A Mitzvah For Louis

A Mitzvah For Louis

By Carla Branch

Welcome to Louis’s Bar Mitzvah weekend

Louis Barnett, that is, 13 years old. On Dec. 7, he celebrated his bar mitzvah, that rite of passage expected of all Jewish children.

It’s a Jewish celebration, unique to the culture, said Jack Moline, rabbi at Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria. But it’s not a unique concept.

“In every society there is a line of demarcation where a child becomes an adult. In American society, for driving a car, that age is 16; or voting, it’s 18 and for drinking, it’s 21. In Jewish culture, it’s 13 years old for a boy and 12 years and a day for girls,” Moline said. “This is a recognition that boys and girls mature at different rates.

A bar mitzvah, or a bat mitzvah for a girl, is a graduation from basic education about Judaism to full-fledged responsibility for learning about and taking part in Jewish culture, he said. “When a Jewish child becomes an adult, they become obligated to perform the rituals and uphold the moral code that are the essence of being Jewish.”

The custom of celebrating the Bar or Bat Mitzvah began in the Middle Ages. Before that, the rite of passage was celebrated as a group, like graduation from high school. Americans have taken the celebration a step further.

Pomp and circumstance attendant on some modern-day bar mitzvahs is not a necessity, Moline said. “There is no requirement for any ceremony. The only requirement in the Jewish tradition is to reach the age of 13 or 12 and one day. It’s automatic. You don’t have to go through the service or the training. The obligations are yours when you hit that magic number.”

PLANNING BEGAN for Barnett’s bar mitzvah more than a year ago, said his mother Janet Barnett, and the family actually set the December date with the synagogue in June.

“There was a lot to do,” Janet said. “We wanted everything to be right for Louis and for our family. The religious part of it was, of course, the most important consideration but we wanted Louis to be involved in making decisions about everything.”

Louis Barnett attended Jewish Day School until this year, and took 13 weeks of training especially for his bar mitzvah.

“It was a lot of work,” he said, “but it was important. I got to decide what parts of the ceremony I wanted to do and I got to decide about who I wanted to invite. I really was involved in most of the decisions.”

Celebrations began on Friday, Dec. 6, during the synagogue’s weekly services. After

The celebration began on Friday, Dec. 6, with the regular weekly service. After the service, Janet Barnett’s brother sponsored a reception for the congregation.

On Saturday, Dec. 7, at 9:30 a.m. Barnett’s friends and family joined him at the Shabbat service. “It’s a regular service,” Moline said. “The only difference is that the young person and member of his or her family are given parts in the service.” Barnett carried and read from the Torah.

Agudas Achim is very important to the entire Barnett family, they wrote in the special program for Louis’s bar mitzvah service, given to the 450 people who attended.

“We attend Shabbat services here, we celebrate Jewish holidays here, we have formed many lifelong friendships here. Louis’s Bar Mitzvah is a continuation of our family’s connection to this special place. Today, Barnett will be called to the Torah for the first time, thus assuming the religious obligations of a Jewish adult. This is the essence of the Bar Mitzvah.”

A 13-year-old’s friends are often other 13-year-olds, and there was concern about how well hundreds of adolescents would last through the Shabbat service. “Our service lasts for three hours so we were kind of concerned about whether the kids would be able to sit still through it all,” Janet said. “There were many of Barnett’s friends from George Washington Middle School who had never been in a synagogue. They were wonderful.”

AFTER THE SERVICE, everyone attended a Kiddush Luncheon catered by Artistry Catering, which specializes in kosher food. Guests at the luncheon were treated to challah, salmon strudel, tortellini alfredo with peppers, Caesar salad, green orange and almond salad, bread sticks, fresh fruit, chocolate chip cookies, almond crescent cookies, black-and-white cookies and beverages.

“Because we had the luncheon at Agudas, we had to use a kosher caterer,” Janet said. “I keep kosher at home anyway and really wanted to make sure that the entire weekend was in keeping with Jewish cultural traditions.”

On Sunday afternoon, Louis Barnett invited 90 of his school and other friends to a party at the Hilton Mark Center, a party that included pizza, a sundae bar, games, a fortuneteller, a DJ and dancing. “This is Louis’s time,” said his father Ken Barnett. “It’s all about him. He wanted to do something just for his friends and this is it.”

“Everything went so well and we are so proud of Louis,” said Janet. “A lot of the little details were handled by Ann Moline. She was my coordinator and I will be her coordinator for her son’s Bar Mitzvah. She saw to a lot of small but very important details.”

That included finding small gift bags welcoming all out-of-town guests at their hotels, getting flowers for the synagogue restrooms, and handling the other small details that let the bar mitzvah weekend flow smoothly.

The cost of a bar mitzvah can range from $2,000 on the low end, to the high five figures, Moline said. “Some of them are quite elaborate,” he said. “It all depends on what the family wants.”

The Barnetts wanted Barnett’s Bar Mitzvah to be very special and Janet paid careful attention to every detail. “But it is the religious aspect that is the most important,” she said. “We always kept that in the front of our minds and hearts. After all, that is what it is all about.”