Template: Interfaith Coming of Age or B-Mitzvah

Families celebrating more than one religion can, and do, design interfaith coming of age celebrations for their children. These ceremonies sometimes start with, draw on, or incorporate the B-Mitzvah traditions in our heritage. Our Jewish and Christian interfaith family, along with beloved clergy, created ceremonies for each of our children (who are now 28 and 25). Over the years, I have often been asked for a coming of age ceremony template. And a reader asked again just this week. And so, I am finally posting a template!

The template below “leans Jewish” in that it includes the essence of a Shabbat Torah service, which is what many consider the essence of a B-Mitzvah. And, the whole idea of an individual coming of age, as opposed to a group confirmation, is a more Jewish than Christian tradition. Whether or not you want to include all these elements is up to your family. You can find a deeper discussion of the different choices my family made, and the choices available to you, in the Coming of Age chapter in my book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. There is also more of the backstory on our particular experience with our younger child, on my blog here, here, here, here and here.

For the sake of brevity, I did not include the actual prayers here, but they are widely available. I recommend including Hebrew, transliteration, AND gender-neutral English translation for every Hebrew prayer, as an educational tool, and to be most inclusive. The explanations of each prayer, important for a mixed multitude, can either be read by the reader, or simply included in the program for people to read on their own.

Interfaith Coming of Age and B-Mitzvah

Intro. Our programs started with a letter (which people can read to themselves while they wait for the ceremony to start) as an introduction from the parents. It explains the religious education and training that the young person has undergone, and thanks the various religious communities supporting them. It goes on to thank important mentors, clergy, and godparents.

Opening Song. Throughout the program, there are traditional Jewish songs for peace and Shabbat (Bim Bom, Lo Yisa Goy, Hine Mahtov, It is a Tree of Life). And, there are songs drawn from other sources (Morning Has Broken, All Things Bright and Beautiful, Let the Life I Lead, Peace Salaam Shalom).

Welcome from the clergy (in our case, both a rabbi and a minister spoke)

Opening Responsive Prayer (Led by the minister. Adapted by Susan Katz Miller from the Palo Alto interfaith families community)

Reader: We gather here as an interfaith community to celebrate the Coming of Age of (Name).

All: Some of us gather as the Children of Israel, some of us gather in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Our influences are many.

Reader: May (Name), and all of our children, be nourished by strong family roots, and may all the branches of our family trees thrive.

All:  May they grow in compassion for all peoples and cultures, seek to heal the earth, and strive for justice around the globe.

Reader: May they use their understanding of the many different pathways to become bridge-builders and peacemakers.

All:  And may we all go forward into the world, knowing in our hearts that deeper unity in which all are one.

Shehecheyanu (Rabbi)

The rabbi explains that this is a Jewish prayer giving thanks for reaching any new or important moment.

Introduce the Torah. The Torah is a continuous scroll consisting of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Each Torah is handwritten by a trained scribe, using a quill and vegetable ink on parchment.  The Hebrew calligraphy used to write these scrolls has been the same for more than 2,000 years.  The Torah we are using today belongs to Georgetown University, where Rabbi White is a chaplain and professor.

Please stand.                       

Barchu and Shema (led by the person coming of age)

The Shema is the central prayer of the Jewish faith. In it, Jews declare their belief in one God, who is the God of all people.

Please be seated.

V’Ahavta (led by the person coming of age)

In this central prayer, each generation passes knowledge of the law and of Jewish ritual to the next. This prayer is included on the parchment scroll inside a mezuzah, posted on the doorframe of many Jewish homes.

Aliyot. The rabbi explains that an Aliya (plural is Aliyot) is the honor of saying the blessing before and after part of the Torah reading. Leading this blessing is often considered the central act of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

Aliyot by parents, grandparents, any older siblings, and finally, the person coming of age.

Blessing before the Torah

Torah Reading. (In English or Hebrew. If it’s only in Hebrew, print the English in the program).

Blessing after the Torah

Reflection on the Torah portion (D’var Torah by the person coming of age)

Song

Reading from the New Testament (read by a Christian grandparent or mentor). It was our beloved rabbi who insisted we do a New Testament reading. (Read all about this twist in Being Both).

We Remember Them (Minister. Written by Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Riemer)

At this time we remember those who are gone but are here with us today in spirit, especially (name any grandparents or immediate family members or close mentors who have died).

Reader: At the rising of the sun and at its going down, we remember them.

All: At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.

Reader: At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.

All: At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of the summer, we remember them.

Reader: At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.

All: At the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.

Reader: As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

All: When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.

Reader: When we have joys we crave to share, we remember them.

All: When we have decisions that are difficult to make, we remember them.

Reader: When we have achievements that are based on theirs, we remember them.

All: As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

Mourner’s Kaddish (Rabbi)

The Kaddish (“Sanctification”) is written primarily in Aramaic, the language spoken by the Jews living in Babylonia and Palestine in the sixth century BCE, and the language later spoken by Jesus.  The Kaddish is traditionally recited for those who have died, yet there is no mention of death.  Instead, the prayer praises God and promises peace. For many, the rhythmic repetition of syllables serves as a chanting meditation. 

Song: Oseh Shalom 

“Universal Prayer,” an interpretation of The Lord’s Prayer, by Rev. Cora Partridge.

Please read together:

Great Spirit of goodness and justice, our friend. We know you by many names, and in many languages, and by the manifestations of your great works in the universe. We want your influence of goodness to develop on this earth. Please provide all of us with what we need each day. Forgive our sins to the extent that we forgive others. Give us strength to resist temptations and willful wrongdoing, and protect us from evil thoughts, opportunities, and misfortunes that beset humankind. You are the everlasting good. We thank you. Amen.

Remarks by Parents

Remarks by Godparent/Mentor

Song

Laying on of Hands. Clergy put their hands on the head of the person coming of age to bless them, and the whole community then connects to each other in a supportive physical web. For further explanation, see Being Both.

Parting Words (Responsive reading led by minister)

Will you be there for (Name) when they need you to listen? All: We will.

Will you model love for one another and for all peoples? All: We will.

Will you surround (Name) with joy, music, poetry and art? All: We will.

Will you help them work for peace, justice and a sustainable world? All: We will.

Then go now, remembering always the community that we have become today, a community that envelopes and surrounds and supports (Name) with our love.

At the reception:

Hebrew/English blessing over the Wine

Hebrew/English blessing over the Bread

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019).

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