January 16, 2019

When Your Child Isn’t on the Guest List

Jewish schooling is a huge investment.  We spend a large portion of our after tax money to belong to a community that is loving, nurturing and all inclusive.  The school constituents become our family. 

For years, I heard the complaints of friends with older children attending such schools on how hurt their children felt when not invited to a class Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  My attitude was “who cares when there are so many parties.”  But, it’s hard to understand until it happens to your child. 

After years of being in the same class, playing together at recess, going to the same birthday parties, competing as teammates against other schools, and spending the majority of their waking hours together within the same walls, all of a sudden, what they hear is “you are not good enough.”  Neglected children become emotionally scarred and are labeled by others.  Those invited whisper “how come he wasn’t invited?”  The question begs the answer that something must be wrong with the uninvited child. 

The peak of Jewish education culminates in the Bat or Bar Mitzvah community celebration. When as parents we either intentionally or by oversight make hurtful decisions, we teach our children that “community building” is just lip service but in practice we create segregation.  The Bar Mitzvah ceremony is about children entering adulthood, not adults acting like spoiled children. 

In a passing conversation, one school administrator told me “the problem with enforcing an 'everyone in the grade is invited' policy for Bar Mitzvah is that these children are no longer part of our school.”  Still, so often, I have heard in meetings, “you are always part of our family, even long after you have graduated from this school.” 

In a private Jewish school, the administration must act like government.  If adults act poorly, administrators and clergy need to step in and protect children.  As soon as a Torah reading is booked, all children in the grade should be invited.  The school needs to set the law for this religious event.  Just as there is a secular graduation party, the Torah reading should be viewed as a mandatory religious graduation ceremony.  Parents should be instructed not to drag children into their social dramas.   

We need to remember that the celebration should focus on our children- the very future generation we are raising.  Indeed, most of us who have been privileged to see our children grow up together from the beginning through 6th grade, feel a sense of parental pride with each graduating child.  We become the communal parents of all B'nei Mitzvah in the class. 

We teach our children that the essential pillar of Judaism is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As we are in a season of self reflection, if we are serious about building a more cohesive community, it is time that families, school administrators, and clergy go past rhetoric and enforce inclusive behavior.