I know there are many questions parents have when beginning the B-Mitzvah process. Here are answers to some of them. (It is a long list!) Please feel free to contact me with any other questions!
How is working with Rabbi Adrienne different?
I create a personal, personalized journey for your child and your family. I genuinely love working with students, getting to know them, and creating lifelong relationships with them. I feel strongly about including everyone in the service, so I ensure the service is participatory and that the people attending understand the purpose and meaning of the customs and prayers, particularly those in Hebrew. Please see my testimonials page to read some of the comments from past students and families.
When can my child become B-Mitzvah?
Actually, every Jewish child becomes B-Mitzvah upon their 13th birthday (some synagogues celebrate a girl’s Bat Mitzvah at 12). The moment in the service when the child is officially a “son or daughter of commandment” occurs when they are called to the Torah to recite the blessings for the first time. This wonderful life-cycle event can occur at any time after the child turns 13. Most families choose that age, but some people choose 16, 18, or even adulthood! My oldest Bat Mitzvah “girl” was 90!
When do we have to start?
Some children begin studying with me in a private religious school program or in the Next DOR group learning program in 3rd, 4th or 5th grade. Others begin 12-18 months before their desired date. Quite frequently, we will begin studying together before setting a date. This enables me to gauge how long the preparation will take and to recommend a timeline. It is never too late! I have worked with teens well past the age of 13, who have had the benefit of wisdom and maturity. And adults can become B-Mitzvah, too!
Do you work with interfaith families?
Yes! Many of my students are part of interfaith families. It is very important for all members of the family to feel connected to the B-Mitzvah process and the service itself. And I have found that for many Jewish parents, the last time they picked up a prayer book was when they became B-Mitzvah themselves! No matter what your level of knowledge and connection to Jewish tradition, there is a place for you in the B-Mitzvah journey of your child.
Is it okay that my child has learning differences and does not know Hebrew?
I work with students of all learning styles and abilities to prepare them for B-Mitzvah. Some students begin having complete years of religious or day school and are already proficient in Hebrew; others cannot recognize a single letter. Some have special needs or learning differences. Some are highly gifted and talented and need an enriched program of study. Some are twice exceptional. All of them respond to the individualized instruction and love of learning I bring to our lessons.
How much will my child have to do?
Most of my students lead the entire service with me! They lead the prayers, read or chant from the Torah scroll, deliver a D’Var Torah (words of Torah – a lesson on the day’s Torah portion) and either read Haftarah (a reading from one of the other books of the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible) or teach the congregation about a Modern-Day Prophet. This probably sounds like a lot! But your child is never alone and will never be asked to do more than they are capable of doing. The amount of Torah and Hebrew they read or sing depends on them and their abilities. It should be enough to be a meaningful challenge, but not so much as to be overwhelming. Your child should feel successful and triumphant on that day!
Will my child learn from a transliteration or recording?
I have found that the very best way to learn to decode Hebrew is to practice doing it. After all, when a child learns to walk, we don’t give that child crutches and say, “Don’t worry, you never have to walk without these!” With each student, I take the time to ensure they are confident in their ability to with decode Hebrew so that they can not only do the rest of their preparation, but can also be comfortable reading and following along in any service they go to in the future.
Will my child have to be fluent in Hebrew?
No, but your child will learn the meanings and purpose behind what we are doing. As a matter of course, we will discuss some words and grammar that help make it all make more sense.
Does my child have to do a Mitzvah Project?
Personally, I don’t like this term. When a child becomes B-Mitzvah, they are a Jewish adult and responsible for taking on the mitzvah (commandment) of tikkun olam – repairing the world. So, the notion of a Mitzvah project indicates an end, when this is really a beginning. I ask my students to look at this in three ways: Tikkun olam, g’milut chasadim, and tzedakah. Tikkun olam is thinking big. They consider the problems they see in the world – and think about what they can do to help solve them. Then, they start doing that and teach the congregation what they can do, as well. My past students have focused on animal welfare, literacy, poverty, litter, meat consumption, plastic use and even a lack of kindness in the world. G’milut chasadim is the opposite – thinking about those little acts of loving kindness we can do every day. In each lesson, I challenge my students to tell me one kind thing they have recently done so that they can teach others at their B-Mitzvah that making the world a better place is easier than it sounds. Finally, for tzedakah I ask each student to identify a nonprofit to which they will donate some of their own money to – and which they will ask others to donate to, as well. This helps them understand what a nonprofit organization is and how nonprofits make a difference.
My child hates to sing. Will my child have to sing?
While as a trained opera singer, I love to sing, I know that not everyone does! Some children are not singers and singing actually detracts from their experience. The only things I ensure that each student knows how to sing are the Sh’ma and the Torah blessings, which are the same the world over.
