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Appropriate Recognition

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Picture 008

Hanging right outside the entrance to the preschool, I was greeted by this banner.

Our JCC congratulates our preschool alumni accepted and excelling at prestigious schools!

For real. This banner is actually hanging outside the entrance. When I first saw it earlier this week, I burst out laughing.

First of all, alumni? These kids are like FIVE and this was preschool. And not an academic one at that.

As for accepted, nine of these schools are public elementary schools. They HAVE to take everybody.

I find it interesting that of the five private schools, the Jewish day schools were NOT listed first. An interesting statement coming from a JCC preschool. And I was saddened to see that Morasha Jewish Day School was left off of the list. (Especially in light of the recent announcement that Morasha will be closing its doors at the end of the school year as a direct result of the current financial crisis. This is a devestating loss to our community.)

The thing that just really got me is this idea that we have to pump up our kids’ egos at every opportunity. Preschool can be an important part of a child’s growth and there should be some way to mark the transition from preschool to kindergarten. It gives the kids some closure as they move from their little pond to the bigger pond. But graduation? Beernut’s graduation exercises were LONGER than my graduation from college. And not nearly as interesting.

And it is any wonder that we are seeing an increased narcissism in Gen Y-ers?

We see it in the liberal community with the contemporary Bar/Bat Mitzvah “ceremony.” Somewhere along the way, the Shabbat morning service was hijacked by the Bar Mitzvah family with all honours going to family members, parent speeches, and the glorification — dare I say the near-beatification — of the adolescent. Not to mention the prom-like celebration that follows.

Reaching the age of ritual majority is indeed worthy of celebration. However, as Rabbi Jack Bloom points out,

the not-so-subtle message that this is first and foremost a family celebration undermines the potent and useful message of Bar/Bat Mitzvah; the initiation of a young person into the Community Israel.

Rabbi Bloom offers a meaningful, if not radical, alternative to the current status quo. He envisions not a private graduation-type of event but an initiation ceremony that moves beyond the family simcha by placing it in the midst of community.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Initiation Ceremony

Rabbi: We now ask Mr. and Mrs. Yaakov Almoni to come to the pulpit and present their son/daughter who this day will mark his/her Bar/Bat Mitzvah, to this Congregation in Israel.

Parents: Rabbi Gaon, it is with priide, joy and gratitude, that we present our son/daughter Ploni Almoni to this congregation in Israel ,that they may accept him/her on behalf of the people Israel as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

Parents then share a few remarks (no more than 200 words) about the child.

If a talit is to be put on, the parents say:
We now place this talit on your shoulders. We pray that God may envelop and protect you all of your days. May Gods mitzvot be upon your shoulders, a comfort and joy, a challenge and commitment, always.

If no talit is to be put on:
We pray that God may envelop and protect your all of your days May God’s mitzvot be a comfort and joy, a challenge and commitment, always.

Torah and Haftarah readings.

The Rabbi speaks to the youngster and then steps before the ark to ask God’s blessing on him/her. After the blessing, the rabbi calls three congregants to the bimah, who act as representatives of the Congregation and the Jewish People. This adds to the congregational Kibudim, publicly declaring that this is a congregational event.

Representing the group of three, one says:
May the blessings of our rabbi and our people go with you always.

On behalf of this congregation, Congregation Fill-in-the-Blank duly assembled here this Shabbat, Parashat whatever, and the Jewish people, wherever they may be gathered in the worship of our God, we welcome you to a life of Jewish responsibility and commitment.

Our history is your history.

Our destiny is your destiny.

May your dreams be our dreams.

Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh bazeh — We are responsible for each other.

Together let us build the future of our people.

The parents rise for She-hecheyanu, which is now a response to their child’s initiation/induction ceremony.

In other words, within the context of a Shabbat morning worship service, is one ceremony with a clear beginning and an end, thus marking the Bar/Bar Mitzvah’s transition beyond membership in the family to full membership in the people Israel.

I find something about this so compelling. Perhaps I am drawn to the communal aspect of the transition from minority status to reaching the age of ritual maturity.

Any takers??

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Cammy permalink
    Friday, 22 May 2009 12:30 am

    To me, the initial sad thing about the sign at the door to the preschool? It is oblivious to the fact that more Jewish families wish to send their precious little ones to this school to be students, very much so in fact. As a parent, I do not think it is appropriate for the JCC to be so ridiculously smug with this silly signage.
    However like a torrent in a flash flood, there is a huge Jewish school crisis in America – with preschool being the “formative years”, Jewish schools have the highest tuition of all preschools. This is completely prohibitive to many “average” Jewish families, who would not otherwise speak up or bother with requesting tuition assistance or the like. It is secular public school for the rest, not that there is anything wrong with that. However my thought is that if a family wants a Jewish education for their youngest, our next generation to carry on, that they are being denied the most basic education in our tradition.
    A friend of mine brings in an annual income within the top 10% of all earners in the United States, however even they can not afford the tuition of this particular preschool, as they would like to have sent their child there. Typically, they live a very comfortable life and do not think it appropriate that they should ask for tuition assistance. Think about that – the top 10%!! Yet they can not afford the average basic Jewish preschool tuition in the US; the tuition rate that the OC-JCC charges is pretty much the status quo – the same amount as the Jewish preschools in Houston, and significantly less than Jewish preschools that I know of in New York. In fact nationwide, the only Jewish schools that charge less are Chabad day schools. Young Jewish families want Jewish education for their children. This silly sign at the preschool reminds me of all of this.
    And not to be off on a tangent too far from your blog , FS, but how can Jewish families even get to the right place of Bar Mitzvah within their thoughts when they are prohibited from basic Jewish education from the beginning? It is a bit of a stretch to move from point A to B. I am very moved by your blog, but I can not help but think of how ridiculous Jewish day schools are to believe that they can continue to survive in this way. Loss of a basic Jewish educational foundation for our youngest is a disheartening crisis for all of us, if we are to have the next generation become Bar Mitzvah.

