My bat mitzvah reception was held at Roma di Notte, an Italian nightclub in Midtown Manhattan. Described by New York magazine as the perfect spot for an “after-hours rendezvous,” the club boasted an impressive collection of Roman statues, medallions, and urns. Hidden caves, or “grottos,” insured ultimate privacy for lovers indulging in “a romantic nightcap.”
Mystery of the White Gym Socks
Why my parents chose this particular venue to fête my coming of age as a Jew is beyond me. Another mystery is why I wore a pink floor-length dress best suited for a five-year-old flower girl at a fancy wedding. Or why my mom allowed me to wear white gym socks with my patent-leather T-straps.
Turning the Tables
Another thing I don’t get? Why I didn’t claim my rightful place at the head of the kids’ table instead of way down at the end, next to my dorky cousin Jordan. (I dare you to find me in the picture, below.)
A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words
These details aren’t important, of course. I’m telling you this because, to be brutally honest, it’s all I can remember about my mitzvah. The day went by in a blur.
Sure, I have photographic evidence of the event, courtesy of my shutterbug cousin Keith, and I know I read from the Book of Leviticus, which details how and when religious offerings should be made to God. (I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say I learned more about animal sacrifice than a 13-year-old old should ever know.) Other than that…? Nada.
That’s why, when I was asked to write a short story for the upcoming Jewish MG anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories, out from Albert Whitman & Company on April 19, I chose not to borrow from my own bat-mitzvah experience. I had too many unanswered questions, and no one to answer them for me. Fiction felt more real—and more immediate—than anything my memory could provide.
With that in mind, here’s a collection of middle-grade novels that feature characters preparing for a b’nai mitzvah. Their fictional memories are way more reliable than mine. 🙂
PLUS don’t miss a chance to win a copy of Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories if you enter the giveaway. Scroll down for details!
B’nai Mitzvah Books
Beyond Lucky by Sarah Aronson
Ari Fish, who’s in the throes of studying for his bar mitzvah, believes in two things: his hero-Wayne Timcoe, the greatest soccer goalie to ever come out of Somerset Valley—and luck. So, when Ari finds a rare and valuable Wayne Timcoe trading card, he’s sure his luck has changed for the better. Especially when he’s picked to be the starting goalie on his team. But when the card is stolen—and his best friend and the new girl on the team accuse each other of taking it—suddenly Ari can’t save a goal, everyone is fighting, and he doesn’t know who, or what, to believe in. Before the team falls apart, Ari must learn how to make his own luck—and figure out what it truly means to be a hero.
The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Seventh-grader Caroline Weeks has a Jewish mom and a non-Jewish dad. When Caroline’s nana dies around the same time that Caroline’s best friend, Rachel, is having her bat mitzvah, Caroline starts to become more interested in her Jewish identity.
The Long Trail Home by Kiersi Burkhardt and Amber J. Keyser
Rivka can’t wait to get away from her family for the summer. Since that terrible day last year, she wants no part in their Jewish community. At least at Quartz Creek Ranch, she feels worlds away from home among the Colorado scenery, goofy ranch owners, and baby animals. Other parts of Quartz Creek, however, are too familiar, including the unsettling wave of anti-immigrant threats to ranch workers. On a trip to the country, Rivka is also surprised to learn the history of Jewish pioneers in the area. When she and her defiant cabinmate, Cat, face disaster in the wild, Rivka will need to find strength deep within her to help them both get home safely.
The Queen of Likes by Hillary Homzie
Karma Cooper is a seventh grader with thousands of followers on SnappyPic. Before Karma became a social-media celebrity, she wasn’t part of the in-crowd at Merton Middle School. But thanks to one serendipitous photo, Karma has become a popular poster on SnappyPic. Like most kids at MMS, her smartphone—a bejeweled pink number Karma nicknamed Floyd—is like a body part she could never live without. But after breaking some basic phone rules, Karma’s parents take Floyd away, and for Karma, her world comes to a screeching halt. Can Karma learn to go cold turkey and live her life fully unplugged?
