Area educator writes bnai mitzvah guide

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Although Patti Moskovitz never celebrated a bat mitzvah, she's been through the Jewish life-passage innumerable times.

A Jewish educator for more than 45 years, Moskovitz has spent many a day tutoring b'nai mitzvah students of all ages and affiliations. And as a parent of three grown children, Moskovitz has had her share of planning the lifecycle event for her own family.

Now, the Bay Area educator has written a book to guide others through the often-stressful process. Drawing from research, firsthand knowledge and observation, "The Complete Bar/Bat Mitzvah Book" provides an in-depth, user-friendly look at the spiritual and practical sides of bar-bat mitzvahs, incorporating experiences and family rituals from varied traditions.

"The purpose is to help people go through this process in the most joyous and complete way possible," said Moskovitz, a Foster City resident and native San Franciscan. "Hopefully this will give meaning to the entire experience so it resonates with them for the rest of their lives."

In her book, Moskovitz explores all levels of the b'nai mitzvah, covering everything from choosing a synagogue to life after the big day.

Excerpts written by children and adult "survivors" are incorporated throughout, detailing the lessons they've gained from the experience.

In a section on b'nai mitzvah for adults, for instance, 55-year-old Leslie Sachs, founder of the Coastside Jewish Community in Half Moon Bay, writes: "As I prepared for this life-affirming event…I found the connections in my life between my growth as a person and my spiritual growth as a Jew. I learned about the meaning of Torah and where my more-treasured and deeply felt values came from."

These excerpts have had a strong impact for at least one reader, 12-year-old Julia Margulis. An eighth-grader at Presidio Middle School in San Francisco, Margulis recently prepared for a July bat mitzvah.

Generally speaking, Margulis said she couldn't wait "to feel that I really am a Jewish adult."

However, as an only child, Margulis was somewhat in the dark about the bat mitzvah process.

The book, she said, gave "me a better idea of what to expect."

While she found the advice useful, Margulis admitted she was "still really nervous" before the event.

The book, she said, gave "me a better idea of what to expect."

While she found the advice useful, Margulis admitted she was "still really nervous" before the event.

Moskovitz said it's quite normal for a bar/bat mitzvah student to have anxiety. She also said she has no doubt that Margulis will conquer her fears and have a remarkable experience.

Moskovitz is a member of Reform Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame and Conservative Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City. Her community involvement, like her book, spans the Jewish spectrum.

An active participant in many Jewish organizations around the Bay Area as well as nationally, Moskovitz has worked with rabbis of all affiliations and levels and has done extensive work for the S.F.-based Bureau of Jewish Education. She is a member of the Conversion to Judaism Resource Center advisory board and has given lectures throughout the country on a variety of Jewish subjects.

In addition to "The Complete Bar/Bat Mitzvah Book," Moskovitz authored "The Minyan," and co-authored "Embracing the Covenant."

Throughout her career, she has attended many b'nai mitzvah, becoming a bit of an expert on aspects that work and those that don't.

Her main criticism lies with elaborate, costly bar/bat mitzvahs, those revolving around the reception and party.

"The primary problem with planning extravaganzas is that the meaning of the bar/bat mitzvah passage is lost," she said. "When parents lose sight of the meaning, then the child loses sight of the meaning."

The author believes the event is one of the most significant journeys a Jew can take. Therefore, it should be filled with emotion and meaning — not just novelties such as a disc jockey and flower arrangements.

"It's the beginning of adulthood and a more serious involvement in Judaism," said Moskovitz.

"It's also a wonderful opportunity to celebrate community — to have people around who love you. The people who come to your bar or bat mitzvah will probably be the same people who come to your wedding."

Reminiscing on her own children's experiences, Moskovitz is convinced that her book could have made life "a whole lot easier" for everyone.

"I think it was more overwhelming for me than it was for them," she admitted.

"At least I know it will help with my grandchildren," Moskovitz said of Rebecca, 6, and David, 3, quickly adding with a sigh, "I still have some time…"