A groundbreaking new Duke of Edinburgh-style awards scheme aimed at broadening the experiences of bar and batmitzvah youngsters has been unveiled.
More than 100 rabbis were introduced to the programme, which will span three years in the build up to the coming of age ceremony, at the Chief Rabbi’s High Holy Days conference on Tuesday.
Developed by the Chief Rabbi in partnership with Tribe, it aims to ensure that the coming-of-age milestone extends beyond a single event in synagogue and a party to become “a real life cycle event that has a lasting impact on Jewish identity”.
Thousands of 12 and 13-year-olds will take part in components including volunteering inside or outside the community, engaging in Jewish learning and organising an activity at the community where the ceremony will take part – with points available for each segment.
Year seven pupils will need to collect enough points for the bronze award, with year eights aiming for silver and year nines going for gold.
“This won’t be one-size-fits all. People will be able to tailor the programme in consultation with their rabbi to make up the required points,” Tribe’s David Collins said. “That’s the beauty behind what we’re creating making sure that everyone is doing something and meeting key elements but we’re not going to be proscriptive.
“There will be minimum standards. But it’s about getting the right balance between minimum standards and allowing each person to maximise the things they are passionate about.”
He said communities with existing programmes will be able to incorporate them into the new awards scheme while it would create more of a level playing field across the United Synagogue.
A spokesman for Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “There are people for whom a barmitzvah is about a big party with friends. They’ll do the minimum amount on the Jewish side – hopefully this will tip the balance the other way. It will mean it’s a real life cycle event that has a real impact on Jewish identity. If there’s a party as well that’s nice but it’s not the focus.
“Instead of just turning up on the day to do your bit, you will be be turning up on the day having prepared to do your bit, you may have for example raised money for your named charity, learnt modern Hebrew to a certain level, created a chessed project, visited an old age home. What does becoming a Jewish adult actually mean? It means being responsible for all sorts of things and that’s we are are looking to encourage.”
The plans have been developed in by a consultation group including shul chairs, rabbis and rebbitizens, teachers from Jewish schools and bar and batmitzvah tutors. While Tribe will put forward some proposed components, rabbis will also be encouraged to come up with creative ideas which can then be shared across other communities.
It is also hoped to encourage wider family participation, with a component on researching family history part of the silver award.
Collins told rabbis that the bronze award would be rolled out over the “coming months” with special resources. There are also plans to recruit a project leader.