Judaism Your Way


open tent be mitzvah logo|dayenu logo|picture of baklava made with filo dough|picture of ice skates on ice

Jewish Wisdom Projects

Jewish Wisdom Projects
By Amy Kopkin Atkins

In recent history, Judaism has asked emerging adolescents to demonstrate their Jewish adult”ness” by leading a Shabbat service. 

How does leading a Shabbat service transform you into a Jewish adult? Where is the practical significance? The meaning? 

The meaning is actually in the leading.

It’s about holding space for your most beloved family and friends, taking them on a journey to find the best within themselves and connecting to something beyond themselves. It’s about reconnecting to essential values and community that is at the core of being human. One aspect of this experience is sharing Torah – Jewish Knowledge – with your guests. The Judaism Your Way Open Tent Be Mitzvah program gives students the opportunity to define that Jewish knowledge for themselves. They spend the year mastering this knowledge and immersing themselves in it. It’s as much about the process of coming of age as it is teaching their knowledge to their guests. These projects help them identify and capitalize on their strengths, and find or grow their passions – essential pieces of becoming a Jewish adult. The projects students undertake are as individual as the students themselves. This year, my students are being as creative as ever – even in the midst of a pandemic where access to experiences and knowledge has been difficult to acquire. 

Here is just a tiny glimpse into the work of our amazing students.

An ice rink may seem like an unusual venue for a Be Mitzvah ceremony, and is the perfect place for Zakai to showcase his original ice skating piece, his Jewish wisdom project. He began by writing an emotional, powerful story about discrimination. His message of being an upstander and interrupter to acts of racism, sexism, and antisemitism is one that is both important and timely. For his Be Mitzvah, he will choreograph and perform this story for his guests. He is taking his own advice to heart by simultaneously working at his school to to interrupt cycles of discrimination and find his voice as an ally over the course of this year.

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Lexie has always been worried about the planet. She is a doer – a dancer, activist, and conscientious student. For her project, she wanted more people to become aware of the climate crisis and to spend her time supporting climate actions locally and nationally as her coming of age project. She has become involved with Dayenu, the national Jewish response to the climate crisis. “To me, doing this is more meaningful, because I feel like I am putting a lot of work and effort to help change the world instead of speaking lines from the text.” If she could share one piece of wisdom with others, she said “Opportunity to help others can be found anywhere, and taking the opportunity could help save the world.” While Torah study is important, Lexie felt that action is more in line with who she is.

picture of baklava made with filo dough

What if you could spend a year connecting with your passions and your family? Sevi and her twin sister Sloane decided to immerse themselves in their passions of baking and art for their projects. Sevi, who has always loved baking but could never find enough time with homework and after school activities, decided to bake her way through the Jewish year. Throughout history, families have bonded and connected to each other and their history through food. As Sevi makes food and the family celebrates holidays, Sloane documents these emotions and memories through her art. Sloane is traveling through the Jewish year through her passion, painting. When asked, Sevi said, “I chose this path for my Be Mitzvah because of the fact that I felt I had more room to be creative and do what I wanted to do in my service…There are a lot of things I will remember from this experience, [and] the one I think will stick with me is when I attempted to work with this new material called filo bread. I had to go to four stores just to get it!” Creativity, perseverance and discovery – skills she gained through cooking – that will serve her well as she transitions into emerging adulthood. 

These are just three of the incredible directions our students are pursuing. All of these paths will help students gain the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to be more fully present, more fully human and therefore ready to emerge as Jewish adults.

Amy Kopkin Atkins
Open Tent Enrollment & Curriculum Manager & Educator