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Photo by Elia Pellegrini on Unsplash

Following the 12-week course of The Artist Way, I’ve been thinking about my spirituality. One lens through which I was thinking about it is my Judaism. For some reason (I know, nothing is random), quite a few plays I saw in the last month or so made me think about it. Add to that the fact that the boy living in this house is nearly 13, a significant age in Judaism, and you get me posting cryptic prompts of a Friday, trying to grapple with this hefty subject.

I thought that the words ‘spiritual’ and ‘ritual’ must come from the same root, being such similar words. I was wrong. Ritual comes from the word rite, from the root “to reason”, meaning “to observe carefully”. The word spiritual comes, of course, from the word spirit, which comes from the root *(s)peis-, meaning to blow or breathe. The ritual of a Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish rite-of-passage, is one in which you become an adult. In a sense, you are becoming accountable to God, but it also marks the point when you can commune with God or take the divine spirit into you. That, at least, is my interpretation.

In the community I grew up in, we had a Bar Mitzvah year. All children in Year 7 (the year we turned 13) participated in various activities that symbolised them being “adults”. Of course, no one in modern Israel expects 13-year-olds to be adults, but I remember taking it quite seriously. The activities included things like: navigation hikes; a 100-km, 2-day bike ride; a project to improve the village we live in (I think we painted a sign for the entrance); a production that saw us participating in writing, set construction, and performing a play about who we are (I know); and a semi-religious ceremony in Masadah, one of the oldest heritage sites in Israel.

If we were living in Israel or, apparently, in any Jewish neighbourhood in London, we probably would have had to do something to celebrate this milestone. Luckily, we have the privilege of choosing which ritual we’d like to keep. I feel 13 is much too young to start talking about kids entering society. In Israel, where only five short years later these children would be drafted into the army, 13 isn’t too young. But one advantage of being an immigrant in our particular situation is that we managed to buy the kids a few more years of childhood.

Don’t get me wrong. I think this ritual is essential and, on the whole, positive. I think we should talk to the kids about starting to become a part of the community. But I also think that not all kids are ready, when they are 13 years old, to shoulder the burden and the responsibility of their ancestors’ traditions. Specifically, the children of this household can come to grips with their Jewish heritage when they’re good and ready. I’m going to let them grow up at their own pace. I’m confident that, when they’re ready, they’d want to be contributing members of their community, however they choose to define community.


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