Enter adulthood

You are so invited to my mitzvah project

In Short

Netflix's new Adam Sandler-produced film about growing up has an important message about the importance of tikkun olam in becoming a full member of the Jewish community

When you think of the average seventh grader, altruistic is not usually the adjective that comes to mind. According to the new Netflix film “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah,” seventh grade is a time of awkwardness, growth, exploration and the occasional jump off of a cliff into the local river. But lessons learned in middle school have a way of staying with us, and in Judaism, we provide a scaffolding for kids to wrestle with what it means to grow up through the process of becoming b’nai mitzvah.

The movie portrays Stacy Friedman (played by Sunny Sandler, whose famous father, Adam, produced the film and plays her father in it) as she undergoes a transformative journey into Jewish adulthood. The film captures the dedication, challenges and learning involved, while Stacy’s path resonates with countless young Jewish individuals. Beyond traditions like learning prayers and Torah chants, the film delves into Stacy’s struggle with the concept of the mitzvah project, highlighting the journey of personal growth and communal contribution. A mitzvah project is not merely a box to check off in the b’nai mitzvah process; it is a calling to embrace responsibility and contribute to the betterment of the world.

The term “b’nai mitzvah” literally means “children of the commandment,” and with this comes a responsibility to engage in acts of tikkun olam, repairing the world. The mitzvah project becomes a tangible embodiment of this commitment, offering young individuals the chance to make a genuine impact in their communities. It is a platform to connect with a cause they deeply care about, demonstrating their readiness to give back and make a difference. In the end, it is a celebration of not only personal growth but also a commitment to the broader world.

Stacy Friedman’s journey in the movie brilliantly encapsulates the journey of discovering the true essence of the mitzvah project. Stacy struggles with deciding on what her project should be. She reflects on how the project is supposed to represent who she is, but as a seventh-grade girl, she still doesn’t know who she is. Initially, her approach is tainted by personal desires masked as good nature. Volunteering at a retirement home is not so much about the mitzvah but rather an excuse to spend time with a boy she has a crush on. Stacy’s journey of self-discovery reflects the common struggle many face when attempting to align personal desires with selfless deeds. However, her transformation is compelling and reflective of the potential for growth that lies within the mitzvah project.

A pivotal scene where she talks with her Rabbi Rebecca (Sarah Sherman) serves as a turning point for Stacy. It marks her realization that the mitzvah project is not a boring obligation but a genuine opportunity to create change. This pivotal moment of clarity signifies her transition from self-centered motivations to a commitment to the greater good — her first step into Jewish adulthood. Stacy’s ultimate decision to use money from her own piggy bank to feed parking meters, in a true act of altruism, symbolizes the evolution that a b’nai mitzvah project can inspire.

As a Jewish educator who is actively working with b’nai mitzvah students on their mitzvah projects, I get the honor of guiding and supporting students through this transition into their Jewish adulthood. I see my students, much like Stacy, struggle to connect with a social justice issue at a young age. In the months leading up to their b’nai mitzvah, I collaborate with students through one-on-one meetings to ignite a spark of passion. I’ve seen students follow Stacy’s character arc, going from disengaged and reluctant kids to dedicated, responsible young adults.

In the final scene, as the credits are rolling, you can tell that the mitzvah project has already created an impact on Stacy, and she feels more connected to her community. With the help of her classmates, Stacy starts a bake sale and donates all the proceeds to charity. Even though her bat mitzvah is over, and she is no longer required to do so, she is still committed to tikkun olam.

“You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” is a poignant reminder that the b’nai mitzvah project isn’t just about completing a task. It’s about embracing responsibility, discovering the power of selflessness and laying the groundwork for a lifelong commitment to tikkun olam. Just as Stacy Friedman’s journey evolved from fleeting desires to genuine altruism, so too can the b’nai mitzvah project, guided by resources like the staff of Mitzvah Project Central, evolve young individuals into proactive, compassionate and engaged members of their communities and the world at large.

Elana Beame is the Rabbi Emily Feigenson, Z”L, Social Justice and Teen Engagement Fellow at Tzedek America, overseeing the Mitzvah Project Central program. She is also studying at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles pursuing a master’s degree in educational leadership.