If you are like me then when you heard that Netflix was releasing a movie about the rites, rituals, and stresses of having a bat mitzvah, you marked your calendar for binge watching! This year’s You Are So NOT Invited to My Bat Mitzvah joins the short list of Jewish coming-of-age films: Keeping the Faith, A Serious Man, A Little White Lie, Keeping up with the Steins. Did I mention it was a short list. Although each one in its own way continues to address what it means to be entering adulthood within Jewish faith as well as society, this movie raises the bar.
So, what exactly sets this movie apart? Let’s start with the presentation of tweens in 2023. Its portrayal was spot on. Tweens are flawed, capable of cruelty, extremely busy, grappling with social and spiritual pressures, and still committed to being Jewish. The fact that the movie framed all of this in a context where it is normal and not the outlier was extra powerful. Giving Judaism a mainstream platform is, for most who feel outside of the norm, a huge comfort. All this would have been enough to make it a good movie, but what really made the movie spectacular was that the emphasis of the bat mitzvah was the mitzvah project and not just the party.
Why is this so important? For years the struggle around b’nai mitzvah education is that the moment should not be seen as a culmination but a launching pad. It is impossible to think that someone can become a “full-fledged” Jewish adult at 13 and then never have to put time, energy, or thought into their identity again. It has been the goal of educational systems to find a way in which this milestone becomes meaningful, relevant, and impactful. It might be a surprise, but teens actually care about the world. The values of social action and tikkun olam (repairing the world) are found frequently in Youth Serving Organizations. In fact, one of the 14 outcomes that the GenNow study showed us about teens thriving is that “Jewish teens seek to be is inspired and empowered to make a positive difference in the various communities and world in which they live.”
In a world where there is an abundance of choice matched with the desire to have authentic learning experiences, Federation has found a way to meet the needs of tweens today. Mitzvot of Greater MetroWest serves as both a platform and a service to help your family find a mitzvah project that best fits your child’s interests, skills, and time available. For those unsure of where they want to make an impact, you can scroll through the dozens of volunteer opportunities to see which speaks to you. Whether you’re looking for a specific type of commitment, location, or to support a cause you’re passionate about, there’s something for everyone.
The b’nai mitzvah is not the end of the journey. Your new adult can continue to make a difference in our community. Federation offers service opportunities for teens in grades 6 to 12 seasonally throughout the year. These one-time volunteer projects are perfect opportunities to continue helping our community by serving various populations including the elderly, housing insecure, underprivileged, differently abled, Holocaust survivors, and those in need through a variety of projects.
I welcome anyone who is interested in discussing mitzvah projects or how to make a meaningful experience out of a b’nai mitzvah to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of our partners, Moving Traditions, works with families, synagogues, and educators on resources for tweens and specifically B-mitzvah (term for all encompassing mitzvah ceremonies). In a recent webinar Rabbi Daniel Brenner sat down to talk with Alison Peck, the film’s writer, to discuss the movie and its themes. To watch the recording click here.