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Life cycleS

Life Cycles honor the milestones of life, from birth to one’s last breath and the care of the family. We list the most important events below. Reach out to our Clergy at any time to explore and learn how to make these events as meaningful and reflective of your Jewish values as possible. 

Brit Milah / Baby Naming

Mazal Tov! Congratulations on the new addition to your family! 
Of course, welcoming a child into the world in the Jewish tradition brings many questions. Our clergy are here to lovingly and supportively help you celebrate this incredible moment. 

A Name
In the Jewish tradition, one's name bestows personal identity and familial and religious connection. A name can honor a deceased relative or to the virtue of a biblical figure. Eastern European Jews often follow the custom of naming a child after a deceased relative. Many Jews of Sephardic descent have a custom of choosing a name of a living relative. Some couples choose a Hebrew or Yiddish name with the first letter reflecting the person they would like to honor. 

A child’s Hebrew name is their first name, which may include a second name (e.g., Chanah or Chanah Leah), ben or bat, meaning the son or the daughter of, the first name of each of their parents (e.g., Chanah bat Yonatan v’Sarah).

Brit Milah (or “Bris”)
Bringing a male child into the covenant of Israel includes a physical sign of the bond between the Jewish people and God. This is a brit milah, the covenant of circumcision, a religious obligation performed on boys. Be aware that a medical circumcision is not considered a brit milah because it is not done with a religious intention or in a spiritual atmosphere.

The brit milah takes place on the eighth day of a healthy baby’s life, regardless of Shabbat or Yom Kippur. It may be postponed in case of illness or weakness but cannot be rescheduled on holidays or on Shabbat. Mornings are customary for the event, so the mitzvah is not delayed, and guests can attend before going to work.

Although guests are often invited, the only required participants are the parents, the baby, the mohel (the specially trained officiant who conducts the circumcision), and the sandek (an honored assistant), often a grandfather, whose function is to hold the baby. Other ceremonial roles may be distributed among family and close friends, such as carrying the baby from and back to the mother. (Note: A mohel may need advance notice of the approximate time and day he is needed, so call ahead to see if he is available a week after your due date). The rite can be as simple as brief few minutes or as involved as a family would like to plan.

In the case of an adopted infant son, circumcision should be done as soon as possible. If the child has already been circumcised, but is not Jewish, the mohel must draw a drop of blood at the site of the circumcision before he is taken to the mikvah (ritual bath). 

Once the circumcision is complete, a kiddush or blessing over the wine is made, and the baby is given his name. Parents often explain the reason for naming the child as they did. The event concludes with a celebratory meal, the se’udat mitzvah.

Brit Ha-Bat
Because a girl does not go through circumcision, there are more options for the type of celebration to welcome and name a daughter. There are different terms for such celebrations, including, Simchat Bat and Zeved Ha-Bat, and others. Brit Ha-Bat connotes the daughter being brought into the covenant (brit). 

With a Brit Ha-Bat, there is no obligation to perform it on the eighth day after birth, as with a boy. One may schedule it on the eighth day or at a time most convenient for family and friends and mother and daughter. This can take place at home or at the synagogue on Rosh Hodesh, Shabbat, or at a Havdalah.

There are different ceremonial options to discuss with the rabbi for a Brit Ha-Bat, such as a candle lighting ceremony, a tallit ceremony, or a handwashing ceremony. After the ceremony, the baby’s name is announced and explained by the parents. The event concludes with a celebratory meal, the se’udat mitzvah

B'nei Mitzvah

Mazal tov on your upcoming celebration! With the Bar or Bat Mitzvah on the horizon, you are entering into an incredibly exciting period of Jewish engagement. All of us at Kol Shofar wish to help make the process and ceremony a meaningful and memorable experience for you, your family, and the congregation.

