In 1801, in Seesen Germany, Israel Jacobson (A.K.A. the “father of Reform Judaism”) started a radical new school. This school would teach Jewish subjects as well as arithmetic and science all in the German language (as opposed to Yiddish). But the most radical idea of all was that both boys and girls would be taught there together in the same classes. The natural outgrowth of a commitment to an educational equality of the sexes was an equality of ceremony as well. Only a few years later, Jewish reformers in Berlin argued, that “since young women were being educated with the young men, they should be confirmed with them as well. They should formally be welcomed as worshipers and leaders in the synagogue ritual. A class composed of girls and boys was confirmed in Berlin in 1817. This innovation made such sense that in the following year, girls were confirmed with boys in the Hamburg congregation too.” (Eugene Borowitz, “Explaining Reform Judaism” p.9) Since that time, Confirmation of a community’s 10th graders has been the norm in Reform congregations. For many decades it replaced Bar Mitzvah completely, and only in the last 50 years or so has Bar Mitzvah returned of course with an equal celebration of Bat Mitzvah in Reform congregations.
Here at Congregation Kol Ami, we have a wonderful tradition of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, obviously a strong tradition of equality of the sexes, but we have never before had Confirmation. In the past, we have had 10th grade students, but it’s been one or two at a time. This year we have 5 10th graders, (we are missing only two from their original Bar/Bat Mitzvah class) and that looks like a confirmation class to me! When I began to speak to our KAST kids about holding a Confirmation ceremony this year, our older kids started to mourn the fact that they had missed out on this life cycle moment, so I opened the ceremony up to them as well.
Jewish confirmation usually takes place during Shavuot. This holiday celebrates the moment the Israelites received the Torah. It was the moment of commitment from God to the Jewish people and the Jewish people to God, and confirmation is the commitment from our students of their intention to live their lives as Jews and as a part of the Jewish community as well as the community’s commitment to our students, to always be there to support their Jewish lives. This year our 10th-12th graders will lead Shavuot morning worship, read Torah and Haftarah, and speak a little about what such a commitment might mean. I hope that many many of you will join us for this important and momentous occasion in the life of our congregation. We will celebrate the ongoing studies and commitment of our students and our community Sunday morning, May 27th at 10:00 at the Learning Center. Everyone is invited!