This philosophical exploration of the bar mitzvah is written at a level higher than most 13-year-olds are used to reading. Even those who could understand every nuance and abstraction may not have the patience for a mystical explanation of, say, tefillin. Youngsters will, however, be drawn in by the book’s illustrated, user-friendly format, which employs generous splashes of red ink. With the help of their parents, kids can find plenty to chew on.
For adults especially, this book serves as a thought-provoking guide to the heart and foundations of Judaism. It is composed of short bursts of narrative broken up by beautiful poetry and quotes from great thinkers from throughout the ages. There are numerous black-and-white photographs of Jewish symbols, architecture, artifacts, and movie scenes. There are Jewish jokes, instructional illustrations, and whimsical flourishes at chapter breaks. All this makes the volume worthy of coffee tables. If only the cover were more interesting.
Bar mitzvah (and bat mitzvah) as a rite of passage is merely a starting point for the authors. A rabbi-philosopher, author Marc- Alain Ouaknin explores such topics as Jewish identity, the synagogue, prayer, as well as the bar mitzvah speech and party, and bar mitzvahs around the world.
Ouaknin is the director of the ALEPH Center for Jewish Studies in Paris and an associate professor at the University of Bar- Ilan (Israel), where he teaches philosophy and comparative literature. His co-author is a professor of literature and history in Mantes-la-Ville, France.
Robin K. Levinson is an award-winning journalist and author of a dozen books, including the Gali Girls series of Jewish historical fiction for children. She currently works as an assessment specialist for a global educational testing organization. She lives in Hamilton, NJ.