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Listen To Your Children

06/07/2022 12:37:11 PM


Rabbi Brad Levenberg

There are times when the choices of others challenge us to live our values. I had one such experience when, in January of 2021, my wife, Rebecca, and I had a sit-down conversation with our son, Evan, about his Bar Mitzvah ceremony which would take place in 2022. Evan, who we know is rather shy and reserved, abhors being the center of attention while at the same time relishes his Judaism and the rituals of Jewish living. Rebecca and I crafted a series of options for Evan and presented those options to him – 13, in fact! – to identify his choice about what this moment for him would look like and how it would begin to take shape.

I’ll admit that I had hoped he would choose to follow in the footsteps of his sister and become a Bar Mitzvah here at Sinai (Option #1). I imagined doing what we did for her and inviting our entire Sinai community to attend, especially as you have heard so much about Evan over these years and have seen him grow up as a part of this remarkable congregation. But Evan is not Ilana, and while Evan loves me, he is not me, and he shared that the idea of standing up in front of hundreds of people was rather terrifying for him. He chose Option #13 and, this past weekend, we gathered with 36 of our closest friends and family members as he became a Bar Mitzvah on the Disney Cruise ship the Dream.

I know why he chose the Dream as it is certainly a location that is familiar to him. I’ve been the rabbi on the Disney Cruise Line for 14 cruises, leading either a Passover Seder or the Hanukkah candle lighting (thanks, Rabbi Ron!). Evan loves the traditions we have as a family on the cruise- we are free from the distractions of work and school and we can be our best selves to and with each other. While our own obligations may see us gathering as a family for one dinner a week at home, on the cruise, we eat dinner together every night. While work and social schedules may occupy precious hours each day, on the cruise, we play games together as a family every day. We smile, we laugh, we take time for the long conversations and create lasting jokes at each other’s expense. Of course he would choose that space, which has been sacred time for him, for this sacred Jewish experience.

I was a bit torn, though. For me, I had to come to terms with his ceremony looking different than I had always imagined. I needed to mourn that he would not have the memory of becoming a Bar Mitzvah in front of our Ark, in our sanctuary, using our 40th Anniversary Torah scroll that his dad and his mom and even his older sister had helped to write just two years into our tenure here. And I can admit it: I was concerned with how our congregants would feel that we had chosen a Jewish moment that would not include them as we have been included in so many Jewish moments of yours over the years.

I was experiencing a dilemma with two conflicting values: the value of becoming a Bar Mitzvah in a congregational setting, which is so incredibly important, and the value of listening to my kid and doing what was best for him, which is also incredibly important. So, yes, I struggled, surprisingly longer than I feel I should have. And that doesn’t feel so great. But when I stopped thinking that it was about me and started viewing the experience through the eyes and mind and heart of Evan… well, there was really no struggle at all.

I am so proud of Evan, who, with shaky voice and even shakier hands, navigated the service on the Dream with skill. And I now appreciate the struggle with expectation and history and precedent that some of our families have around the Bar or Bat Mitzvah service for their children when they choose a non-traditional location for the ceremony. And, while I couldn’t have imagined this series of events as 10-year-old Evan got his October 2022 date to become a Bar Mitzvah at Sinai, being the father of 13-year-old Evan… I can not imagine anything other than this series of events.

Thank you, Evan, for teaching me to abide by one of the greatest Jewish values that I so often preach: to listen to our children, and, as parents, work to create successful moments that will become positive Jewish memories.

Wishing all the gift of a Shabbat filled with Shalom,


Sat, December 10 2022 16 Kislev 5783