My Virtual Bar Mitzvah

I had expected that my bar mitzvah (Jewish coming of age ceremony) would be awesome but normal. I thought that I would have an exciting party with a rock-and-roll theme, a DJ, catering from a Mediterranean restaurant, and fun activities. I remember having a party planner come to my house to help with the setup, which made me excited. I imagined I would be showered with congratulations, surrounded by my friends and family at my synagogue. But it turned out that this was not to be.

My bar mitzvah party was postponed to my fourteenth birthday instead. Rather than being together with my friends, I had to do my bar mitzvah at home virtually. At first, my mom gave me the option to have it in-person with masks, which I chose, but subsequently it had to be virtual for safety purposes. I was discouraged by this at the time. I also thought I wouldn’t be able to read in Hebrew from an actual Torah scroll, which disappointed me strongly.

But in the end a Torah scroll was loaned to me before my bar mitzvah started. My rabbi led the services at his house; I read from the Torah; and my family led some of the prayers. Hundreds of people from my community were watching me online, which made me nervous in the beginning. I wore dress clothes, an embroidered prayer shawl from Israel, and a kippah (traditional head covering). I stood with my parents and brother at our dining table. Seeing the Torah in front of me made me feel righteous. Connecting with God in these circumstances gave me the powerful feeling that you can worship God anywhere.

Photo by Rose Trail Images.

I learned a few things from my bar mitzvah. I enjoyed the preparation because I learned about the deeper meanings of the Torah, and I was interested in it. I also learned that you don’t need a party to have fun during your bar mitzvah. The people in my temple have a good sense of humor, which made everything easier. Being encouraged by my friends and my rabbi made my bar mitzvah meaningful.

My school experience during COVID has been almost identical to my bar mitzvah experience. I initially thought that virtual school would be lonely and frustrating, and that our meetings for worship wouldn’t give us any feeling of connecting with others or with God. But it turned out that I didn’t feel lonely, and I did feel a caring bond with my peers and teachers. The virtual meetings for worship were actually an improvement from the in-person ones because people goofed around a lot less! I still feel a link with God during the silence. Just like with my bar mitzvah, I had a positive outlook on remote learning once it happened.

The past year flipped the way we look at our lives. I might have expected too much of my pre-COVID coming-of-age experience. I had low expectations for my virtual bar mitzvah. I thought I probably wouldn’t learn anything from it. But God has given us the strength to overcome our problems, and God gave me the strength to connect with my community in spirit to celebrate my coming of age. I was able to do this because all the churches, meetinghouses, and temples are not just places—they’re people coming together.

Chance Biehn

Chance Biehn (he/him). Grade 7, Carolina Friends School in Durham, N.C.

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