Jewish rite of passage requires intense focus

SOUTH RIVER, N.J. — You've just finished reading your part of the Haftarah. As you look up from where you stand, you survey the crowd that has been watching you.

It is the day of your bar or bat mitzvah and you have just established yourself as a Jewish man or woman.

Abby Rubin remembers this day quite well. For her, it occurred just this past May at Temple Emanu-El in Edison, N.J.

"I was nervous about everything, but once the whole thing got started, it was OK," she said. For Abby, this day was especially great because she spent it with her twin brother, Andrew Rubin.

"He was a lot less nervous than I was," she said.

"It was a little easier because we got to split up which prayers we were going to read," Andrew added.

Though Abby and her brother had a lot fun that day, they cannot deny the amount of work that was put into studying because it was such an important day in their Jewish lives.

Michael Rosenblum knows exactly what they went through.

He had his bar mitzvah with his own twin brother, Richard, back in February, also in Temple Emanu-El. He remembers how much studying had to be done.

"We started back in September and October of 1998. We had to learn the [Torah portion], Haftarah, synagogue prayers, and we had to write a speech. We had a lot of group sessions and private sessions with the cantor. It was a lot of work and took a long time, but it was worth it."

Sarah Goldberg recalls a lot of the same preparation for her recent bat mitzvah at Congregation Neve Shalom in Metuchen.

"I studied a lot," she recalls. "The words were cool-looking but hard to read, so I spent a long time on it."

The day of their b'nai mitzvah is a day these 12- and 13- year-olds will not soon forget.

"My best experience was reading from the Torah because it was a challenge," Sarah said.

"For me," Andrew said, "the best experience was seeing the relatives I don't normally get to see."

When the excitement of the day is over, only one word can come to their minds: relief.

"I was nervous and excited," Sarah said, "but glad to get it over with."