Coming of Age Ceremonies

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Coming of Age ritual (in place of bat mitzvah)

June 2011

We have decided that a traditional bat-mitzvah is not for us (or our daughter) but would like to do something to honor her at a time when her friends are ''coming of age.''

I have a vague idea of wanting to expose my kid to various forms of spirituality and wisdom, and to the lives of notable menches so that if and when she develops a curiosity of her own, she will have a frame of reference.

I am curious to know what others have done, and whether there are groups designed for kids/girls like mine. jessica

On my thirteenth birthday, instead of a Bat-Mitzvah, me, my mom, my best friend, and her mom (my mom's best friend) went down to the river and had a special ceremony for my coming of age. We mikvahed and they gave me blessings... and it was very casual and comfortable, and most of all, meaningful. I know that experience will stay with me forever and inspire my spiritual life and my Jewish identity. Hope this helps! -Jewish Mama

I've heard of the Stepping Stones project which has a structured Coming of Age process for pre-teens/ young teens:

A couple of books: ''Circle Round'' by Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill has material about youth rites of passage. ''Deeply Into the Bone: Re-inventing Rites of Passage'' by Ronald Grimes gives some cross-cultural comparison.

Some ideas that come to mind for me: If you have a friend who is a spiritual type, grounded, and trustworthy, you could ask them to be a mentor to your daughter during this process and to help you design a coming of age ritual for your daughter. Teens often appreciate having a non-parental adult involved in the process. Your daughter herself should be part of the process too - you could ask her what she feels are the important elements of coming of age. Could she come up with a special project to do, culminating in a ritual? For example, depending on what you and she feel is important, the special project could be: learning about different religious traditions and attending some ceremonies of different religions; or interviewing family and friends about their heroes and who has inspired them; or doing research on a particular historical ''mensch'' who inspires her. Culmination could be a ritual with close family and friends in which she could share some of what she's been learning and also have a transitional ritual honoring and celebrating her change into a young woman.

Identify what will change about her relationship to you/ her place in the family. What special privileges and/or responsibilities will she have now she is being identified as a young woman? Make this really explicit and clear so that she really experiences things as being different after the ritual. Wishing you well on this journey

We just had a meeting about our Coming of Age program at Northbrae Church in Berkeley. We're a non-denominational church, where many traditions are honored and brought to the fore in our services and in our architecture. We have a tradition of looking to people we call Torchbearers, those who are leaders in religions, thought, and service to humanity. Torchbearers in our stained glass windows include Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Emerson, Abraham Lincoln, Dorthy Day, Ghandi, Einstein, and many others.

This year, we have revived and refined our tradition of the Coming of Age program. The program lasts at least one year (there's a sort of warm up year if you start early enough), and includes monthly meetings for the kids to learn about and discuss ten values: Scriptural Literacy (Torah, New Test., Tao de Ching and others); Values Clarification; Peer Fellowship; Inter-religious Exposure; Torchbearer Concept; Inter-generational Engagement; Sensitivity to Social Concerns; Music; Experiences of Awe, Mystery, Wonder; and Leadership Opportunities.

You do not have to be a member of Northbrae to have your kids participate, but you do need to commit to the process.

There are some wonderful kids at Northbrae, and we were thrilled to see our first class of teens deepen their spirituality, integrity, and confidence through their Coming of Age year. I urge you to call Dianne, the Church Administrator, for more information. 526-3805 Carolyn West, Northbrae Storyteller

Unitarian Universalist congregations conduct a year-long program called ''Coming of Age'', in which 7-8 graders develop statements of their personal theologies and faith (or non-theologies and non-faith, as the case may be) that are shared with the congregation at the end of the program in a worship service. The program helps the participants explore their beliefs, connect with elders in the congregation, and conducts weekend retreats for community building, spiritual exploration, and personal growth.

Here are some on-line resources that might be useful in helping you design something of your own for your daughter. Good luck and Mazel Tov! UU Dad

Since a Bat Mitzvah is a pretty recent construct, there really is no such thing as a ''traditional'' one. In any case, the major objective of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is to mark a young person's entry into a religious community, with rights and obligations. So, if you and your daughter don't share that objective, it probably isn't the right template to follow.

It's wonderful that you want to mark your child's development in some way and that you aren't hung up on the party, as so many seem to be. As evidence of that, google ''faux mitzvah'' and prepare to be aghast. The truth is that a bar or bat mitzvah spends a tremendous amount of time studying, not just for that day, but for every day that will follow. They have to learn a significant number of prayers in a foreign language, and in many communities, two different musical ''systems.'' They also have to write a thoughtful piece of literary criticism (in effect) and deliver it as a public speech. Many children also choose to do a ''bar/bat mitzvah social action project'' -- raising funds or volunteering in some capacity that is meaningful to them. And quite a few also spend time with seniors (Holocaust survivors) learning about their lives and experience. All of this while doing school work, sports, music, and cleaning their rooms. It's a huge accomplishment, and there's a lot of support from the community along the way.

