We plan and prepare and build up to this momentous occasion of a bar mitzvah. My son, age 13, stands before family and community, reads the Torah, shows that he is perfectly capable of standing as an adult with all the requisite responsibilities of his religious community.
And then…it’s over. Done. For the rest of your life.
I am going to argue that we should each have a bar mitzvah every 13 years.
The first one, at age 13: I’ve seen my son go through so many changes in the last year, physical, emotional and spiritual.
He is certainly becoming his own man, figuring out what matters to him, what he believes, who he wants to be, which makes it a perfect time to face his faith and accept it full-on, as an independent being separate from parents. So 13 makes sense.
But shouldn’t we, throughout our lives, reckon with our beliefs and take stock periodically? Wouldn’t it be a great exercise to stop and focus on what matters and how we want to live at intervals?
So fast forward to 26…
At 26, I had finished college, lived in New York City and Washington, D.C., written for national magazines and newspapers and completed a master’s degree in writing. I was at another crossroads personally, figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be.
I was heading toward that point where I wanted to get married and start a family, just not yet sure who with or where. I had traveled to Europe and to Israel, I had tried new things and made new friends. I was fully responsible financially for my entire life.
And for me, around 26 was when I started wondering how religious I wanted to be in Judaism, as well. I attended various programs for singles and in synagogues, wondering where I fit best, what traditions held meaning for me.
I had already made the decision to end the relationship with a college boyfriend of a different faith. I was coming into my own, coming of another age.
Fast forward to 39, suggested bat mitzvah #3…
By then, I had been married and divorced and given birth to three children. Not everyone follows the same path so many are still married at that moment but facing another kind of coming-of-age, one that almost certainly happens before entering the 40s.
For me, I had already married the wrong person and now had three small children dependent on me for direction and love. Plus, as I faced 40, I had a real reckoning, realizing that my life might be almost at the halfway point, and wondering if the way I was living made any difference at all to the world around me.
After my marriage ended, I finally figured out how I want to live my faith. It took until the late 30s for me to have the confidence and courage to say this is who I am, and it’s ok if I don’t fit exactly into any one community. I am me in all my glory and I love who I am.
My father says that his 40s were his most productive decade, and I’d have to agree. My 40s are when I have felt most alive, independent and excited. My kids are old enough to be slightly independent, and I can focus on my interests and goals. And my kids are old enough to do really fun things together, so life is ever richer.
The 20s are about building your life, the 30s are in the trenches, the 40s are when you can really enjoy all your hard work.
I devoted my year of being 40 to doing 40 different things that made the world better. I took seriously this question of what is my life about and how can I maximize my contribution to the world.
I haven’t been to 52 yet, but I can only imagine that it’s another turning point of significance, so perhaps that would be the final mitzvah. A time to reap the rewards of hard work and saving and investing, of sending children off on their own and being able to reignite your relationship with your partner.
But maybe we’d take it further, throughout our lives. 65, 78, 91
Isn’t every milestone, every age, every turning point worth noting and celebrating?
With a bar or bat mitzvah, we take the time to encourage and celebrate this coming-of-age, this independence, this reckoning with who we are and who we want to be.
But I argue that every age should present an equal opportunity for this self-reflection. For we never quite get it right. We are always changing, growing, evolving, and that is worth celebrating at every age.
And as we make missteps and redirect, it’s also a good thing to know that others still value us, think we’re cool, that we’re not total idiots. A celebration like this honors who you are right now, at this moment, and shows you the love that keeps your going. We are never too old for that.
A final argument in favor of my theory is that, should we grow complacent, these periodic mitzvahs would prompt us to reawaken, to assert ourselves, to remember who we are amid the flow of community and peers. Never a bad thing.
This weekend: congratulations, mazal tov, to my amazing son Asher. May this be the beginning of your journey of reckoning with your Self, not an ending.