Within Reform congregations, Confirmation customarily coincides with the festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the Giving of the Law at Mt Sinai. The service itself has set components. The liturgy for an evening festival service provides the framework for what prayers to include. The reading of the 10 Commandments constitutes the Torah portion for the service. There is much singing and usually a joyful spirit pervades the service. Justifiably, parents, family, and congregants feel pride as these 10th graders reach another milestone in their Jewish lives. As for the students themselves, hopefully they feel good about their year of study and for the affirmation they are making as young Jewish adults.
Since my coming to Temple Beth Torah, there is one tradition that I make sure is part of every Confirmation service. It takes place near the middle of the service, when the Sefer Torah is taken out of the ark. During most services when this occurs, we immediately proceed with a Hakafah, a processional through the congregation. However, on the night of Confirmation when the Sefer Torah is removed, the Confirmation students form a line facing the congregation. Then either the rabbi of Congregation Beth Emek or I address the students, speaking about the significance of Torah, and how they have transmitted Torah to one another during the course of the year. After this address, the students pass the Sefer Torah one to another until the Torah reaches the student at the end of the row. This transmission of Torah, done in an atmosphere of reverence and silence, is a sacred and powerful moment.
In my view, this tradition of passing the Torah during the Confirmation service is essential. Through the years, my rabbinic colleague at Beth Emek has always readily agreed to include it in the service. However, it is quite striking that the three rabbis with whom I have partnered for Confirmation have also had his own ideas about the service. As such, the planning, organization, and content of the service has actually differed according to each rabbi. Rabbi Rick Winer skillfully facilitated a process by which the students would create a cantata, an orchestrated presentation on a specific theme chosen by the Confirmands. The past two years, Rabbi David Katz preferred to use the evening festival service in Mishkan T’filah with a few select students offering sermonettes on a specific theme.
This year, Rabbi Larry Milder has his own approach to the service which I find innovative. Rather than having as many as four students offer an address on the theme of the service, Rabbi Milder has a process by which every student has the opportunity to offer a creative contribution to the service. Each of the sixteen students in our Confirmation program has been assigned a specific prayer and has been asked to write on the theme of that particular prayer. For example, with Shalom Rav being a prayer about peace, a student is invited to either write about the specific words of the prayer, or reinterpret the prayer, or compose a creative writing about Shalom Rav, or piece together different versions of the prayer as it appears in our prayer book.
The end result will be a service that fully reflects the thoughts and talents of our Confirmation students. The Confirmation Service will be unlike any other precisely because our sixteen students are unlike any other group of Jewish teenagers.
With two-and-a-half weeks to go until Confirmation on Tuesday night, June 3, the students are still very much in the middle of the process of creating the service. Yet I have no doubt that the Confirmation Service will be completely unique. Hopefully it will inspire each one of us who is present that evening.