by Ira Wise, May 2018/Iyyar-Sivan 5778
It stands for Répondez s’il vous plait, a French phrase meaning “Please Respond.” It is a request from someone inviting us to join them that we confirm our plan to participate, to be a part of the gathering. Please remember that for a moment.
On Sunday, May 19 at 2:00 p.m. we are all invited to participate as a congregation in our annual Service of Confirmation. This is one of the most thoughtful, most meaning-filled and spiritually uplifting events in our congregation, and far too few of us know that. Each year our Kitah Yud (10th Grade) students spend a part of each night at Merkaz – our Community High School for Jewish Studies – in Confirmation class with Rabbi Prosnit and me. We craft a curriculum each year that is built around a combination of God, Torah and Israel and the ideas and subjects the students say they want to spend more time exploring. Sometimes they don’t think they learned enough, and other topics are so interesting they want to go deeper.
During our year together, we travel to spend a long weekend in Washington D.C. at the Religious Action Center (RAC) for Reform Judaism’s L’taken Seminar. We are joined with 200 – 400 other Confirmation students from around the United States and learn about how Jewish values can and should impact public policy in our country. We explore 15 – 20 issues that are before Congress and choose five or six about which our students feel strongest. They craft speeches that explain their position, how the issue impacts them personally, as Americans and as Jews and ask our Senators and Congressman to support or fight against the relevant bill. And then they deliver those speeches, either to our representatives or their staff members. It is an amazing, often life-changing experience.
And then they create the service to which you are invited on Sunday, May 19 at 2:00 p.m. It is filled with music, poetry and thought. They will chant Torah and several of them will deliver short sermons. It is a celebration. Of what, you may ask?
There are many ways to approach this question. We educators love the idea of multiple intelligences – and there is an explanation of Confirmation for most of them. I prefer to take the Covenental approach. We are all familiar with the idea of the Covenant between God and the Jewish people.
Think about the birth of a child followed by Brit Milah or Simchat Bat – both ceremonies that enter the child into the Jewish covenant with God. Of course at 8 days old, the child is not really an informed participant. The parents are telling the community that they intend for this child to grow up Jewish, as a full participant in the Covenant.
Five or six years later, when that child begins Religious School, we welcome them with a Consecration ceremony – where they recite the Shema and receive a tiny Torah. They are not much more informed, but we are building the habit of connecting to our people and God. At Thirteen, our B’nai Mitzvah are much more self-aware and they commit to a great deal of work to prepare for that ceremony, which strengthens their connection to the Covenant by declaring them adults in the eyes of our people, able to take on Mitzvot for themselves.
Confirmation comes three years after Bar and Bat Mitzvah. They are older, more mature, deeper into adolescence. They are beginning to think about what being an adult will be like and they are making choices in their lives that are starting to have outcomes that may change the course of those lives.
Do you recall what I asked you to remember at the top of the page? RSVP. We ask them at this stage of their lives to confirm their plan to participate, to be a part of the Jewish people. And that is something to celebrate on Sunday, May 19 at 2:00 p.m.
I hope you will join us in welcoming them.