You can expect an enriching, smooth, and memorable experience at Kol Shofar. We seek to create an environment wherein everyone in the family is a part of the process, comfortably involved in learning and understanding this spiritual time of transition. We have created a series of learning opportunities for family members from the 5th through the 7th grades, designed to broaden and deepen our connection to our tradition and community. Of course, we encourage your family to attend Shabbat services, which provide everyone with a sense of comfort and familiarity with the service before the day of the celebration.

Our B’nei Mitzvah students will become deeply familiar with some of our tradition's most central Shabbat prayers; learn to chant Torah; study the meaning of their Torah portion and examine its relevance to their own lives, and write and present their own D’rash (speech). We hope that throughout this process, our students will also learn about themselves, their interests and passions, and their connection to Judaism.

Skills training will be one-on-one, individualized, and tailored to meet the needs of each student with our team of expert tutors. Our clergy are here for you every step of the way to guide our students and their parents through this beautiful journey.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at any time. We are looking forward to celebrating with you and your family. Mazal Tov!

Kol Shofar offers a robust B’nei Mitzvah program for children and their families. We are honored to guide you on this profound lifecycle journey. Our B’nei Mitzvah Handbook contains a detailed timeline of events and explanations for each part of the process, which will help to ensure success on this important occasion.

For questions about B'nei Mitzvah, contact:
Cantor Naomi Weiss 

Wedding and Aufruf

The Jewish wedding is the premiere lifecycle event. Although the core of the ritual is simple, the customs, symbols, and traditions associated with Jewish weddings echo throughout the year.

It is traditional for the wedding couple to come up for a blessing over the Torah on the Shabbat prior to the wedding. In Yiddish, this is called an Aufruf, meaning "calling up." Here, the couple can be celebrated by the whole congregational community. The rabbi also traditionally offers a special blessing to the couple, called a mi sheberach. 

The Huppah
The Jewish marriage takes place beneath a huppah, a canopy supported by four poles. A huppah can be raised anywhere, indoors or outdoors. It symbolizes the commitment to creating a Jewish home. Kol Shofar has a huppah that it can lend, although some couples prefer special canopies, either made or inherited, to be used as heirlooms.

There are certain calendrical restrictions as to when weddings can take place. Jewish weddings do not take place on Shabbat or the following Festivals: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, First and Second Day of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah, and Shavuot.

Jewish weddings do not occur during traditional times of communal mourning: from the second day of Passover through Lag Ba-Omer and from the 17th of Tammuz through the 9th of Av. The online date converter at can help convert English dates to Hebrew and vice-versa.

In Advance of the Wedding
Upon engaging our Kol Shofar clergy to officiate the wedding, they will want to meet with the couple to discuss practical matters about the ceremony, such as the arranging of the Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract), the signing of the State Marriage License, the participation of witnesses, family participation, and the details of the ceremony. Clergy will also want to get to know the couple better and discuss Jewish values pertaining to marriage and relationships.

Basic Order of the Wedding Ceremony
Before the Ceremony
A. Kinyan (“contracts”) Signing Documents:
        State Marriage License
        Ketubah – witnesses must be Jewish and non-relatives
B. Bedeken, Veiling & Blessing (Optional)

The Wedding Ceremony
A. The Procession
B. Opening Blessings
C. Erusin - Betrothal Blessings – recited over a full cup of wine. 
D. Exchanging Rings - the ring is placed on the right forefinger. (The ring is whole, unbroken, and has no stones). Couples often exchange vows at this point.
E. The Ketubah is read aloud and presented to the couple.
F.  There is a custom of wrapping a tallit around the newly married couple as the Sheva B’rachot, Seven Blessings are recited.
G. Nisuin and Sheva B’rachot – Seven Wedding Blessings, recited over a second full cup of wine.  
H. Rabbi speaks to the couple.
I. Benediction (Blessing)
J. Breaking of the glass.
After the Ceremony
A. Yichud (“Intimacy”) – The couple are given some moments of privacy.
B. The Wedding Feast – It is an obligation of guests to entertain the bride and groom. The Seven Blessings are recited following the Grace after the meal.

