A week before Shavuot, the students in my Confirmation Class at the Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, MA decided we did not want to participate in our Ceremony of Confirmation.
Much like many of the Confirmands today, we were asked to write a personal statement about something that was important to us. 1971 was kind of a crazy time for young people who were sophomores in high school. The Kent State massacre occurred just a year earlier. Student protests on college campuses were happening everywhere.
We believed we could change the world and wanted to tell everyone how we were going to do it.
Three weeks before Shavuot, we handed in what we wrote to our teacher, Mrs. Shadovitz, who had taught the Confirmation class for several years. The next week she handed out the service incorporating our writings into it. But what we had written had been altered. Not just edited, but totally rewritten.
In the days before our next class, my classmates and I spoke often. No Internet then. We would gather in the hallway at our high school or speak on the telephone. We were angry. And we didn’t want to read something before our parents and the congregation that we didn’t write.
So at the next class, we told Mrs. Shadovitz that we would not be participating in the Confirmation Service. We had to have an emergency meeting with Rabbi Grollman. After a lengthy and somewhat heated conversation, we agreed to attend the Service just to receive our certificates.
Rabbi Grollman realized it was a teachable moment.
It is one that I always remember each year when I attend the Ceremony of Confirmation at our synagogue, Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, NJ.
I am always amazed at what these young men and women have to say about being Jewish, God, Israel, and making the world a better place. What is even more amazing is that these young people have been learning together every Wednesday evening since their B’nai Mitzvah year. In addition to all of the sports, music, dance and other extra curricular activities they all do today.
Twice I have sat in the sanctuary as a parent of a Confirmand. Now I often look at the faces of our friends as their sons and daughters read their speeches. All proud and filled with pride at what their children have accomplished, and so hopeful for the lives they will lead in the future.
Perhaps there is more we can do to encourage or cajole the parents of every 5th and 6th grade student in religious school – and the students, too – to attend the Ceremony of Confirmation. A mentoring program between the Confirmation students and younger children is one thought. Or even a mentoring program among the parents might be another way.
Maybe then more families will see that Jewish education goes beyond the B’nai Mitzvah experience. And the kids will make Wednesday nights at Religious School as much of a priority as speed training or modern dance class.
Maybe a mentoring program for parents will help foster a stronger connection to the synagogue.
Going back to 1971, I am sure that we all had some explaining to do to our parents. I know that my parents were a little miffed, but also proud that I, along with my classmates, stood up for what was important to us.
Much like the young people who spoke at Confirmation last week at my synagogue, and at synagogues throughout North America.