Speak Volumes: For B’nai Mitzvah Families

VerticalStackSpeak Volumes:  A Jewish Values Based B’nai Mitzvah Reading Program

 “I’ve read a collection of books that talk about different Jewish values, that … many people believe in, not just Jews. I read them with different members of my family, … I’m going to … make connections between the values they deal with and my own life.”

G., Age 13, Bar Mitzvah Introduction


If you are a family with Bar/Bat Mitzvah age children – whether unaffiliated with a synagogue or affiliated but disenchanted by the idea of a “religious” Bar/Bat Mitzvah – Speak Volumes: A Jewish Values Based B’nai Mitzvah Reading Program may be of some assistance to you. This unique, literature centered, child and family focused program:

  • Empowers your family to design your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony with or without institutional influence.
  • Allows your family flexibility within the program to make decisions regarding the materials to be studied and how they will be used for your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience.
  • Enables several generations of your family to learn/study together.
  • Uses materials that will engage your child (and you) while enhancing your Jewish foundation and experience.
  • Provides activities that will satisfy your family’s need for constructive social action projects within a learning framework.

The Speak Volumes: Jewish Values Based B’nai Mitzvah Reading Program addresses these needs by putting together a package consisting of outstanding Jewish books and secular books with Jewish values content for Middle School students that is not only engaging and educational, but meets today’s families where they are. Each book chosen for the program – whether Jewish or secular – has strong Jewish values content. Each book is accompanied by a companion curriculum containing questions and activities for parents/guardians and their child(ren) to engage in together after reading the book. The book/curriculum packet is available separately or as a year-long package. An example Book and Curriculum follows.

For more information, please write to KathyB[at]forwordsbooks[dot]com

“Words have another power when they’re written in books or other things. They make people laugh out loud, cry, feel scared, or inspire them to try new things.”

G., Age 13, The Truth About Truman School, “The Power of Words”


The Speak Volumes: A Jewish Values Based B’nai Mitzvah Reading Program begins with the Eilu Devarim/“These are the Obligations” Prayer, a prayer that is said by all denominations of Judaism each Shabbat morning.  I have used a translation commonly found in Mishkan T’Filah: A Reform Siddur ©2007, the Reform Jewish Prayer Book:

Eilu Devarim – אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים

These are the things that are limitless,

Of which a person enjoys the fruit of this world

while the principal remains in the world to come.

They are: honoring one’s father and mother,
engaging in deeds of compassion,

arriving early for study, morning and evening,
dealing graciously with guests, visiting the sick,
providing for the wedding couple,
Accompanying the dead for burial,
being devoted in prayer,
and making peace among people.
But the study of Torah encompasses them all.

 Making peace among a whole group of people who don’t like each other seems like an impossible task. But if you can find one small thing that they share, you can unite them in a common goal. Working together helps them see that the other people who they thought they didn’t like are more like them than they imagined.”

G., Age 13,  The Plain Janes, “Making Peace Among People”


Speak Volumes has a at least one book and curriculum package for each of the ten values listed in this prayer, from honoring one’s parents to studying Torah. Here is an example of “The Study of Torah Encompasses Them All”:

VerticalStackSpeak Volumes: A Jewish Values Based Bar/Bat Mitzvah Reading Program

Talmud Torah K’neged Kulam/The Study of Torah Encompasses Them All


Masada: The Last Fortress

by Gloria D. Miklowitz

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. ©1998

 “Judaism is an historical religion.”

~ Moses Hess (1812-1875) Jewish philosopher and socialist

Book Synopsis:

Simon ben-Eleazar, the 17-year-old son of the leader of the Zealots on top of Masada, records the story of the battle between the Roman Army and a fierce group of Jews determined to live as free people in their homeland.

Discussion Questions:

  1. This story is an example of Talmud Torah K’neged Kulam/The Study of Torah Encompasses Them All. Give some examples of why it was chosen for that reason.
  2. What is a zealot?
  3. What did you think reading Flavius Silva’s words: “…recognize the character of this enemy– the stubborn, single-minded passion of this adversary to remain free.”
  4. What were you feeling after reading this book?
  5. Adults: Read the quote associated with this book. How do you think it applies to the book you just read?


Parts of what appear to be 15 biblical scrolls have been found at the location of the Masada ruins in Israel. Some of these scrolls were from the book of Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Psalms. One of the fragments discovered on Masada has Deuteronomy 34:1-6 written on it.

Deuteronomy 34:1-6

34 Moses ascended from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the summit of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There Adonai showed him all the land — Gilead as far as Dan, all Naftali, the land of Efrayim and Manasheh, the land of Yehudah all the way to the sea beyond, the Negev, and the ‘Aravah, including the valley where Jericho, the City of Date-Palms, as far away as Zoar. Adonai said to him, “This is the land concerning which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over there.”

So Moses, the servant of Adonai, died there in the land of Moab, as Adonai had said. He was buried in the valley across from Beth-Peor in the land of Moab, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.

Read the verses above and study them together as a family. Imagine the characters in the story you just read studying this same Torah verse! There are many ways to look at and interpret each verse in Torah and see it in new ways. Start by asking questions about the material you have just read. Here is one to start you off:

-  Why do you think God buried Moses someplace where no one would find his grave?

Thoughts about Talmud Torah k’neged kulam/The study of Torah encompasses them all:

(Use this space to keep a record of your ideas, answers, research, thoughts and anything else you learn while reading about this Jewish value.)


“In my life studying the actual Torah isn’t important. The Hebrew word Torah means learning or instruction, and that’s very important to me. It’s through reading and studying that I learn about other peoples’ lives and about history, math, science, and everything else. I can’t even imagine what life would be like without books.”

                G., Age13, Masada, the Last Fortress, Studying Torah

Again if you would like more information, or to discuss this further, please write to KathyB[at]forwordsbooks[dot]com