Bat Mitzvah: A Balancing Act
A few months back, I dragged my 12-year-old, Harry-Potter-enthusiast sister to go with me to see the new Disney princess movie Tangled (which retells the Rapunzel story). In one part of the film, Rapunzel has just escaped from the tower against her mother's wishes and is encountering the World, and her independence, for the first time. (Watch the clip here.) While her companion patiently waits for her to come to terms with her new-found freedom, Rapunzel goes from one extreme to the other, from excitement to shame and worry. As I watched, and as I watched my sister watch, I realized that this moment in the movie captures perfectly the tumult, terror, and thrill of the "bat-mitzvah-age" years. While I have my own, fairly predictable qualms about the way women are portrayed in the world of Disney, this was a moment when I thought to myself "Whoa, Disney. You hit the nail on the head this time."
To become astronauts, actors, politicians, novelists-these are the big dreams that tween girls carry with them. At the same time, girls revel in a connectedness to family, enjoying their favorite childhood games and books, and following their natural curiosity about the world. The seeming contradiction between the desire for independence and the need for security and familiarity makes the bat mitzvah a particularly complicated life-cycle event for people across the broad spectrum of the Jewish community.
Throw into the mix the diverse needs of Jewish families in America, the demands on girls' time, and the increasing emphasis on parties and appearance as part of the bat mitzvah celebration, and you've got yourself a balagan. The adults who guide young Jewish women through this process struggle to find a balance between making the bat mitzvah fun and relevant and leveraging the experience in order to anchor a girl's involvement in her Jewish community through the increasingly busy high school years and into adulthood.
It is in response to these challenges that JWA has developed and launched MyBatMitzvahStory.org -- a website where girls, families, educators, and clergy members will find resources the bat mitzvah personally relevant. Quizzes match girls to profiles of "Cool Jewish Women" who share their diverse interests and experiences. Interactive features like "My Journal" or the "My Future Life" profile encourage young women to consider who they might be when they grow up, and to concretize the dreams and aspirations that drive them. The Family History Tool Kit will help girls connect to older family and community members and begin to explore the similarities and differences between their own lives and the lives of their forbearers.
From now until Spring 2012, JWA will be piloting the website in the greater Boston area in order to study more closely how families and congregations use this resource, and how we can further improve the site. Throughout the next 9 months or so, we invite you to explore MyBatMitzvahStory.org and to share it with your friends and family. Feel free to contact us with inquiries about participating in the pilot or to share your suggestions for and appreciations of the site. We look forward to welcoming a new generation of JWA users into the community, and to helping make the bat mitzvah more personally meaningful to girls across the continent.
MyBatMitzvahStory is funded in part by the Boston Jewish Community Women's Fund and the Polinger Family Foundation.