Bar and bat mitzvah speeches filled with thankful words, cliches and sometimes confusion, often captured on video, have become one of the most embarrassing, yet necessary, rites of passage of adolescence.
The Education Ministry is now trying to make the tradition a bit more friendly for the young speakers, introducing a nationwide competition for bar and bat mitzvah speeches. The competition, called the "Outstanding Speech Contest" is directed toward students in 6th grade. The main goal is for students to cultivate their speaking abilities and stage presence, in front of an audience of peers. Outstanding sermons will be rewarded.
Students will be required to work on speeches in their "Israeli culture and heritage" classes. The project will not be graded, and schools will choose which speeches are entered in the national competition.
"Israeli culture and heritage" classes taught in the sixth grade nationwide, consists of studying mitzvot (commandments), responsibility and commitment. Students learn the weekly Torah portion and engage in discussion of Jewish identity, as well as craft bar and bat mitzvah speeches.
"Students will be required to write speeches that accord with their personal views, demonstrating familiarity with Jewish sources and an understanding of their relevance to their lives," the Education Ministry said in a statement. "In addition, students will be required to follow the rules of syntax, use rich and correct language and phrase their thoughts clearly."
Education Ministry Director-General Dalit Shtauber noted that the ministry placed great emphasis on encouraging students to write creatively and learning how to stand in front of an audience.
"Writing personal speeches symbolizes the transition from childhood to adulthood," said Tzipi Koritzky, director of the Education Ministry's Israeli Culture Department. They are no longer just listening to adults, but the entire audience listens to the personal speech of each student."