Leelle was preparing for her bat mitzvah – a rite of passage for Jewish girls, usually at twelve years of age (the male counterpart is called bar mitzvah at thirteen). It is the first time that a Jewish person is called to read from the Torah scroll in Hebrew in front of their community, and is not only a huge landmark but also a great honor.
Leelle was getting Hebrew tutoring through her congregation, but time was tight so her parents (both Jewish believers in Jesus) reached out to me for a little bit of extra help.** Like many parents of preteens, they were growing concerned about their daughter’s spiritual well being. It felt as though she was growing less open to their influence, again, not uncommon at that age. So at her parents’ suggestion, Leelle and I began to meet. Leelle had only been minimally involved with our camp program so this was an unexpected opportunity.
Helping kids prepare for their bar/bat mitzvahs is part of Jews for Jesus Children and Youth Ministry, but Leelle was my first student. She needed to understand how to “own” the process of becoming a bat mitzvah. She also needed to decide whether she would take hold of the process and, in effect, become part of her Messianic Jewish community because she wanted to, and not just because her parents wanted her to.
As I began to meet with Leelle, we were able to talk about many things that would affect her decision: peer pressure at school, boys, how to want a healthy relationship with your parents, and how to articulate where you stand in your faith.
As I began to meet with Leelle, we were able to talk about many things that would affect her decision: peer pressure at school, boys, how to want a healthy relationship with your parents, and how to articulate where you stand in your faith.All the while we were rehearsing and practicing her Torah portion, Haftarah portion, and the corresponding blessings.
Leelle hadn’t ever considered that she could read the Bible on her own to learn about God for herself. We worked together to help her learn, not just her assigned portions, but also the needed tools for understanding what she is reading and how to apply the Bible to her life. Leelle has a relationship with Yeshua and desires a deepening in that relationship, but she didn’t know how to talk about it without feeling like she was just parroting the words of her parents. She also wasn’t sure how to share where she was at in her spiritual process … especially since she knew that she still needs to grow in her faith. Our times together allowed for a lot of discipleship and I had the privilege of seeing her grow over the course of our sessions.
Finally, the day of Leelle’s bat mitzvah came. She was nervous. Her parents were nervous. I was nervous! But it was exciting to be able to see Leelle demonstrate all of her hard work to her friends and family and to hear her talk about her Scripture portion in a thoughtful way. In front of everyone, including some of her estranged unbelieving relatives, Leelle owned her faith in Jesus within the context of her Jewish traditions. She had been able to find her own words to express who Yeshua is in her life, and how she sees herself fitting into His bigger plan. She testified to Yeshua’s work of purification and of God’s hand in her life. She showed that Jesus is important to her, and she showed that being Jewish is important to her.
I am so glad that we were able to connect and I am excited to continue meeting with Leelle going forward. My own bat mitzvah was the occasion God gave me to take ownership of my faith and to see Him set the trajectory for my life. I look forward to continue including bar/bat mitzvah preparation in my ministry and I am excited for opportunities to come.
** Our ministry ethics spell out that we only reach out to people under 18 with parental consent.
Rebekah is part of our children and youth ministry in New York City, where her husband Sam also serves on our missionary staff. Find out more about Rebekah.