As adults, we tend to rely on our elders for advice and knowledge. We know that with age comes wisdom, as people are the sum of their experiences. This isn’t always the case, but I’ve found that it’s true more often than not. It never ceases to amaze me when I encounter someone with wisdom far beyond their years, especially when that person is a young child or teenager. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by not one, but many young people this last weekend, and it reminded me why it’s important to let those voices be heard.
For those of you not familiar with a Bar Mitzvah, this is a Jewish rite of passage as one goes from being a boy to being considered an adult in the Jewish community. For a girl, it is known as a Bat Mitzvah, but it is the same transition as it is for males. Typically, they are 13 years old when this happens. For those going through this process, it can include a year’s worth of studying and preparation as many prayers are learned as well as blessings and passages in Hebrew.
The Bar or Bat Mitzvah leads the congregation during the service and gets to read from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The portion that they read and study is based on that week’s lesson, as the entire Torah is read during the Jewish year. There is a different lesson to be learned with each portion, so depending on when it will occur during the year will determine what is studied. It is a huge undertaking and even bigger celebration. I celebrated mine…way back when. To this day, I can still remember the passages I had chanted and prayers I had sung.
The one I attended last weekend was a bit different, as it was two young men going through it together. In this case, it is referred to a B’nai Mitzvah. They both took turns leading the service and doing their readings. Each was extremely poised and confident as they went along. I watched each of them and thought how at ease they both seemed as if they spoke and sang in front of large crowds regularly.
Despite the fact that they each studied the same Torah portion, their interpretation of how it related to their lives was as unique as they were. I listened as they spoke from their hearts. Their thoughts were quite profound, and I had to remind myself several times that these young men were only 13 years old. You could tell they’d spent time putting their thoughts into words. It made me realize that wisdom comes from all ages, and we should always open our ears and minds when speaking with others, both young and old.
A tradition following their speeches is for each Bar/Bat Mitzvah to have a private conversation with the rabbi (or rabbis in this case) followed by a blessing from him or her. As I watched the conversation unfold, I listened to the beautiful song being sung by several congregants. I could only see the interaction between the young men and their religious leaders, however I felt touched as I thought back to my own conversation with my rabbi, whom I still hold very dear. I could see the attentiveness with which each Bar Mitzvah showed throughout the discussion, and it was that – a discussion. Each young man took turns responding in unison and individually as they were addressed. I could tell they had something to say, and I knew they were being heard by each other as well as their elders. I sat thinking how I hope they remember this moment just as I have all these years later.
That evening, both families celebrated together with an incredibly fun party complete with a fantastic DJ who had us all dancing and participating in some hilarious games, a casino night complete with roulette, blackjack, and craps tables, a photo booth, cupcake & candy bar, and amazing food and drinks. This was the time for everyone to cut loose and celebrate all the hard work that finally paid off for these young men. This was the first time in a very long time that I had been surrounded by this many young adults and kids. It was so much fun to watch their interaction with family, friends, and even complete strangers. It was a very joy-filled night and one I’m sure we’ll remember for a very long time.
In this day and age, we all forget sometimes that our differences are a good thing. We even overlook a child’s thoughts and ideas simply because of their youth. Many of the most amazing, thought-provoking ideas have come to me from people in their early stages of life. Some have overcome things I hope never to have to experience, while others see things more clearly simply because the burdens of life have yet to influence their outlook on it. I encourage you to stop and take some time to listen, truly listen, to what others have to say. We can all lose our sense of wonder, but a reminder is always out there if we are open to receive it.