Coming of Age

CHS students share cultural coming of age traditions

Jacob Kurlander

What coming of age ritual did you have?

I had a b’nai mitzvah with my twin brother. A b’nai mitzvah is a mitzvah celebration for two people. A bar mitzvah is the ritual for boys while a bat mitzvah is the ritual for girls.

What is the significance of a mitzvah in your culture?

Submitted Photo || Jacob Kurlander
Junior Jacob Kurlander (right) poses for a photo with his mother, Beth Kurlander, twin brother, junior Eli Kurlander (center), and little brother, freshman William Kurlander (left) at his b’nai mitzvah. Jacob had his b’nai mitzvah with his twin brother.

A mitzvah is symbolizing you becoming an adult and you are taking more responsibility in your community. You lead your congregation in prayer which is a big responsibility that you can only do when you are mature. You have to be 13 when you are a guy and some girls can have theirs when they’re 12 but most girls do it when they are 13. 

What is the process that you must go through before a b’nai mitzvah?

You have to go to tutoring to learn Hebrew. I had to go since 3rd grade. You have to learn how to chant the Torah and then you also have to make a speech at your bar mitzvah about what your specific Torah portion means. Each week you go through a different portion of the Torah and depending on when your ceremony is you would recite that portion.

What are the typical aspects of a b’nai mitzvah?

First, you prepare for the ceremony by going through Hebrew school from a young age. You have to start preparing 6 months in advance by learning all the prayers. You have to practice the lecture. Afterward, you have a celebration with your loved ones to celebrate your accomplishments.

What did your mitzvah mean to you?

It was me growing as a Jewish individual and just being able to grow closer to my religion. 



Emma Cappella

What coming of age ritual did you have?

My coming of age celebration was a 16th birthday party to celebrate my progression into a major period of my life- one that involved driving and a lot more freedom and responsibility.

What is the significance of a sweet sixteen?

Historically, I’m not so sure when it became important. But in many cultures, including my culture, a person’s sweet sixteen is significant because it marks the day in an individual’s life when you are legally allowed to drive. Being able to drive, especially in our culture, makes a big difference in how you spend your time. You also become less dependent on your parents. It’s like taking a step away from your childhood.

Submitted Photo || Emma Cappella
Junior Emma Cappella (left) takes a photo with junior Tali Duckworth (right) at her sweet sixteen party. Cappella said she enjoyed her sweet sixteen because she felt like she was opening a new chapter in her life.

What are the typical aspects of a sweet sixteen? 

The concept of a sweet sixteen is multi-faceted. Everyone around you sees it in a different way. To your parents, you are getting older, and growing, so they want to celebrate that you are developing as an individual. Even though you’ve been earning new responsibilities and becoming older for your whole life, a sweet sixteen celebration is like a checkpoint for people to look back and recognize how far you have come. Another aspect of the sweet sixteen is how you view it. A lot of the media and mainstream culture creates the idea of how “magical” someone’s sweet sixteen can be, and pretty much facilitates the concept of having a “sweet sixteen birthday party.” Therefore, turning sixteen has gained more meaning in terms of being associated with a party or big celebration.

What did your sweet sixteen mean to you?

To me, my sweet sixteen was somewhat surprising. It was the first time in my life that I realized how fast time was passing. I had spent years watching family friends and relatives turn sweet sixteen, and when it was my turn, it was hard to believe. Truly, it’s a cool experience. I felt like I was opening a new chapter in my life, because after one day, there were so many new abilities I had open to me. At the same time, it was a little scary because I was reaching a point where accepting new responsibilities meant letting go of some other aspects of my life. My parents started to expect me to become more independent, so it was up to me to take care of myself more than ever. To put it simply, having a sweet sixteen was a milestone that marked personal growth and opened new doors for the future.

Graphic || Wendy Zhu