Last weekend, the Jewish Student Union and Jewish Life at Duke teamed up for the sixth annual Duke Bânai Mitzvah program. Jessica Matthys, T'17, and Alex Merriman, T'17, took a momentous step in their Jewish journeys, celebrating their Bânai Mitzvah with Jewish Life at Duke.
Created in 2012 as a partnership between the Jewish Student Union and JLD, the annual Bânai Mitzvah program has become one of our most beloved offerings. So far, nine Jewish Duke students (and one JLD staff member) who had not previously become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah has celebrated this milestone right here at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life.
Under the guidance of Rabbi Elana, Jess and Alex worked for several months, studying prayers and their Torah portions, practicing chanting, preparing a dâvar Torah, and completing a mitzvah project. On the morning of February 18th, before an audience packed full of friends and family from near and far, it was finally time for them to step up to the podium in the sanctuary.
Their families played in important role in the ceremony; Alex and Jess both chose Hebrew names honoring individual family members, and their parents took on roles in the service as well, with Dads opening the ark and Moms receiving an aliyah. Jessâs acapella group, Out of the Blue, also performed a beautiful rendition of Adon Olam. Following the ceremony (and obligatory candy-pelting from the audience), everyone gathered for a bagel brunch.
Later that evening, to mark their huge milestone, the Jewish Student Union threw Alex and Jess an equally huge celebration. Both honorees are already seasoned world travelers, making this yearâs theme âAll Around the World.â JSU decked out the Freeman Center out with international flags, air hockey and foosball tables, a photo booth, a DJ, and plenty of food. There were even personalized cookies honoring Jessica and Alex â a music note for Jessica, and a Zebrafish for Alex (youâll see why in their interviews below!). Over 200 students came from across campus to celebrate, raise chairs, and dance the night away.
The Bânai Mitzvah Program is made possible through the generosity of the Freeman Family Program Fund.