If, after reading this article, you are excited at the idea of having your own Bar or Bat 26-vah, you can sign up here.
“I’m here to start my preparations for my upcoming Bar 26-vah,” I said.
“What’s a Bar 26-vah?” asked my two mikveh guides – Wendy and Peggy – simultaneously. I was sitting in the lobby of Mayyim Hayyim, a beautiful mikveh (ritual bath) in Newton, Massachusetts.
I paused, trying to determine how I could answer her question. What I came up with must have felt entirely unhelpful to my two new friends. “I’m not exactly sure yet,” I said. “But I’m excited to find out.”
I am, by just about any measure, a deeply “engaged” or “involved” Jew. Judaism plays a concrete role in every day of my life, through my employment by a Jewish organization, my recent entry into rabbinical school, and a smorgasbord of everyday practices and activities I engage in that connect me to the Jewish past, present, and (hopefully) future.
But I realized something about myself recently. I have grown very comfortable in my Jewish skin. Too comfortable. Only a few years back, I was regularly trying out new Jewish experiences. I did hagbah (ritual lifting of the Torah) for the first time. I sought to learn my first tractate of Mishnah (the first text of rabbinic Judaism’s “oral law”). I observed a number of holidays, from Shavuot to the 17th of Tammuz, that I had never really known about before.
Recently, however, I think I reached a point where I felt content with where I was. It’s not that I have engaged with Judaism any less in the last year or two, it is just that I haven’t really done so in ways that push me out of my comfort zone.
So I decided to do something a bit crazy, requiring a great deal of chutzpah. After learning about a few creative ideas, including Reboot’s Rebar Project, I decided to invent a Jewish ritual for myself – the Bar 26-vah.
I will be turning 26 – twice the age when most American Jews have their B’nai Mitzvah – this coming November (God-willing). When I do, I will be marking it in a big way. My birthday is over nine months from now, but I have decided to spend those months really pushing myself to Jewish territory that I have not yet explored. Trying out experiences I have not yet had, taking on certain practices I have considered but not fully owned for myself. This process will culminate in a celebratory event when I turn 26. I am happy to say I have no idea exactly what that event will look like.
This Bar 26-vah process is why I found myself at Mayyim Hayyim. Their mikveh is a space specifically designed to mark important life cycle events and, most importantly, I had never dunked in a ritual bath before. This was new.
Because it was new, I felt a tinge of nervousness. What exactly would I do when left alone in the bath? Sure, they have some sheets with blessings and readings designed to enhance your experience, but would I really connect to them? What if I just float there, awkwardly?
It turns out, despite my apprehension, that my mikveh experience was a terrific one. For a wide variety of reasons, it was exactly what I needed to refresh myself and really commit to a year of Jewish exploration. Most importantly, it reminded me that Judaism is far more powerful when we take risks and push ourselves beyond our previous limits.
That is what my Bar 26-vah is going to be. It will be a way for me to push myself beyond the bounds of my personal Jewish comfort zone. The best part? When I described this idea to a few friends of mine, they wanted to participate as well. Thus far, eight people are on board to explore what a Bar or Bat 26-vah could look in their lives, and Reboot has graciously offered to serve as a resource for us as we move forward. I am optimistic that Reboot’s awesome reBar toolkit, which helped inspire this idea in the first place, is just one example of the helpful resources Reboot provides that will be immensely helpful. And as we approach our ceremonies themselves, you can be sure that we will be sharing our excitement on this blog or at www.rebarproject.org/.
To clarify one frequently asked question: our process will not be one-size-fits-all. We won’t be writing up any one service, laying out any one project, or creating any one replicable program. Some in our cohort may choose to pursue activism through a Jewish lens, others may enter into a process of Jewish textual learning, and still others may decide that creating a “2.0” version of their first Bar/Bat Mitzvah is their best path forward. The possibilities are diverse and, if you ask me, incredibly exciting!
The number 26, in rabbinic Jewish numerology, is particularly holy. It is the number associated with God’s four-letter Hebrew name. Our cohort excited to take that number and imbue it with the holiness it deserves. If you are between ages 24 and 26 and you’d like to join us on this potentially transformative process, just fill out this form and we’ll be happy to welcome you aboard!