The Old Shall Dream Dreams and the Young Shall See Visions
One of my favorite Sunday morning activities at Beth Am is standing at around 11:35 AM at the top of the long foyer leading from the classrooms on the upper campus looking down toward the Sanctuary. They are holding terrific projects that they’ve made during Sunday Program — a paper shofar in September, a newly planted seed in February, a piece of freshly made matzah in April — and telling their parents about their day.
When they enter our main building, a few of them always stop to look at the collection of Confirmation photos on the wall. They flip through the photos and, often, search for their parents, dressed in robes, who were confirmed at Beth Am as 10th graders. They love seeing their parents as high schoolers, the perms on their moms, the long hair of their dads. Occasionally, I notice this with soon-to-be married couples too, with one partner showing the other these photos.
Even if you did not grow up here, you may recognize the Confirmation photos as an integral part of any synagogue. At the synagogue where I was confirmed, B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, CT, the first Confirmation photo on the wall dates back to 1915 — though they suspect Confirmation ceremonies existed even before then. The first recorded Confirmation in North America was held at New York’s Anshe Chesed Congregation in 1846. At Beth Am, we will soon be celebrating 62 years of Confirmation, with our first Confirmation class of 1956 (though the photos start in 1962).
My hunch is that it’s not just the old photos of their parents that our Beth Am kids like seeing. I think they like knowing that their mom or their dad also had a Jewish education. Our students proudly embrace the idea that this place is theirs, just as it was their parents’ place in their youth. It reminds me of the teaching from the book of Proverbs: “Train a child on the path he/she shall go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.”
Our Confirmation class celebratory ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 12 at 7:00 PM, and I hope you’ll join us. It’s a wonderful ceremony during which our 10th graders express their Judaism through songs, sermons, art and Torah. We hope that it’s just another link to a lifelong chain of Jewish learning and identity building.
In this month of Shavuot, the holiday when we received Torah with its custom to study Torah all night long, let’s be sure we cultivate our own Jewish learning and identity building — let’s not let our link get too rusty. As CCAR President Rabbi David Stern said in a sermon at the URJ Biennial last December: “...(a) word about adult responsibility towards our kids — it begins with responsibility for our own Jewish lives. The great wisdom of the Federal Aviation Administration is that you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, and Jewish oxygen is no different. We will create the path to nurtured Jewish children by nurturing Jewish adults. As communities, we need to create meaningful Jewish learning for adults, inspire adults in prayer, challenge adults to justice, so they can model learning and prayer and acts of justice for our children.”
There is lots going on at Beth Am to cultivate that Jewish learning — not just on Shavuot, but weekly at Congregation Beth Am — Hebrew classes, Talmud study, book groups and more. If you’re specifically interested in a topic, please reach out to one of the clergy. Our tradition calls Torah an Etz Chaim, a tree of life, not just because we believe the words of Torah are living, but because we believe when watered, it will flourish and grow.