I know there are many questions parents have when beginning the B’nei Mitzvah process. Here are answers to some of them. Please feel free to contact me with any other questions!
I have been working with B’nei Mitzvah students for over 25 years and leading services for over 30. I genuinely love working with students and getting to know them. As an ordained rabbi who also trained as an opera singer, I bring both knowledge and music to services. 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. I create a personal, personalized journey for your child and your family. Please see my testimonials page to read some of the comments from past students and families.
Actually, every Jewish child becomes B’nei 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. They do not become B’nei Mitzvah before that, but can have this wonderful life-cycle event at any time after that. around this moment.
Some children begin studying with me in a private religious school program in 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! Rabbi Adrienne has worked with teens well past the age of 13, who have had the benefit of wisdom and maturity.
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’nei 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’nei Mitzvah! No matter what your level of knowledge and connection to Jewish tradition, there is a place for you in the B’nei Mitzvah journey of your child.
I work with students of all learning styles and abilities to prepare them for B’nei 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.
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!
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.
Personally, I don’t like this term. When child becomes B’nei Mitzvah, they are 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 the problems they see in the world – and think about what they can do to help solve them. They, they start doing that and teach the congregation what they can do, as well. My past students focused on animal welfare, literacy, poverty, litter, meat consumption, plastic use and even a lack of kindness in the world.
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. Some want to sing everything they can! The only things I ensure that each student sings are the Sh’ma and the Torah blessings, which are the same the world over.
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.
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 photo copy 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.
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.
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’nei 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!”
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!
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 or Skype or Google Chat. And you can hold B’nei Mitzvah anywhere.
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. After all, I have been the Cantorial Soloist at Temple Micah in Lawrenceville, NJ, for almost 25 years!