By Elisa Posner
Logging onto Zoom on May 28, the first night of Shavuot, 16-year-old Zachary Kasmer was nervous. It was his confirmation ceremony at Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Ashburn. He and fellow confirmand, Jacob Tucker, were about to take the Torah onto themselves.
This year, sheltering in place meant there were no confirmation traditions such as donning white robes and a flower-decked bimah. Otherwise, the ceremony went on as always. Zachary and Jacob, led services and chanted the Ten Commandments, the event that Shavuot celebrates.
And they, along with Rabbi Amy Sapowith, gave speeches.
Zachary, a sophomore at Oakton High School, discussed the Jewish value of giving the benefit of the doubt, while Jacob, a high school sophomore, explained that the perseverance of Jews throughout history led him to decide that Judaism is an important part of his identity.
“I’m not limited by what others dictate and I can choose my path,” Jacob said in his speech. “I know the importance of my Jewish identity, and I’m choosing Judaism as an important part of my life”
Sapowith said the confirmation was introduced into the Reform movement in the 19th century because 13 year olds were considered too young to accept the Torah. And through the early 20th century, confirmation was more prevalent than b’nai mitzvah in the Reform and Conservative movements.
Leading up to confirmation, confirmands have three additional years of religious study. At the 115-family Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation, confirmation students learn Jewish texts, including Mishnah and Talmud, as well as the holiday calendar and Jewish historical figures.
“We tend to make [the curriculum] about current events and values based,” Sapowith said.
Beth Chaverim confirmation students learn about relationships, self-care, mental health, bullying, anti-Semitism and race issues.
“Things that impact their lives as teenagers,” said Sapowith. “We have kids who are of color in the class, so we’ve had conversations around that. Not specifically because there are kids of color, but our Jewish population is not just white.”
After Zachary and Jacob delivered their speeches, two teachers from Beth Chaverim’s religious school gave their own speeches of congratulations.
“She knew me since I was 3 years old,” Zachary said of religious school teacher, Bari Cooper, who gave a speech about him. Zachary said it was meaningful for someone who knew him so well to deliver a congratulations speech.
Also scrapped this year was the annual trip to New York City, led by Sapowith, to learn about Jewish life there and volunteer with Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
“I’m disappointed,” Zachary said. “Everybody knows when you get confirmed you go on a trip with the rabbi and your class.”
This year’s confirmation class was smaller than usual. Zachary said a number of students dropped out. But he was glad he stayed with it.
“All the years of going to Hebrew school paid off, and I am very happy that I stuck with confirmation class.”