My Basmati Bar Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman
During the fall leading up to her bat mitzvah, Tara (Hindi for “star”) Feinstein has a lot more than her Torah portion on her mind. Between Hebrew school and study sessions with the rabbi, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to hang out with her best friend, Ben-O―who might also be her boyfriend―and her other best friend, Rebecca, who’s getting a little too cozy with the snotty Sheila Rosenberg. Not to mention working on her robotics project with the class clown, Ryan Berger, or figuring out what to do with a priceless heirloom sari that she accidentally ruined. Amid all this drama, Tara considers how to balance her Indian and Jewish identities and what it means to have a bat mitzvah while questioning her faith.
Recipe for Disaster by Aimee Lucido
Hannah Malfa-Adler is Jew . . . ish. Not that she really thinks about it. She’d prefer to focus on her favorite pastime: baking delicious food. But when her best friend has a beyond-awesome Bat Mitzvah, Hannah starts to feel a little envious …and a little left out. Despite her parents’ firm no, Hannah knows that if she can learn enough about her own faith, she can convince her friends that the party is still in motion. As the secrets mount, a few are bound to explode. When they do, Hannah learns that being Jewish isn’t about having a big party and a fancy dress and a first kiss—it’s about actually being Jewish. Most importantly, Hannah realizes that the only person’s permission she needs to be Jewish is her own.
This Is Just a Test by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan Long Shang
Twelve-year-old David Da-Wei Horowitz has a lot on his plate. Preparing for his upcoming bar mitzvah would be enough work even if it didn’t involve trying to please his Jewish and Chinese grandmothers, who argue about everything. But David just wants everyone to be happy. That includes his friend, Scott, who is determined to win their upcoming trivia tournament but doesn’t like their teammate: David’s best friend, Hector. Scott and David begin digging a fallout shelter just in case this Cold War stuff with the Soviets turns south… but David’s not so convinced he wants to spend forever in an underground bunker with Scott. Maybe it would be better if Hector and Kelli Ann came with them. But that would mean David has to figure out how to stand up for Hector and talk to Kelli Ann. Some days, surviving nuclear war feels like the least of David’s problems.
Echo Still by Tim Tibbitts
Twelve-year-old Fig’s life at school is perfectly normal: He’s sure his science teacher hates him, his dad is forcing him to attend Bar Mitzvah classes because his mom would have wanted it, and he’s just been passed over for the football team in favor of Gus Starks, a ball hog and a bully. And, as if Fig’s life needed one more complication, his grandmother Gigi is unexpectedly coming to stay with him and his dad for a while. As Gigi helps Fig navigate the obstacles of school and a tough football season, Fig comes to understand some important things: about his religion, about his family, and about Fig himself.
Pink Slippers, Bat Mitzvah Blues by Ferida Wolff
After her Bat Mitzvah, all Alyssa wanted to do was dance. She loved the practice sessions at the studio. And she loved performing. But suddenly there were so many other pressures. The persistent but sympathetic rabbi wanted her to join the confirmation class. Alyssa’s best friend was very sick and needed her badly. And if Alyssa missed another dance rehearsal, she would be thrown out of the Nutcracker. If only she could decide what to do.
And last but not least…
Coming of Age: 13 B’nai Mitzvah Stories edited by Jonathan Rosen and Henry Herz
What does it mean to become an adult in your faith? Join thirteen diverse characters as they experience anxiety, doubt, and self-discovery while preparing for their b’nai mitzvah. And whether celebrating with a lavish party or in reception room A with an accordion player, the Jewish rite of passage remains the same. Filled with humor, hope, and history, there’s something in this anthology for every reader, regardless of their faith.
For a chance to win a copy of COMING OF AGE: 13 B’NAI MITZVAH STORIES, comment on the blog–and, if you’re on Twitter, on the Mixed-Up Files Twitter account, for an extra chance to win! (Giveaway ends 3/25/22; U.S. only, please.)
Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine, where she answered hundreds of letters from readers each week. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge, 2017), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman & Company). An active blogger for the popular MG website, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-grade Authors, Melissa lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.