Why Hebrew School Students Choose Confirmation

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Brandon Bowman and friends at the Western Wall
Brandon Bowman (left) and his friends at the Western Wall. (Courtesy of Brandon Bowman)

Mia Schwartzberg grew up looking up at a photo of her father on a wall at Main Line Reform Temple.

That wall was filled with photos of confirmation students, and she knew that she wanted to get confirmed, too, and have her own photo join her father’s. She imagined that, one day, her own children would be looking up at her.

Through confirmation, Jewish teens “confirm” their commitment to Jewish life. According to My Jewish Learning, the practice in Judaism originated from the Reform movement in the 19th century out of the belief that older teenagers were more mature and more prepared to take on that commitment.

Nowadays, students in Hebrew schools at many synagogues can choose to continue their education after their b’nai mitzvah. That continued education is often recognized at the end of their 10th-grade year, usually around Shavuot, with a confirmation ceremony.

Earlier this year, Schwartzberg, a student at Lower Merion High School, completed her 10th grade year at TheTribe, Main Line Reform Temple’s high school program.

“After the time of my bat mitzvah, it wasn’t really a question of whether I would go to confirmation class because, over the years, it has been an enjoyable experience, rather than being forced to go,” Schwartzberg said. “I enjoyed going to Hebrew school every week, so then when it became after my bat mitzvah, I figured, ‘Why not stay?’”

Mia Schwartzberg and her family at her confirmation ceremony
Mia Schwartzberg and her family at her confirmation ceremony
(Courtesy of Mia Schwartzberg)

Her confirmation ceremony was a Friday evening service. Throughout, the students read essays or speeches they had prepared.

But her connection to her Judaism extends beyond her confirmation ceremony. She plans to continue her Jewish education at Main Line Reform Temple. Outside of synagogue, she is involved in BBYO and has joined Jewish Family and Children’s Service new junior board.

Last year, she decided to attend Alexander Muss High School in Israel, a study abroad program. Schwartzberg learned of the program through a friend and pursued the opportunity to get up close with the places mentioned in the Torah.

“Ever since I was little, my Jewish identity has been a big part of the things I do and how I live my life,” she said.

Leah Isayev, a Haverford High School student who goes to Temple Sholom in Broomall, explained that her confirmation ceremony was mostly like a regular service, with special recognition of the work the students had put in to get to this milestone, as well as speeches by the students.

Leah Isayev and her mother at her confirmation ceremony
Leah Isayev and her mother (Photo courtesy of Leah Isayev)

“I really loved the community at my synagogue,” Isayev said, reflecting on why she decided to continue her Jewish education. “I really enjoyed Judaism itself. I just love the idea. The whole purpose is helping the community, just making the world a better place.”

It was less stressful than having a bat mitzvah, she said, because that coming-of-age ritual focuses on just one person, whereas she went through the confirmation ceremony with the rest of her class. There was also more work leading up to the bat mitzvah.

Despite that, she found the lessons leading up to her confirmation ceremony — where students learned about other religions and studied the Ten Commandments — more meaningful.

“I feel like I connected to the religion more, to see comparisons to other religions and what they believe,” Isayev said. “It made me feel like I was practicing the right religion.”

At Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, Brandon Bowman went through his own confirmation ceremony a few months ago, too.

Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El is one of the four Conservative synagogues that partner with Lower Merion Area Hebrew High. The post-B’nai Mitzvah program offers a confirmation trip to Israel, and Bowman and some of his friends decided they would go on that trip together. His parents, he said, also didn’t give him much of a choice.

Bowman, a student at Radnor High School, had never enjoyed Hebrew school before, but LMAHH was different.

They learned about current events and the weekly Torah reading, Bowman said. High school programs usually offer more flexibility than programs for younger students, and LMAHH is no exception. The students got to choose what they wanted to spend the second part of the day learning. Bowman often chose to learn about Israel.

“Before my bar mitzvah, I did not want to go to Hebrew school at all,” Bowman said. “Then after my bar mitzvah, I was still kind of the same until I started LMAHH. LMAHH was pretty interesting. It wasn’t really traditional. … When I got to LMAHH, the rabbis an

Leo Perlstein at the Western Wall
Leo Perlstein at the Western Wall (Courtesy of Leo Perlstein)

d the people in charge there knew that a teenager doesn’t want to come in Sunday morning … so they really had a good lesson plan. They really benefited us, motivating us to come and enjoy our time there.”

Bowman now sits on the board of his BBYO chapter and is working to start a Jewish students club at his high school.

Leo Perlstein, a 10th grader at Harriton High School, is just beginning his own confirmation year at Har Zion Temple, also through LMAHH. Both his older sisters continued their Jewish education after their b’not mitzvah, and he recognized that there was more to learn about Judaism beyond his bar mitzvah.

But, for him, the point isn’t confirmation itself. He just sees that as a part of his larger Jewish education.

“I’m always going to continue my Judaism wherever I go and keep it with me,” Perlstein said. “It’s good to be part of that community and good to continue being Jewish.” ❤

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