Our program culminates in a group bar/bas mitsve program for children ages twelve and thirteen.
Students spend the year creating individual and collaborative projects that reflect their passions and commitments, and form a tightly-knit, supportive group.
The year ends in a cultural b’nei (group) mitsve, a collective ceremony in which the graduating students represent their Jewish identity to a welcoming community of family and friends.
The b’nei mitsve year combines the following activities:
Core Research Project
Each student chooses a research topic that draws from Jewish history or culture. The topics reflect a diversity of interests and passions, and the rigor of study and self-exploration.
2012 core projects included:
- Performing a monologue in the character of Albert Einstein, meditating on his conflicting religious, scientific, and pacifist identities.
- Exploring connections between involvement in Occupy Wall Street, the life of Emma Goldman, and a Torah portion: Korach.
- Studying the Yiddish poet and singer Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, performing one of her songs, and composing original Yiddish poetry.
Each student conducts an oral history video interview with an elderly member of his or her family. Through planning and executing these videos, students explore their family heritage and discover their unique connection to the larger Jewish community.
Their teacher then weaves together these interviews into a collective oral history video to be on view at the b’nei mitsve ceremony.
The responsibility to the community that our students demonstrate through their community service projects reflect the Jewish values of justice (tzedek), compassion (hesed), and peace (sholem).
Over the course of the school year, each student chose a community service project that could be fulfilled by the combined efforts of the group.
For 2012, these included making “surgi-dolls” for kids undergoing surgery, organizing a game day for children at a homeless shelter, and making and delivering sandwiches to the Yorkville Common Pantry, New York City’s largest community-based food pantry.
Each b’nei mitsve class focuses on a social justice issue and connects history to the injustices of today.
For 2012, students looked through the lens of labor and explored the makings of the sweatshop. They examined historical case studies of working conditions of the Lowell Mill Girls of New England and the garment workers in New York.
They also looked at the attempts of working people to organize for improvements and bring about child labor laws and higher wages.
Connecting the present with the past, students researched and wrote a script about the conditions at Foxconn, the factories in China where Apple products like the iPad and iPhone are made, and presented their play at the community Passover Seder.
Remember Us Project
In the beginning of the school year, each b’nei mitsve student receives a certificate from the Remember Us Project, the international organization that matches students with a child lost in the Holocaust.
The idea is that every child will be remembered. To date, more than 17,000 b’nei mitsve students from all over the world have participated.
Every student does substantial research on their perished child’s place of birth and its Jewish community life and customs. The collected information is presented at the solemn occasion of Yom Ha-Shoah, Remembrance Day. Thanks to the Remember Us Project, these children will never be forgotten.
Study of Torah Portions
As a secular Jewish school, we do not require our students to read from the Torah as part of their celebration.
Over the course of the year, however, they become familiar with their Torah portions, analyze their meanings, and make personal decisions about whether or how they want to include the portion in their ceremony.
In our 2012 ceremony, some students read their portions in Hebrew and some in Yiddish, some presented interpretations, and others chose not to include their portions at all.
Music and Art
Many of our students and faculty are musicians and artists, and our b’nei mitsve celebrations always include beautiful and rousing performances.
This year, the graduating class performed the Hebrew song “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu (Salaam),” arranged by our own music teacher for horns, strings, and voice. It was breathtaking.