Bar and bat mitzvahs mark milestones for Jewish children, but for their families, stressful celebration planning can outweigh the joy. Burghardt’s commonsense guide to the preparation, service and party should ease the process. She wisely notes the potential “transformative power” of the bar/bat mitzvah as a doorway to self-esteem and a “lightning rod for Jewish identity” that “stirs up questions about basic goals as a Jewish family.” Burghardt explains the historical roots of the ceremony and guides beginners through the Shabbat morning service. She also discusses choosing a synagogue, enhancing the service, setting timetables for study, doing mitzvah projects and planning Israel trips. She doesn’t neglect the details either, even including instructions for making the bags of candy showered on the child during the service. A complete party-planning section covers everything from schedule and budget to deciding on a caterer, music and seating. Readers might overlook some minor errors, like the wrong plural suffix for prayer shawls, but in Burghardt’s attempt to be inclusive, she makes generalizations that are harder to ignore: “Any Jewish adult may chant the blessings [before and after the Torah reading],” she declares, without considering non-egalitarian synagogues that might exclude women. In a discussion of how to involve non-Jewish family members, she states that non-Jewish parents “should be” allowed certain synagogue honors without acknowledging the struggle in many synagogues on that very issue. Still, if families follow Burghardt’s advice on finding and creating meaning, they will probably come “face-to-face-or faith-to-faith-with [their] beliefs in an entirely new way.” (View image)
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