From left, the Rev. Natalie M. Fenimore of the Unitarian...

From left, the Rev. Natalie M. Fenimore of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Ashok Vyas of Samvit Sadhanayan, and Rabbi Sharyn Perlman of Temple Beth Israel. Credit: The Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock; Ashok Vyas; Robert Salzbank

Among the religious rituals celebrating life’s milestones, those marking the passage from childhood to adulthood are especially important. This week’s clergy discuss life-cycle ceremonies observed by Long Islanders in Jewish, Hindu and Unitarian Universalist congregations.

Rabbi Sharyn Perlman

Associate rabbi, Temple Beth Israel, Port Washington

At the core of Judaism, there is a story of God and peoplehood told through our sacred calendar and life-cycle events. And one of the most important life-cycle events is the bar or bat mitzvah, the sacred ritual in which a 13-year-old boy (bar mitzvah) or girl (bat mitzvah) becomes an adult in the eyes of the Jewish community.

The "how" of this ritual: In the synagogue — witnessed by family and friends — the boy or girl is called up before the congregation and recites special blessings thanking God for the gift of our Holy Torah (the Five Books of Moses). Then they read (in Hebrew) from the weekly Torah portion and/or the weekly selection from The Prophets. The synagogue ritual is followed by a celebratory meal.

The "why" of this ritual: The bar or bat mitzvah is a liminal moment in the young person’s life and the formation of their identity. They are reminded that they now belong to something larger than themselves — they are part of a history, tradition and people dating back thousands of years. The bar or bat mitzvah ceremony is the antidote to a teen’s self-absorption and a beautiful way to affirm their burgeoning adulthood.

Ashok Vyas

Founder, Creative Hindu Alliance, Bellerose

In Hinduism, stages of life are marked by 16 samskaras, or rites of passage, which are celebrated even before a child is born and include a childbirth ceremony and a naming ritual.

The passage to adulthood for boys is marked traditionally by a samskara known as the thread ceremony, which occurs when a child is able to better understand the nuances of life and the importance of how he conducts himself and takes care of his body and mind. Traditionally, the boy’s head was shaved, but nowadays just a couple of hairs will be cut. A thread is placed on the boy’s left shoulder to help him remember that his body contains divinity.

To my understanding, there is no formal parallel ritual for girls as far as passage to adulthood, but the importance of a girl child begins when she is born. There is a ritual, Kanya Poojan, to worship a girl child during our Navaratri autumn festival. The structure of a Hindu household revolves around women, with family life sustained by their spirit of sacrifice and forbearance. The presence of a daughter in a household is considered auspicious, and the flow of cultural and spiritual knowledge is carried forward from generation to generation by women.

The Rev. Natalie Fenimore

Lead minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Manhasset

The transition from youth to young adulthood is an important milestone for the individual, the family and the faith community. It is a time when our hearts are filled with pride, joy and some anxiety. Unitarian Universalists recognize this transition as Bridging, which is both a ritual to honor this transition and the process of moving from youth groups to campus ministry or the adult faith community.

The ritual of Bridging is a ceremony held in a worship service each year, in individual congregations, and at our association’s national General Assembly. Youth speak to the congregation about their experiences, hopes and dreams. Parents and caregivers describe how they will support this transition. Congregations give gifts to the new young adults and pledge continued care. The ceremony is the acknowledgment of the new relationship being formed.

The congregation may be sending the young person away from the weekly youth group; however, the strong ties built over the years are still present. The youth walks across the bridge to young adulthood, but the new young adult is also invited to take the bridge back to the congregation, which will always be their spiritual home.

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