A conservative, egalitarian synagogue

Information for Saturday Morning Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guests

Welcome!  We know that for those without much synagogue experience, a worship service might feel overwhelming.  We have therefore put together some information about our customs and practices at Temple Israel Center.  We hope the following details will address any questions that you might have:

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah

The term “bar/bat mitzvah” is actually a person, rather than an event.  It is a title given to all Jewish teens when they reach the age of religious maturity and it translates into the “son/daughter of the commandments.”  When a teen becomes a bar/bat mitzvah, he/she becomes ready to take on the religious privileges, opportunities and obligations of an adult within the Jewish community.  Although we celebrate this milestone at age 13, girls actually reach religious maturity at age 12.      

Although there are earlier references to the significance of this milestone, it became customary to celebrate the transition only in the Middle Ages.  At our synagogue, those becoming a bar/bat mitzvah are often honored during our weekly Sabbath service.  Individually, or in pairs, they may take on a variety of roles.  They will usually recite blessings and chant from the Torah – a sacred scroll containing the Five Books of Moses – and/or the Haftarah – a selection from the book of Prophets.  They will also speak about the week’s Torah portion. 

Please offer your full attention to the bar or bat mitzvah.  Being called to the Torah is a great honor and a considerable amount of study has gone into the preparation.  In many cases, it is the first time that the teen is addressing the congregation and he or she may be a bit nervous.  This ceremony marks one of the most significant rites of passage in our tradition.  We are so glad that you are here to help us celebrate this special occasion.

The Service

Morning services usually begin at 9:00 am, and most invitations call for bar/bat mitzvah guests to arrive between 9:00 and 9:30 am.

Once in the Sanctuary, you will see a platform at the front called the bimah.  The rabbi(s) will be there most of the time, as will be several synagogue officers and those who are participating in the service.  Our hazzan – or cantor – is the one who chants much of the service.  The hazzan will be standing at a podium slightly in front of the bimah.

At the center of the bimah you will see the Aron Kodesh – the ark which holds our Torah scrolls.  The Torah is a continuous roll of parchment onto which a scribe has written the Five Books of Moses.  The teachings within are considered to be sacred and have been handed down to us through the generations.  We treat the Torah scrolls with the utmost devotion and respect.     

In most cases, you will find two kinds of books stored directly in front of your seat.  The large book is called a Humash.  It is a printed version of those first five books of the Bible, separated into portions which are read weekly.  It also includes readings from the Prophets.   

The smaller book is the Siddur – our prayer book.  Both books are written in Hebrew with English translations.  Since Hebrew is written from right to left, the pages of these books begin at what would be the back of an English book.  This may seem strange to those unfamiliar with Hebrew text.  Don’t worry; the clergy on the bimah will periodically announce the page numbers that correspond to the appropriate section of the service. 

A good deal of Hebrew – and a bit of an ancient language called Aramaic – is used during our services.  But the clergy and officers will address the congregation in English.  And you will be able to follow along with the service if you so choose.  You will not be called upon or expected to carry out any specific rituals during the morning service unless you have been notified in advance.  If you have been asked to participate, please know that you will be given specific instructions during the service to ensure that you get to the bimah on time. 

At various times during the service, the congregation will be invited to stand.  This happens when the ark is open or when the Torah is being carried.  Please stand with us if you are physically able.  During the course of the service, congregants will also be asked to stand for various prayers, and for a long, silent prayer called the Amidah.  These prayers are all found in the Siddur.  You may feel free to read along, offer your own prayers or simply stand in silence with us. 

In reality, the Saturday morning service is made up of several shorter services that flow into one another.  If you are interested in learning more about those services, you can find out about them here: http://www.templeisraelcenter.org/Religious_Life/Shabbat/A_Guide_to_Shab...

Bar/bat mitzvah guests attending services at our synagogue at times other than Saturday morning may encounter a slightly different – and usually shorter – service experience.

Synagogue Etiquette

The Sabbath is a day of rest and celebration.  It is considered holy and we do our best to attune ourselves to the sacred quality of this day.  We therefore ask that you please do not smoke, use telephones or any cellular/electronic devices, take photographs, write or draw, applaud or give gifts during or after the service. 

Services last until approximately noon.  We understand that some young children may have a hard time sitting quietly for the duration of the service, so please feel free to take them outside of the Sanctuary if they need a break.  If you do this, please keep an eye on them so that no one gets hurt.  We do have youth programming available for children on most Saturdays.  Signs at the entrances will direct you to the location of such programs.

During some Saturday morning services, soft candies are handed out.  These are used to “shower” the bar/bat mitzvah with sweetness once they have finished chanting the Haftarah.  If you see other congregants tossing the candies in the direction of the bimah, you may follow their lead.   

After the conclusion of services, a kiddush – or blessing over the wine – is made.  This is followed by a reception for the entire congregation in the adjacent reception halls.  This is the best time to greet and have extended conversations with family and friends.  Have a bite, linger and enjoy our community.       

What to Wear

In our synagogue, it is the custom to dress respectfully on the Sabbath.  Many men wear suits, sports jackets and/or ties.  Women usually wear dresses or skirts of modest length.  Dress pants are also appropriate.  While in the Sanctuary, it is appropriate for women to have their shoulders covered.   

Men and boys cover their heads with a small cap called a kippah or a yarmulke.  Some women and girls also choose to wear them.  We ask all males – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to wear one while in the synagogue.  They can be found outside the sanctuary entrance. 

Some women who choose to cover their heads will wear fashionable hats.  Small lace head coverings attached by bobby pins are also a popular choice, and are available outside the sanctuary.  Please ask an usher if you would like assistance. 

You will see the bar/bat mitzvah and most adult congregants wearing a fringed prayer shawl called a tallit.  They may be found adjacent to the sanctuary entrance, although those who do not practice Judaism are not expected to wear them.

Those who are participating in the service will be told well in advance, and may have additional dress requirements.   

Where To Go

Most Shabbat (Sabbath) morning services are located in the main Sanctuary at Temple Israel Center.  The Sanctuary can be accessed via all entrances to the building and there are coatrooms in the vicinity of both sets of Sanctuary doors.  All Sanctuary doors open into the back of our worship space.  You may sit in any of the available pews.  If you have been asked in advance to participate in the service, you may feel free to sit close to the bar/bat mitzvah family, which will likely be seated near the front of the Sanctuary.  In our community, women and men sit together.  Ushers are stationed at the doors to assist you, if needed. 

The Temple Israel Center website is a good resource if you are looking for information about our location, calendar and community:  http://www.templeisraelcenter.org

We thank you for learning about our customs at Temple Israel Center.    Please let us know if you have any questions.   We look forward to seeing you!