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Research Summary: BMR at Temple Beth-El and the Theory of Change

Our initial research question, formulated at the Pearlstone workshop in November 2012 was: "How will the experience of 'making multiple aliyot' impact the child's, parents', seventh-grade peers', and congregation's perception(s) of what bar/bat mitzvah is all about?"

At that time, our proposed experiment was: "Restructuring who chants Torah in the Shabbat morning service by shifting from 4 aliyot per bar/bat mitzvah at his/her service to 2 aliyot for the bar/bat mitzvah and 2 aliyot for others (starting with post-b.m. peers). The bar/bat mitzvah will then chant an aliyah or two at X number of services over X number of subsequent months. We are calling this "making multiple aliyot." The idea is for the child, parents, peers, and congregation as a whole to understand that bar/bat mitzvah is not the peak ritual moment in their lives, but a peak moment among many. We hope that the perception will be that b.m. belongs to a continuum of
active Jewish engagement in ritual."

A month later, in December 2012, the question remained the same, but we already had misgivings about the nature of the proposed experimentation. It felt too structured, complex, laden with expectation of specific results — in short, it was too top down, and therefore neither in keeping with the historical process of change in the congregation nor in sync with shifts and changes in the URJ and trends in the American Jewish community as a whole. We also felt that it was unlikely to have a positive impact or yield positive results in this challenging time of shifts in American institutional life overall and synagogue organization in particular.

In January-March 2013, as we prepared the program for the April Visioning Workshops, our thinking about our research question shifted from the vague and general "perception(s) of what bar/bat mitzvah is all about" to being able to formulate three clear, open questions about three aspects of the institution/experience of bar/bat mitzvah (the negative, the positive, and dreams/visions of what can be) that could invite candid responses from anyone in the
congregation, regardless of age and experience:

  • Question 1: "Share with each other the worst stereotypes, most dreadful experiences, and what has and does turn you off about the institution/experience of bar/bat mitzvah. Be sure to include preparation, the ritual itself, the celebration, and the weeks and months following."
  • Question 2: "Now discuss the best experiences, most inspiring or best moments, etc. Again, be sure to include preparation, the ritual itself, the celebration, and the weeks and months following."
  • Question 3: "Now dream. What can/should the bar/bat mitzvah experience be? As before, be sure to include preparation, the ritual itself, the celebration, and the weeks and months following."

Current Research Question(s)

Our initial research question about "Making Multiple Aliyot" was always about bringing b'nai mitzvah and the congregation closer together during Shabbat morning worship, but we thought we had to create a structure (drive the program), rather than allow a direction to emerge (the program emerges from the research).

In our four April Congregational Visioning Workshops and two August Data Analysis Workshops, we shared this statement: "Communities grow when we explore, evaluate, and dream together. We are committed to continued growth and renewal." We followed this by asking a very different research question: "What do you think (the institution of) bar/bat mitzvah has been and what can it be?"

We haven't reformulated our research question, but when we do it will probably look something like this: "What needs to happen for members of our temple community of all ages and life stages to join together on Shabbat mornings in meaningful and joyful worship?"