Since you're going it alone and not entering into a community, maybe your daughter would want to take the ''social action'' piece of what I described and do that on a larger scale. So, let's say that a bat mitzvah kid chose, in addition to everything else, to volunteer in a soup kitchen. Your daughter could do that AND work at the Food Bank AND train for a kids triathalon while lining up sponsors to donate to some charity you like for every mile she logs. What I'm saying, in effect, is that you could expend the same effort, but direct it differently. Then, if you also decide to have a party, she could give a talk about the projects she undertook and why, and what she learned about other people and herself in the process. It wouldn't be a Jewish ritual and you shouldn't call it a Bat Mitzvah (which is to a community as a fish is to water), but it could be very meaningful for her and your family. Good luck! Eric

You should contact Jewish Milestones. This is exactly what they do. Call or email them. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience helping people with all of life's rituals. Andrea

Coming of age ceremony for son turning 13

Feb 2011

My son will be turning 13 later this year. He has been invited to two bar mitzvahs. It had me thinking... about us not being Jewish and not having a spiritual, cultural, tradition rooted in history and community to acknowledge this passing... and how sad that is. I'm wondering if other parents have created their own coming of age ceremonies and would be willing to share their experiences or ideas for this. We have about 8 months and I like the idea of preparing him for something special...not the usual pizza party... I'd love to hear from other parents. K.

Im SO glad you brought this up! Rituals make us feel whole and supported and I too have had some deep feelings of grief over not having similar traditions being a boring Dutch Presbyterian. Julie Batz may be able to help you with some ideas. She is an incredibly progressive ritual planner, and though I have only worked with her on Bats and Bars, after watching her empowering work, I told her that I felt left out and she told me there was no reason at all that I couldnt do a ''coming of Age''. Reenie

When my son and daughter became bar/bat mitzvot, some of our non-Jewish friends were wondering the same thing. This ritual has a strong religious component, but other factors go into it. For example, kids spend many hours in Hebrew school, learning their portion, writing a teaching, etc. They often do this at the expense of other, more fun activities, and this aspect is also important. Does your son play an instrument and will he have a recital or solo? This event could be celebrated as a coming of age, especially if he devoted many hours to practice. I encourage you to look at the growing up part of the ritual as much as the party by celebrating an accomplishment for which he has worked hard. Giving up free time toward achieving a greater goal is part of the transition into adulthood. Bar/bat mitzvah mom

It's great to hear that you are looking to create something special like this for your son. I highly recommend the book ''From Boys to Men -- Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age'' by Bret Stephenson, and ''Boy's Passage Man's Journey'' by Brian Molitor. This will give you plenty of ideas. My son only just turned 11, but I am already exploring aspects of a customized rite of passage for him, which includes starting now with intentional mentoring by men within, or close to, our family. For more support, join the ''Bay Area Teen Rites of Passage'' Meetup group, which has its first event on February 27th. Anushka

We too are a family who does not participate as members of a religious institution, yet we too believe in the value of traditions and rituals. However, neither from my husband's nor my side of the family is there a tradition or ritual for coming of age. Nevertheless, to recognize the significance of the life passage, I did help my daughter to celebrate her coming of age, as follows:
- It had been agreed for years in advance, amongst the immediate family, that she could have her ears pierced once she had her first period. Much fanfare was made of the piercing event, including relaying stories of how her aunts and grandmothers came to have their ears pierced, in the context of maturing into womanhood. For our daughter, the new pair of earrings will remain the symbol of a life passage.
- Accompanying were the private mother-daughter talks about what entering womanhood means.
-Final celebration, still within the immediate family,and including the menfolk, was a tea at the Ritz Carlton in honor of our daughter having entered womanhood.

This all was very simple, yet out of the ordinary for the family. It will be our daughter's choice as to whether or not she will carry forward 'the tradition' if/when she has a daughter coming of age. high on celebrating coming of age

Green Gulch Farm (in Marin) which is part of San Francisco Zen Center has a program for kids coming of age. It's supposed to be wonderful. I would contact GGF or SFZC and ask about the children's program. Probably call GGF first, might need to leave a message. Good luck! atmnsky

Customs for a young man coming into manhood

Sept 1999

My uncle is wanting to find what different customs there are in different countries for a young man coming into manhood as my cousin is turning 13 in a few weeks. Any recommendations or tips regarding this would be appreciated! Tamara

Re: Coming of age practices in different countries. The classic book on this is by Van Gennup (sp?), called Rites of Passage. A warning that the customs in many places involve the sexual initiation of the boy/man. This may not be quite what your uncle had in mind. Dianna

We bought a book a few years back that discusses such rituals (among others). It's called The Circle of Life: Rituals from the Human Family Album, edited by David Cohen, copyright 1991 by Cohen Publishers Inc, printed by Toppan Printing Co., Ltd. ISBN 0-06-250152-6. We thought it was a GREAT book.

After I recommended the book, The Circle of Life: Rituals from the Human Family Album, I paged through it again. It had been some years since I had looked at it. I realized that some of the pictures were quite graphic. By this I mean that they show pictures of some rituals that we in our culture might find shocking, not that there are explicit body parts shown. There is a picture, for instance, of a teen undergoing the ritual of female circumcision. No explicit view of her genitals, but a VERY clear view of the expression on her face. I still think it is a great book. But I would consider it more of an anthropological piece, rather than as something to hand over to a teen unsupervised. Dawn