Floyd L. Herman has had a 30-year career as a Jewish teacher and clergyman, as a chaplain in the Air Force, as a rabbi in Texas, Iowa, Illinois and Maryland, and as a lecturer at three colleges. But he never had a bar mitzvah.
Tonight, Rabbi Herman, 58, spiritual leader of the 630 families of Baltimore's historic Har Sinai Congregation, will change that.
He will chant verses from the Book of Genesis and perform the other rites in the ceremony, which is known by the Hebrew for "Son of the Commandment" and usually marks the religious maturity of 13-year-old Jewish boys.
"The point I want to make," he said, "is that Jewish education must always be continuing education. It goes on forever in Judaism, just as it does in life. As a rabbi, I am always learning."
Rabbi Herman grew up in Jackson, Miss., where the Reform temple he and his family attended, the only Jewish congregation in town, did not observe the bar mitzvah tradition.
"Beth Israel in Jackson was a classic Reform congregation," he said. In the early part of the 19th century in Europe, Reform Judaism replaced bar mitzvah for boys with the confirmation of boys and girls together generally on the feast of Shavuot.
Only in recent decades has the Reform movement in the United States restored bar mitzvah and adopted bat mitzvah, a similar ceremony for girls.
While emphasizing the lesson of continuing education, Rabbi Herman's ceremony will carry numerical symbolism, too. He is marking his 13th anniversary as rabbi of the domed Temple on Park Heights Avenue. Har Sinai, founded in 1842, is the nation's oldest continuously Reform congregation.
For his part in tonight's ceremony, Rabbi Herman has learned how to chant the assigned portion of the Torah. He also has taken instruction from Har Sinai's cantor, Rhoda Silverman. The verses he will chant are from Chapter 45 of Genesis -- about Joseph, lord of Pharoah's household, revealing himself to the brothers who sold him into Egypt, and about their reconciliation.
"What we are planning is a family occasion, a celebration of BTC parents and children, a celebration of the Har Sinai family," the rabbi said.
Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah celebrations for groups of Jewish adults who did not have the experience as 13-year-olds have become popular. For those who did have them, there is a tradition of a renewal service seven decades later, at age 83.
It's all part of necessary Jewish growth, the rabbi said. What has happened to his childhood congregation in Mississippi is an example.
"When I was growing up in Jackson," he recalled, "Beth Israel had about 100 families. Today, it has 225."
Looking forward to tonight's ceremony, Rabbi Herman said, "I think it will be a nice way to celebrate a very positive 13-year association. I hope my congregation feels the same way."