For nonbinary, transgender, or gender-expansive teens, grandparents — a rich source of family traditions and wisdom — can do more than pass along these cherished gifts l’dor va’dor (from generation to generation). You can celebrate your B-Mitzvah grandchildren in ways that honor who they are, connect them personally to a beautiful and precious tradition, and recognize their cherished place in the unfolding story of Judaism. With your families you can transform your knowledge and experience into gender-affirming practices that celebrate this coming of age.
Keshet, an organization that works for LBGTQ+ equality in Jewish life, has created an extensive guide to support families, synagogues, clergy, and educators through the process of celebrating the age of mitzvah for all genders. The guide is a resource to lead you to a starting point for open dialogue with your grandchild.
First, a few things to note:
For many families, B-Mitzvah preparation can be overwhelming. As grandparents, you have a front row seat to all of the beauty and all of the stress. You know your family best, so you will know when stepping in to offer help will be welcome and when the grace of a little space might be more valuable.
We at Keshet encourage you to be an advocate for your children and grandchildren by starting with educating yourself. The guide below can help. After you have consulted with the parents, ask your grandchild how they want to create an intentional space of belonging for their day in the spotlight. Use the answers to craft an advocacy action plan as you glean relevant best practices from the guide.
For example, discuss with your grandchild whether they want to use gender-neutral language in the ceremony, including Hebrew terms (Hebrew is a gendered language), and have the appropriate family members express that to officiants (rabbi, cantor, other spiritual leader).
Here are some other ways to help others embrace and affirm your B-Mitzvah grandchild’s identity:
- Consider talking to your grandchild about how you can partner with them to help their community understand that they should try to meet the teen’s social, emotional, and spiritual needs. Ask yourself, how can the parents and I take some of the responsibility off the teen — without speaking over them? Language is a powerful support tool. Have a discussion with your grandchild to better understand what they would like you to say as their advocate. Consider running interference with any challenging moments during or prior to the event, fielding poorly worded questions from well-intentioned leaders or participants and responding to comments. Consider each interaction with a community member as a teachable moment for best practices of gender equity.
- Try to act as a thought partner with your grandchild to redefine the rituals associated with celebrating the age of mitzvah. When there are questions or tensions about building a gender-affirming ritual — for example, in the use of gender-neutral language — support your grandchild. Suggest ways to demonstrate and celebrate their talents, aspirations, commitments, and teachings.
- Find ways to make the custom of giving the B-Mitzvah teen a gift publicly more inclusive. Have you noticed that the synagogue Sisterhood often presents one type of gift (say, candlesticks) and the synagogue Brotherhood another (say, a Kiddush cup)? This often assumes stereotypical gender roles (girls light candles and boys say Kiddush). Consider encouraging community members and family to give a Kiddush cup to all B-Mitzvah teens or to purchase non-gendered gifts like a tzedakah box, Jewish book, hanukkiyah, or mezuzah, or to make a charitable donation in the honoree’s name.
- Create ongoing moments of connection with your grandchild. For example, as your grandchild is learning about their Torah portion, set up regular calls where you explore the meaning and relevance of the portion together. You can share a story, memory, or lesson and ask them to share an application to their daily life. Is there a way to look at the portion from a new perspective? Perhaps take a current social justice cause like DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and use it as a lens for seeking out lessons to be learned from the text. Think about how the stories would change if you redefine the gender (and roles) of the biblical ancestors. What can your grandchild teach you through these conversations?
- Change expectations for clothing choices. With all eyes on the honoree, fashion choices are in the spotlight. Expectations for clothing can be highly gendered (girls will wear dresses, boys will wear pants and jackets). Grandparents can support their grandchild’s decision about what to wear on the big day, so they feel a sense of belonging and comfort. Perhaps you can shop for that outfit together. Or, if your grandchild has shared a thought about an accessory they are excited about (perhaps jewelry, a belt, shoes or fancy sneakers) to complement their outfit, surprise them with the item.
- Write your grandchild a letter sharing how you feel about their accomplishments, especially about preparing to become B-Mitzvah. It takes a lot of courage for a young adult to share with their family and the world who they really are. We can learn from that courage to be our best and we can share back how that courage inspires us.
We wish for our grandchildren a confident, self-assured adulthood. We can help bring that future about through our love for our grandchildren and our willingness to ensure that they have a welcoming place in their Jewish community.
Click HERE for the complete Keshet guide, Celebrating the Age of Mitzvah: A Guide for All Genders.
With gratitude to the Keshet staff and Jennifer Saber
Hugs courtesy of Pexels
B-Mitzvah cake by Marty Fastag
“Hello” courtesy of Unsplash
Teen reading Torah ©edelmar via Canva.com
B-Mitzvah teen holding Torah by Valerie Owens-Wright