I can count the number of JOC peers I had growing up on one hand. Despite the lack of diversity in my synagogue and youth groups, I still loved Jewish learning and being actively involved in the community. And, at the same time, I often felt different than my peers and wished I had other kids who looked like me with whom to connect.
Many years later, as an ordained rabbi, I am excited to be co-leading Be’chol Lashon’s new JOC B’ Mitzvah program. This program convenes a cohort of teenage Jews of Color, age 12-14yrs, from across the country, and creates a virtual space where they can connect. The cohort’s weekly meetings offer a chance for the teens to expand their JOC social networks and approach their B’ Mitzvah through an intentionally intersectional lens.
What’s a B’Mitzvah? Most Jewish institutions use the gendered terms Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah for a 12/13 year-old coming of age in their Jewish community. B’Mitzvah is a non-gendered and more inclusive phrasing. We have chosen the term “B’ Mitzvah” because our cohort welcomes tweens/teens of all genders and no gender.
So where does the JOC fit in? Lior Ben-Hur and I will co-lead JOC B’Mitzvah. Lior is a JOC musician and expert in global Jewish music, and I am a JOC and Reform Rabbi. We each bring extensive experience teaching in JOC spaces and helping people explore diversity within Jewish identity.
Our cohort learning focuses on studying Torah through a racially conscious lens. We emphasize discussing participants’ relationships to Judaism, and how their many intersecting identities (race, gender, etc.) impact their Jewish experiences. We explore the rich diversity of global Jewish music. This music not only enhances our own experiences of Judaism but also helps us understand how diverse and vibrant the Jewish world is.
I am particularly excited about getting our teens to talk about their experiences with race, Judaism, and their other identities. My hope is that they will find others in the cohort who share similar experiences and who will help them feel more connected/seen than they may feel in other Jewish spaces. I want each participant to figure out what becoming a B’Mitzvah means to them, and what role they think Judaism will play in their lives.
As the participants study together virtually, they are also working toward a collective JOC B’Mitzvah celebration at Camp Be’chol Lashon this summer. People will join us at camp or virtually. As a group, they will help lead a Shabbat service, chant/read Torah, and have the opportunity to express what they have learned creatively.
One exciting thing about JOC B’ Mitzvah is that teens can participate whether or not this is their sole B’Mitzvah experience. For some of our participants, our cohort will be the entirety of their B’Mitzvah experience. For others, this will be a supplement to the other B’Mitzvah study and celebration they will/have had in their synagogue communities. Either way, being part of the first-ever JOC B’ Mitzvah cohort will be a once in a lifetime experience!
For more information and to apply, check out the link below: