Hebrew reading in second grade, students are presented with their own siddur (Beth El prayerbook) which marks the beginning of their study of prayer. Parents personalize this siddur by creating individualized book covers and composing special blessings for their children to mark this “completion of the book” as their transition into Hebrew literacy.
B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies at Congregation Beth El are community endeavors. They provide a joyous opportunity for young men and women to learn, grow and celebrate together with family, friends and the congregation. We work together to provide every Jewish child with a rich and meaningful celebration of this important Jewish rite of passage.
Students and their families study with Rabbi Breindel in our Torah Class, culminating in a Shabbat retreat. Together they explore questions of Jewish identity in the 21st century, role play issues in Jewish ethics, and draw close together as a mutually supportive community.
And it’s never too late — we also celebrate adult b’nai mitzvahs!
Our graduating seniors mark the completion of their Jewish education at Beth El by sharing an excerpt of their Siyyum paper with family, friends and the congregation at a Shabbat service. This paper, written over the course of their 12th-grade year, is a reflection on a Jewish topic of personal interest.
As in all things Beth El, weddings weave tradition and creativity. Each marriage service, performed in accordance with Jewish tradition, leaves room for the couple’s unique expression. Before the wedding procession to the chuppah (wedding canopy) the couple signs their ketubah (ceremonial wedding agreement) before the full assembly of their guests. This Jewish marriage contract binds the couple to one another, and communal witnessing enriches the experience and deepens the connection between the couple and the community. Following the ceremony, the now married couple is showered with sweets and a rousing rendition of Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov (“A good sign and good luck.”)
At Beth El we have members who are lifelong Jews, new Jews, and many folks from other faith traditions who learn and celebrate with us as co-travelers. Along the journey, there are always people who choose to pursue a path to formal conversion to Judaism. Each individual comes forward when they are ready, follows a course of study with our rabbi, makes prayer and study a regular part of their preparation. Learning about Judaism in local Introduction to Judaism classes offered by the Union for Reform Judaism is always helpful to establish a foundation for Jewish life.
All this work is powerful and transformative. And when the time is right, we go to the Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Mikveh and Education Center, confirm intention and action by immersing in its living waters, and celebrate with our community the welcoming of a new Jew into our midst.
The death of a loved one — no matter what one’s relationship in life — can bring a range of feelings, from intense grief to emptiness to deep spiritual awe. The Hevra Kadisha (Caring Community) supports mourners as they begin to take the first sacred steps into mourning. Hevra Kadisha co-chairs answer mourners’ questions, send notices to the congregation, and provide leaders for shiva minyans. During a shiva minyan, family, friends, and fellow Beth El member come together with prayer, words of love and comfort, and shared memories of the deceased. This holy work holds congregants in the warmth of their community as they begin to mourn their loss.