Choosing Judaism

Choosing to become Jewish, referred to as Conversion or becoming a Jew by Choice, is a major and momentous occasion. One who chooses Judaism is beautifully rendered by the tradition as ger tzedek, “a righteous proselyte” from the same root as tzaddik or "righteous/holy person." One who chooses to become Jewish is a member in full standing of the Jewish community, with every benefit and right of one born into Judaism. There are important Jewish scholars and historical figures who chose Judaism, including Onkelos, who rendered the authoritative Aramaic translation of the Torah in the 1st Century. No stigma should be attached to choosing Judaism at any stage of life.

There are two fundamental requirements for one to fulfill to become a Jew by Choice:
The first is study – Those who choose Judaism are asked to fulfill specific educational requirements. This is often completed in an Introduction to Judaism course. Kol Shofar offers such a course each year, usually beginning soon after the High Holidays and continuing into the spring (please consult the Kol Shofar calendar for a list of dates and times for the Introduction to Judaism course). Some candidates may also study privately with a rabbi, and would be given a list of books to read and exercises to complete according to their passions and interests

Second, the requirement of Mikvah – For anyone to complete the process of becoming Jewish, one must immerse in a ritual bath called a mikvah (circumcised men also undergo a ritual circumcision of drawing one drop of blood from an already circumcised foreskin). Water symbolizes rebirth, renewal, and life, as the mikvah serves as a metaphorical womb from which one emerges with a new spiritual identity. Before immersing in the mikvah, there is a gathering of a Beit Din, a Jewish court of law (usually 3 Jewish clergy members), which culminates the process of study in anticipation of this final ritual. Jews by choice often invite family members to attend the mikvah and celebrate with a meal afterward.

Death and Mourning

There is nothing that can completely prepare anyone for the loss of a loved one. The Kol Shofar clergy are available to provide support and counseling through the process. 

The Funeral
Traditionally, Jewish funerals take place as soon after death as possible. The funeral service generally happens at the synagogue or the cemetery (either at a cemetery chapel or graveside). The service typically includes some readings from Jewish texts, a eulogy, and the El Maleh Rahamim (God Full of Compassion) prayer.

The first week after the funeral is known as shiva (literally, “seven”). During this period, the mourners are treated with the utmost care and respect. Kol Shofar has a volunteer group – Gemilut Chesed Committee – that helps to ensure spiritual and emotional needs are met, including arranging meals. Traditionally, mourners mostly remain at home, and a shiva service is held (often in the evening) at the home, so that the mourners may recite the Kaddish. Mourners are encouraged to join the congregation at the Tuesday and Thursday morning minyan, and on Shabbat to say Kaddish, surrounded by the comfort of community. 

Kaddish and the First Year of Mourning
Traditionally, mourners who have lost a parent say the Mourner’s Kaddish daily for eleven months (or a full year). In modern practice, mourners may recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for 11 months for other immediate relatives as well. 

There is a traditional obligation to create some form of matzevah (“monument,” usually a gravestone) to mark the site of the grave. The unveiling is a formal ceremony following the placement of the tombstone. Customs differ, but the unveiling is generally held in the month before the first yahrzeit (anniversary of the death). The ceremony is brief and usually includes some psalms and readings, a few words about the deceased, the removal of a covering from the monument, the El Malei Rachamim prayer, and the Mourner’s Kaddish. Many continue to visit the grave on yahrzeits and during the High Holiday season.

Yahrzeit is the yearly anniversary of a loved one’s death (traditionally observed on the Hebrew calendar). We observe yahrzeit at home by lighting a yahrzeit candle (which burns for 24 hours) in memory of our loved one. In the synagogue, we observe yahrzeit by saying the Mourner’s Kaddish at services.

Kol Shofar has a wall of remembrance in our sanctuary, providing an ever-present tribute to important people in our lives. You may dedicate a Yahrzeit plaque to help perpetuate the memory of a loved one. Each plaque will include the Hebrew and English names and the date of death according to the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars. 

Sun, June 16 2024 10 Sivan 5784