My child loves to sing. How much can they sing?
This is music to my ears! When I work with a student that loves to sing, I try to give that student as many singing opportunities as possible! Many of the prayers are set to music. In addition, I can teach your child both Torah trope and Haftarah trope. There are recordings on my website here. I do not recommend using them to practice until the words are fully learned, however, as frequently this results in words being mispronounced! Plus, once you know the words, you can sing them to any melody you hear, which makes it easier when you go to a service at a different synagogue.
How much time will my child spend in lessons?
Lessons are usually held weekly for 30 to 45 minutes for combined B-Mitzvah/Private Religious School. Sometimes extra lessons are needed closer to the date.
How can my child learn to read from the Torah without the vowels?
It is a step-by-step process! First, your child will learn to read the verses they select on a piece of paper, with the vowels. After that, they will learn to read it without the vowels, using a photocopy from a Tikkun, a special book that shows the Torah with and without the vowels. If they are not chanting, they will then transfer that knowledge to reading the letters from the scroll itself. If your child wishes to chant the Torah verses, they will then learn the trope marks and the melodies, and will be given a recording to facilitate their practicing. And then they will learn to chant the verses on the copy without the vowels so that they can sing the words from the scroll itself.
Will my child read from a real Torah?
Yes! There is nothing like reading from the actual scroll!
How much will my child have to practice?
This is the $100,000 question! I ask each student to practice each and every day. They will accomplish a lot more by practicing 5 minutes a day than 30 minutes a week, right before their lesson. And they really do start with 5 minutes/day and increasing from there as the date draws nearer. I prepare special learning sheets for each child, in order to make their practice time more efficient.
What are the services like?
I delight in facilitating services that are meaningful to all gathered. It is my feeling that Shabbat services need to be welcoming experiences, not formulaic and solemn. There are always guests who come who are not Jewish or have not picked up a prayer book in a very long time – maybe even since their own B-Mitzvah years! I especially enjoy involving the members of the family in the service and explaining the prayers and customs as the service progresses, so that everyone finds meaning in it. As I love to tell my students, “It’s not boring when you know what’s going on!”
Will I have to say anything in Hebrew?
The only Hebrew you as a parent will have to say are the blessings before and after the Torah reading, should you wish to do so. A transliteration is available for that should you need one.
I want to have my child’s B-Mitzvah in a hotel. Can I do that?
Sure! There are no requirements about where a service has to be held. I have led services in synagogues, church buildings, hotels, restaurants, clubs, people’s homes, and even scout camps. After all, our ancestors created a traveling synagogue in while wandering for forty years in the desert!
What if we don’t belong to a synagogue?
Some families don’t belong to a synagogue for a variety of reasons. And for some children, a traditional religious school program doesn’t work well, whether for timing or learning style reasons. This is not a problem! You can start religious education privately and do it in person or online via Zoom. And you can hold a B-Mitzvah anywhere.
Can you work with my child if we are members of a synagogue?
I am happy to tutor children who need extra assistance or enrichment outside of their existing religious education. Once I know what your synagogue requires them to learn and do, I can help your child with their preparation. I am familiar with many approaches to this process and will be sure to follow the guidelines of your existing religious school.
How much will this cost?
Private religious school and B-Mitzvah tutoring is conducted on a pay-as-you-go basis. The cost of lessons is $1/minute, so $30 for a 30-minute lesson and $45 for a 45-minute lesson. The officiation fee for the service itself is $600. Families are asked to reimburse transportation time and costs for locations further than one hour from Princeton, NJ. I will provide your family with a contract when you begin tutoring and again when you schedule the B-Mitzvah date.
Do we have to be in Central NJ?
No, I can tutor your child by Zoom. For the service itself, I can travel to you. If you are within a reasonable driving distance, it is wonderful to be able to meet live and in person several times before the service, but it is not necessary for a wonderful B-Mitzvah day.
We don’t believe in God. Can my child become B-Mitzvah?
Absolutely! The name “Yisrael” means “wrestles with God” – as Jews, we are supposed to question God and our relationship to God! In fact, there’s a whole denomination of Judaism called (Secular Humanist Judaism), in which God does not play a role. To ensure you have a service that is meaningful to you, we can adjust the blessings, rewrite the prayers and focus on Torah as stories and teachings.
I have twins or children who are close in age. Can they prepare together?
No problem! I have worked with many joint services and they are wonderful. I generally teach the students together, but as we get closer to the date, I often need to have some individual lessons with each child.
Who will be there?
A Do-It-Yourself B-Mitzvah means that the congregation will be composed of whomever you invite. The services range from the very small (immediate family) to the very large. The important point is that the community is yours, not comprised of people you do not know.