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Summary of responses to "Bar Mitzvah Factory" discussion on CJ-L

Most of the responses described problems at congregations where large numbers of people turn out every Shabbat, especially for frequent Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations. There seems to be a level of congregational size, beyond which, certain problems crop up:

Several respondents stressed the importance of not splitting the regular Shabbat minyan and suggested methods to help alleviate the problem:

Others described separate minyanim that have formed alongside the main Shabbat minyan. For the most part these groups are led by the lay people. They try to inject the sense of intimacy, openness to learning new skills and tunes, that they feel is missing in the main service.

Summary of replies

Raecha@aol.com (Athur Sauerhaft) and Rabbi Neil Cooper of Beth Hillel/Beth El, Wynnewood, PA described their Havurah concept. It meets 2 - 3 times per month, reads the full portion, is entirely led by congregants and does not perform life cycle events. Unlike other congregations, the Havurah seems to be formally organized as an arm of the synagogue, in the same way as the Brotherhood or Sisterhood. This includes dues which are used to pay for other activities(?). The congregation has 750+ families; attendance at the Havurah is around 100 people.

Irv Luckom (p021889b@pbfreenet.seflin.lib.fl.us) of Beth El, Bethesda, MD described the 7:30 - 9:30 AM service run every Shabbat at his shul. It was originally led by congregants and teenagers, although now the associate rabbi takes part. It meets every Shabbat, reads the triennial portion, is entirely led by congregants and occasionally performs life cycle events. The congregation has 850+ families; attendance at the early minyan is around 40-60 people. There is an announcement about a monthly learner's service at this shul.

David Ofsevit (ofsevit@tgv.com) of Temple Emanuel, Newton, MA described the chapel minyan at his shul. It meets 1 - 2 times per month, reads the triennial portion, is entirely led by congregants and does not perform life cycle events. The congregation has 1400+ families; attendance at the chapel minyan is around 50-100 people.

lcberman@sgi.net (Lynn C. Berman) of Beth Shalom, Pittsburgh, PA described the library minyan at her shul. It meets every Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Shavuot, reads the triennial portion, is entirely led by congregants and does not perform life cycle events. They also meet on festivals that fall on Shabbat. The congregation has 1200+ families; attendance at the library minyan is around 25-40 people.

Alan H. Reiman (ahreiman@ICU.COM), described an experiment at his former shul. For a few years they required all Bar/Bat Mitzvah parents to attend a learner's minyan prior to the simcha. This may have worked if there had been more support from the Cantor and Hebrew school teachers (the Rabbi was for it). He also commented on how coldly the new families were received by the regular congregants.

Winston Weilheimer (taxrelief@worldnet.att.net) of Temple Israel, Deland, FL suggested not to create an "elite" service that will split the congregation.

earthpig@ais.net (Anne Keller-Smith) suggested "pre-simcha" workshops for Bar/Bat Mitzvah families. She also suggested that multiple people could have aliyot at the same time to reduce the number of hosafa aliyot that often occur. She stressed that all speeches given during the service should be divrei Torah.

Quotations from respondents

Lynn Berman, about the library minyan:

> It does create some distance between us and the other service (which could be good or bad), we rarely hear divrei torah from the rabbi or singin from the cantor. It also creates a nice, small, friendly atmosphere for davening and allows for new melodies and other learning activities. Since we are lay-led, it also creates a place for congregrants to learn new synagogue skills (leading parts of the service, layning Torah, writing divrei torah, etc.) and through this minyan both my husband and I have learned to layn Torah and lead parts of the service. The down side is that we can never just "show up" on Saturday. A lay-led minyan requires lay people to do everything. I schedule people to offer divrei torah, another person schedules layning and so on. And during the service the leaders need to keep things moving smoothly. If you have a large enough core of leaders this is easier.

Lynn Berman, about problems with the main service:

> -- In my opinion, the WORST thing you can do is lower your service to the least common denominator. This leads to less community knowledge (why learn what you don't need to know) and leads families and children to believe that the (sometimes) minimal knowledged gained for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is all that is needed. It also sends the subtle message that the service is occuring especially for the Bar/Bat Mitavah and that if there is no simcha the service is not as important. You want the Bar/Bat Mitzvah to add to the service, not define it.

Winston Weilheimer, about integrating the simcha into the regular service:

> Nothing wrong with adding something like the tallit ceremony to enhance the simchah. I might also add a sh'hechiyanu cerimony where all of the relatives get to stand and say sh'hecheyanu together. I find this to be very meaningful to the family and takes only a few minutes. However, the "meat" of the service belongs to the regulars. They should be the ones who set the tenor of the service. (unless the chazan is of a different voice of course :) ). As you said, the family of the simcha is only there for the simcha most times, and may not return until next yom kippur. The integrity and dignityu of the service should be maintained.


Web search results

Learners' Minyan (Ansche Chesed, NY, NY)

Led by Rabbi Lori Forman

Every Shabbat Morning from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

We explore the meaning of the Shabbat morning prayers, and discuss the weekly Torah portion in light of our lives today. Come join us and learn traditional and contemporary melodies. The Learnersí Minyan is open to all. No prior knowledge of Hebrew is needed. The minyan provides an opportunity for individuals to learn, in a relaxed, intimate group, how to participate in a traditional Shabbat morning service.


Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel, New Haven, CT

Shabbat Shalom Learners' Minyan meets every second Saturday morning year-round from 10:45 am to noon. The Learners' Minyan combines study, prayer and discussion based on the weekly Scriptural readings and Sabbath prayers.


Agudas Achim Congregation, Alexandria, VA

The Learner's Minyan meets the first Shabbat morning of each month. From 9.35 until 10.20 we discuss different parts of the Shabbat services.


Beth Shalom, Kansas City, MO

(1200 families)

Library Minyan -- Weekly Library -- 9:00 am D'var Torah with Rabbi Margolies -- 9:30 am Services

Learner's Minyan -- Alternate Weeks (same as Junior Congregation) Polsky Commons Room -- 10:00 am with Rabbi Amy Katz


Huntington Jewish Center, Huntington, Long Island, New York.

Services begin at 9:30 A. M. From October through May a Learner's Service is held the second Saturday of each month at 10:00 A. M. to familiarize participants with the meaning as well as the mechanics of the Shabbat Morning Liturgy. Mentors are available in the Main Sanctuary each week to answer questions about services. Approximately six times per year a congregational luncheon follows services.

eganin@ici.net