Among many Jewish communities in America, perhaps the single most important rite is the celebration of puberty, the bar mitzvah (for males) and bat mitzvah (for females) (Neuser, 1994). The bar/bat mitzvah3 (Diamant and Cooper, 1991) celebrates the coming of age of young men and women, after which the community regards them as adults, obligated to fulfill Judaism’s religious commandments. While the rite varies among congregations, three elements are ubiquitous: the young person reads from the Torah (Old Testament) before the community, gives a speech, and holds a celebration (Diamant and Cooper, 1991). The ceremony represents the social order of the Jewish community and affirms the place of the youth and their family in that order (Liebman, 1990). Family and community members begin preparing the young man or woman at least one year before the ceremony and are deeply involved throughout. Community members teach the youth to read and speak the Hebrew language, instruct them on the ceremonies of the bar/bat mitzvah, direct their study of the particular passage of Torah to be read, and tutor them as they prepare their speech. The bar/bat mitzvah and the preparations for it incorporate the support of relatives and the larger community.

Navajo communities hold a coming-of-age ceremony for young women, called kinaalda. Navajo communities have maintained kinaalda, part of the larger Navajo Blessing Way, and it is now a most anticipated Navajo ceremony. Shortly after a girl announces the beginning of her first menstrual cycle, relatives and community members begin the formal ceremony, which lasts two to four days. With the assistance of family and community elders, kinaalda instills young girls with a pride in their cultural traditions, identity, and community, as well as signifying their coming life (Roessel, 1993; see also, Ryan, 1998). Kinaalda mobilizes family and community support around a young woman’s growth and integration into the Navajo social order. Community programs that support youth, such as the bar/bat mitzvah and the kinaalda, exist in many different communities—Catholic first communion and confirmation, Mexican and Mexican American quinciñera ceremonies for young women, Afrocentric coming-of-age programs, religious missions among


One author posits, “The differences between bar and bat mitzvah have been steadily diminishing to the point that today, in many congregations, they are virtually indistinguishable,” thus, we refer to the bar mitzvah and the bat mitzvah as “bar/bat mitzvah” (Diamant, 1991).

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