Ki Tavo: Our Responsibility to Keep Our Tradition Alive

 

 

Now, if you obey Adonay your God,to observe faithfully all the commandments…Adonay your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and take affect only if you heed the word of Adonay your God.

                                            Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 28:2-3

 

I recently attended a baseball game at Citi Field (home of the Mets).   Citi Field is a great stadium to enjoy a game; far more comfortable and attractive then Shea Stadium (the old park) of blessed memory.  Citi Field and Shea Stadium, despite their glaring contrasts, do share a common history: Identified as the two, central homes of the NY Mets since the mid sixties. Citi Field may reflect a new era, but it cannot erase the memories (wonderful and painful) of Shea. Together, Citi Field and Shea are part of an ongoing tradition; where past and present converge.

 

Merging the past with the present is one of Judaism’s hallmark characteristics. The Judaism of today may exhibit a contemporary flavor, but it is nevertheless, part of an ongoing tradition with the past. Modernity itself is not a threat as long as core Jewish values and practices are sustained. Modernity becomes a threat only when it constitutes severing ties with our past.

 

This week, the Great Neck Record published an opinion piece I wrote; in response to a personal concern about severing ties with the past. My comments were in response to an editorial-written tongue in cheek- from the previous week’s edition.  The original editorial warned parents of B/B Mitzvah students about how their social lives are about to be severely curtailed.  The b’nai mitvah social calendar of their teens will become center stage; seemingly without end. I wrote a reply: Not to criticize the original column, but to share a different perspective about the B/B Mitzvah experience:

 

Teach Appreciation For The Spiritual Dimensions, Too

  

I read Sheri ArbitalJacoby’s humorous-yet-cogent description of the bar and bat mitzvah social calendar (“Brace Yourself for Bar Mitzvah Season,” Sept. 14), thankful that I am finally beyond that stage of family life! Having guided my four children through the bar and bat mitzvah experience (and in large part training them for the ritual), I can attest to the enormous amount of time parents devote to planning their lives around countless parties and receptions.

There were many 2 a.m. Saturday night pickups when my social calendar consisted exclusively of several cups of coffee in some random diner, eagerly awaiting the hour of pickup so that eventually I could go home.

It is certainly true that our adult social lives are severely curtailed as we enable our children to enjoy this segment of their lives.

As I am a congregation rabbi who devotes countless hours to comprehensive bar and bat mitzvah training, I hope that we bar/bat mitzvah families also guide our children to appreciate the spiritual dimensions of this rite of passage.

Our children not only attend parties, but they experience many varied ritual ceremonies as well. They have unique opportunities to celebrate the hard work of their friends who chant parts of the service and share personal reflections about their scriptural reading and its application to their lives.

Throughout the bar and bat mitzvah season, our students join with synagogue communities that represent people of all ages. In other words, they become a central part of an extended Jewish family.

During this remarkable period of their lives, our children become more aware of their social responsibilities to the community, as they engage in various projects to bring some needy repair to our world. Aside from the fun and frivolity, our students learn Jewish and universal values which they can apply to the rest of their lives.

Finally, when the bar and bat mitzvah “circuit” concludes, the experiences of our new teenagers will hopefully motivate them to remain “Jewishly” engaged-spiritually, culturally and socially-for the decades ahead. We parents may become hostages to the insanity of the bar and bat mitzvah circuit, but we also have a cherished opportunity (and yes, the responsibility) to step up and share the bar and bat mitzvah years as the first stage in a life which will ensure that we and our children always remain actively affiliated with the Jewish people.

-Rabbi Michael Klayman
Lake Success Jewish Center

 

My great concern is that the B/B Mitzvah is heavily focused on the contemporary (i.e. the party) and less focused on the past (i.e. the spiritual experience). By losing sight of who and what we are as an am yisrael, we threaten the future of the Jewish religion and tradition.

 

In this week’s portion Ki Tavo, Moses details the consequences of loyalty and disloyalty to our faith. Failing to honor the path established for the Jewish people will bring doom to the nation.  Unlike the desert Jews, we have the benefit of hindsight.  We appreciate how each century has incorporated modernity into its Jewish practice; how doing so may have changed the contents of our Judaism but not the overall commitment.

Today, there are B/B Mitzvah families across the globe, devoting countless hours to every social detail, but never step foot in a sanctuary until the ceremony itself.  If we lose the spiritual dimension, eventually it will not just be our adult social calendar which suffers. How we prepare for B/B Mitzvah varies from family to family and from community to community.  Yet one thing is clear: If we continue on the present path, the B/B Mitzvah may become nothing more than a party; lacking any serious Jewish character. That reality, I hope, never materializes…

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Klayman