Bar / Bat Mitzvah

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Are you looking for a special way for your son or daughter to prepare for becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah?

  • Perhaps you are not a member of a synagogue and you wonder about creating a creative, personalized event that is just the right fit for your family and your child.
  • Perhaps you have a child with special needs, and are looking for a unique one-on-one relationship with loving tutors who understand your child and can craft lessons that generate enthusiasm, motivation, questioning and real learning.Perhaps your child is gifted and talented in ways that a run-of-the-mill synagogue program can’t even touch.
  • Or perhaps you want just something different.

For many years my husband, Cantor Jack Kessler, and I have helped families for whom the mainstream Hebrew School environment is not adequately stimulating or spiritually enriching, to create a custom program of learning in preparation for a really meaningful bar/bat mitzvah experience.

Our approach is inquiry oriented, meaning that we love kids and like to work with kids who want to think and be creative, who have challenging questions, and who want to have fun learning. Our curriculum covers the important basics, but is guided by kid's questions, and linked as much as possible to the learning kids are doing in school and things they already know. We want to stretch kids imaginations! We help kids understand their unique link to a living history. We teach in inspired and inspiring ways, using art, stories, hands-on experiences, videos, music… to help our students learn what Jewish spirituality is, and how we can discover the creative power we call God in ourselves, other people and the world. We stress the values of peace, compassion, justice, and care for the earth and all creatures.

We create a very beautiful, music-filled and spiritually significant bar/bat mitzvah celebration with the families with whom we work. The event might be a Shabbat morning service, or can be a late Shabbat afternoon/early evening "Mincha-Maariv" service, and there are other options too. All services have a basic structure, but we very flexibly include songs, readings. poetry and sharing by family members. Of course, we teach the Torah reading and basic prayers, and what they mean, so that your child can lead parts of the service according to his or her ability and inclination. Your family and heritage will be celebrated in all the ways you hope for.

What do we require of students?

We build a relationship that models Jewish life and learning as exciting and fun. Prayers are poetry for opening our minds and hearts, not meaningless mumbles. Jewish history and customs become alive and relevant. There are movies to see, books to read, questions to think about. We want this to be a great experience, not a burden - so there is some homework, but we keep it light.

Chanting from the Torah scroll is very powerful. Every Jewish child should have this experience. Sometimes a child is musically challenged, and we have to adjust, but the feel and power of the scroll is awesome. We teach each child to chant from Torah, and to understand the meaning of the section in the larger context of Torah as the core story of our people's unfolding quest to be in relationship with God and live ethical lives.

The amount each child chants varies. We stress Torah reading, not the prophetic haftara, because Torah reading is easier, more primal, is done directly from the scroll, and is the context of the family being called up to the Torah with their child.

How does your child learn to read Hebrew? Sometimes children come with Hebrew reading skills from earlier Hebrew School experiences, and sometimes not. Generally we do all the tutoring, making sure that your child can decode simple Hebrew and read basic prayers. Then we progress to helping your child read the Hebrew of his or her section of Torah. We make mp3 files that your child can download onto cd or iPod.

And sometimes there is another Hebrew reading tutor with whom the student can also work. When this is the case, we coordinate with that tutor so we are all on the same page. Cantor Jack is a superb vocal coach, performance coach, and Torah reading (chanting) coach. He is a great motivator, and super with kids. When there is another tutor involved, we let that tutor do the basics and then Jack makes it better. More often, Jack and I work with your child all the way from start to finish.

Some families work with their child on a “Mitzvah Project.” It can be great for a kid and family to do some kind of special mitzvah project, or special learning, in honor of becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Children and families choose many different kinds of projects based on the child’s interests and opportunities.

One thing that each child does, of course, is write and deliver a “Dvar Torah,” a teaching about the section of Torah your child reads. I have a structured way of guiding each child through the process of creating and writing this teaching. We coach each student through both the writing and the public delivery, so that this becomes a centerpiece of the event. After the child chants from the Torah and shares the teaching, parents too are invited to speak – and of course there are opportunities for parents, grandparents, relatives and friends to be part of the service in diverse ways.

Types of venue and location for the service

A synagogue is not a building, it is the people who come together with the intention of creating a gathering for prayer and connection. So we can turn any location into our “shul.” We've worked in restaurants, hotels, clubs, parks, museums...

Members of my synagogue, P’nai Or, can of course hold the ceremony there.

What are your fees?

We charge $80/hour for our one-on-one teaching and coaching lessons that are held in my home, a veritable Jewish “please-touch” museum filled with learning resources. We typically meet weekly with your child, creating a flexible schedule that allows for heavy homework days, vacations, times when a child is sick.. and times I too may be out of town. We understand the hectic pace of family life, and communicate on scheduling so things work out.

Our fee for officiating the service is $1500, which includes developing the personalized bar/bat mitzvah prayer book, the use of the Torah scroll, a small sound system, and the leadership of both myself and Jack - rabbi and cantor.

Do contact me if you think this might be just right for you, or to ask any further questions.