Congregation B'nai Horin B'nai Mitzvah Program

Welcome to the B’nai Horin, Children of Freedom B’nai Mitzvah Program!

Our program is taught by our two rabbis, Rabbi Stan Levy and Rabbi Laura Owens, from 10 AM to 12 noon every Sunday during the school year, from September to June. This gives every student the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship with their rabbis, which is simply not possible in large congregations.

In these Sunday sessions, all the students meet together at the Riddick Youth Center in West Los Angeles. This class is taught entirely through film (no textbooks, no homework), and the kids really enjoy the process. They also love our snack break, which we take about halfway through the morning!

The first several months of class are spent watching movies of the most important stories in the Torah, from creation through Moses. These films are written, directed, and performed by some of the finest artists in the world. This is followed by our Holocaust section when we watch documentaries and docudramas about this significant period in recent history. We begin with the Oscar-winning documentary on the life of Anne Frank, followed by several other films about young people or young adults who either lived through or have responded significantly to the Holocaust. Next, we learn about the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948, through a documentary produced by The Museum of Tolerance, and we look at the issues that continue to persist between Israelis and Palestinians. The fourth series is “Middle School Confessions,” from HBO Family, depicting the social and moral situations that young teenagers face, including bullying, alcohol and drugs, sex, gender identity, and depression. By this time in the year, we have developed both a relationship and a framework that allows us to put these contemporary issues into the context of learning to make wise life choices – and what to do when we don’t. The final show we watch is about a girl wrestling with becoming a bat mitzvah, entitled ‘The Book of Questions.”

We study these films as we would study any text; we stop after each major section, discuss what’s going on, and then talk about how these stories relate to issues in the kids’ lives, and what our tradition is teaching us about understanding how to make good choices.

Our program is called “Choose Life”, a phrase taken from one of Moses’ final messages in the Torah. We focus all year on learning to make good and wise life choices as the kids become young adults, taking responsibility for their actions as they take their place in the world.

In addition to these Sunday classes, the students will learn to read Hebrew with a gentle and inspiring tutor in private weekly sessions in your home (or on zoom). They will also learn to understand, pray, and chant the basic prayers of Judaism, as well as their Torah (and perhaps Haftarah) portions. There is (of course!) homework in this part of the program. Then, approximately three months prior to their service, they will come for an hour either before or after class on Sundays to practice with the rabbis, along with perhaps one or two other students, so that they become comfortable leading the service.

Some kids do the whole year of Sunday School and then have their b’nai mitzvah services sometime the following year. Depending on the needs of the individual student and the family, the Hebrew tutoring and preparation is generally 6-9 months. These (Sunday classes and home tutoring) can overlap, or not, as best serves the interests of the student.

Rabbi Laura or Rabbi Stan, along with one of our cantors or cantorial soloists, will conduct your bar or bat mitzvah service alongside your son or daughter, at your chosen date and location. The service can be adapted by you and our rabbis to reflect your family’s Jewish practice and to highlight your child’s accomplishments. You may use our B’nai Horin Shabbat prayerbooks, or you may create your own, incorporating all the prayers and blessings that will be used during the service.

This experience has proved over decades to instill joy in the students and families who participate and leave a lasting connection to our Jewish heritage and its relevance to issues in contemporary life.