  2. Friday, 22 May 2009 4:02 am

    interesting. passed this along to Mr. EK. we’re changing up a lot of our worship – this could be interesting.

  3. homeshuling permalink
    Friday, 22 May 2009 4:18 am

    I agree with you about the ego issue, but I’m not sure I agree that this is an example of that phenomenon. This strikes me as more about parents’ obsession with status and a very particular definition of success, which centers on going to the “right” schools, and of course, wearing the “right” clothes, living in the “right” neighborhood, etc, etc, ad nauseum.

    There are challenges that come with living in a small, not affluent Jewish community, but we have escaped the bar-mitzvah extravaganzas, and, thankfully, the scrambles for a “prestigious” kindergarten.

  4. Friday, 22 May 2009 7:19 am

    i’m with you on the self-esteem-for-kids movement — we’ve OD’d. it’s nutso. and ugghhh the “prestige” thing! do you think morasha was left off the list of “prestigious” kindergartens because it wasn’t seen as schmancy enough, because whoever made up the list knew it was closing, or because of an inadvertent error?

  5. Friday, 22 May 2009 8:51 am

    we don’t say it quite like this, but spend a lot of time within the context of our somewhat “private” b’nai mitzvah services talking about the community, their place in it, etc. the whole process focuses as much as possible on the idea of being a part of it.

    but the preschool thing….yeah, i’ve got nothin’ for ya. WOW.

    my current issue is actually Confirmation – it seems to be less and less attended by the community and more and more just the families – THAT feels like a private commencement when in fact, it’s the more communal of the two even, since they do it as a group…i’ll work on that for the future…

  6. Friday, 22 May 2009 8:57 am

    hm, my post just got eaten, boo.

    i’m totally with you on the cult-y worship of “self-esteem” — we so often end up justifying self-importance and entitlement. (as my friend judith says, serial killers have the highest self-esteem!) the notion of that boastful sign with the actual word “prestigious” on it makes me want to hurl…and it makes me sad, too. (do you think morasha was omitted inadvertently, omitted b/c it was closing, or omitted because someone decided it simply wasn’t “prestigious”?)

  7. Friday, 22 May 2009 2:31 pm

    My daughter is going to “graduate” from preschool in June. That graduation ceremony will probably be far too long.

    But some people won’t be happy without proper stroking and I am not talking about the kids.

  8. Robyn permalink
    Friday, 22 May 2009 4:02 pm

    a) the Pre-School banner … and they spent good money on that?!?!
    enough said.

    b) B’nei Mitzvah – when we will also start teaching people that they BECOME bar and bat mitzvah at 12/13 and that they don’t GET bar/bat “mitzvahed”? Maybe that would begin to change things. IF the family were truly part of the learning process that ushers a young person into Jewish adulthood, then that family should be a piece of the communal milestone. But…

    c) To Phyllis: Confirmation is actually a Christian phenomenon and Jews took it over in assimilation and as an additional carrot to keep kids involved in the synagogue. We should completely do away with Confirmation (in my opinion) and work with pre b’nei mitzvah parents/families to chart a Jewish education journey that takes our young adults through to college.

  9. homeshuling permalink
    Sunday, 24 May 2009 5:41 am

    I’ve tagged you in a meme!

  10. Frume Sarah permalink*
    Monday, 25 May 2009 11:38 am

    Where to start!!

    Cammy — Day school are very, very pricey. I do agree that there should be better funding to help make it available to all those who desire to send their children that route. However, Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a religious coming-of-age that is not dependant on a day school education. It is something that happens regardless of any ceremony or education. To mark it in a significant way requires a community and a synagogue can surely provide that.

    Rebbetzin — I look forward to hearing about the changes!

    Homeshuling — I think that elevating pre-K graduation, et. al. definitely points to the parents’ desire to make a mountain out of a molehill. That, along with the examples you mentioned, have a great influence on the kids’ belief that the sun will rise and set with them. And I can’t wait to do the meme — thanks for including me!!

    Marjorie — yeah, it made me sad too. And not even because my kids’ school didn’t make the cut. I don’t want my kids’ school (which is a lovely public school!) on the list b/c I find the whole thing distasteful. As for Morasha omission, I truly hope that it was a mistake.

    Jack — you are right about certain parents. I have always been outside the norm with these kinds of things. Just my particular parenting style. I don’t like Star of the Week either.

    Robyn — we certainly use the term appropriately by us and correct educate people constantly.

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