Maybe because I'm anticipating (and preparing for) a family celebration of bar mitzvah this spring, I've been on the look-out for poems and prayers for that lifecycle moment. At the OHALAH conference, I picked up a display copy of a new siddur which one of my colleagues had brought to show off. The siddur was Siddur Sha'ar Zahav, a new prayerbook created by Sha'ar Zahav, an LGBTQ Jewish community in San Francisco. And I happened to open it to a page which contained two poems / prayers for b'nei mitzvah, exactly the kind of thing I'd been looking for.
I liked the readings so much that I got online and ordered myself a copy of the siddur right then and there. And here they are:
To A Bar / Bat Mitzvah
I want to tell you a secret, kid.
Although we say today you are an adult,
because the calendar page has turned,
because your age now has two digits,
because you have studied and prayed
and read and written and worried and hoped
to prepare for this, your big day,
your childhood will continue forever in you,
its questions, fears, wonders, dreams, magic.
Though you take on the stature of adulthood,
its responsibilities, powers, doubts, alleged wisdom,
you will always be a child deep inside,
wandering, seeking, finding, losing, finding, loving.- Rita Losch
Remembering the Bar / Bat Mitzvah Problem
Today I am a man.
Today I am a woman.
Today I am mortified.
Bad enough to be growing into this body, but a public celebration of the fact?
Maybe all b'nei mitzvah struggle with identity, rules, clothes, traditions, expectations.
But can anyone see who I am, hidden by make-up, or by a crew cut and tie?
Years and years later, I can say:
Today I am who I am.
Surely Adonai understands that.
- Ray Bernstein
I suspect that the second reading would speak more to the adults in attendance (who remember the slings and arrows of adolescence, as it were) than to the b'nei mitzvah kid. But it really moves me. And I can imagine parents, or an adult in the family, reading the first one aloud as part of the service, or as part of a toast at the kiddush afterwards, or something along those lines.
If (like me) you collect siddurim, this one is really worth owning. It's a beautiful object, a beautiful book, satisfying to hold. It's well-designed and very readable. It treads a nice balance between traditional and innovative. And in addition to fine renderings of all of the prayers one would expect from any good siddur, it also contains prayers and liturgies which aren't in the average Jewish prayerbook -- blessings for discovering one's sexual orientation, prayers for Transgender Day of Remembrance, and so on. The book isn't cheap, but it's well worth the price. I know I'll be turning and returning to it often.