Contemplating Spiritual Needs of B'nei Mitzvah Students and Families

Posted by Rabbi Goldie Milgram |

I've been invited to write for the CCAR on the spiritual needs of b'nei mitzvah students and their families. Our research here at Reclaiming Judaism shows this to be a very important topic. Bar/Bat Mitzvah is a time when the whole family is tuned into the possibilities for meaning embedded within Judaism. It has been said the spirituality creates space and religion takes up space. Both are actually good things, IMHO.   
     How can you really benefit from prayer if you haven't had the space to contemplate the prayer of your heart?
     How can a person evolve into a mensch if they're always so busy with activities and educational information that there isn't time to feel and reflect?
     How can friendships develop and community build if we don't even know about each others lives and only see the back of other students' heads, not even their facial expressions during class?
    How can one's spirit flow with authentic Jewish experience when so many don't know a wide range of mitzvot? For example, it is a mitzvah not to hold a grudge and another is not to take revenge. That's easy to say and harder to do, spirituality also involves supporting each other with ideas about how to accomplish such important mitzvot and many more. (That's why we created our Mitzvah Cards, written through the lens of spirituality and meaning for living. Not "shoulds" rather "hows". :)
    How can a teacher or youth group leader guide young people if they never have time for one-to-one meetings to listen to students and come to know them as individuals? Relationships with teachers can save lives!
    How can students, parents, teachers listen to each other and for the voice of what is "holy" in a situation if they haven't been taught active listening-- the spirituality of being in "shema consciousness" with each other?
    How can families bond when b'nei mitzvah party decibels consistently exceed public health standards, breaking the mitzvah of shmirat haguf? What is really the spiritual approach to this seudah shel mitzvah (meal in honor of the mitzvah)?
    Reb Nachman taught that Jewish dance would help lift a person from depression. Depression is rampant among our youth, how will we approach this?
    To feel invisible, to have one's talents irrelevant to being in a Jewish setting leads to disengagement,  how can we raise spirits through honoring and involving the students' talents and interests?
    How can students spend all day in school and then be indoors or at someone's home for religious school, when time out in nature is where even the Rambam taught ahavat HaShem best comes and flows?
    Whats a meta-phor? Cows. How can we help our teachers and mentors to themselves see beyond the peshat, the simple meaning of texts and prayers into the metaphors to allow our students to feel spiritually nourished through traditional forms?
     These are first thoughts. What are yours?