Families probably spend more time and energy planning for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah than any other life cycle event. From the time they receive a date until the day the momentous occasion occurs, much effort and emotion on the part of the families are invested in the success of the special day. But what does success mean? How is it measured, if it is measured at all?
When a child ascends the Bimah on his Bar Mitzvah or her Bat Mitzvah day, it is really the culmination of a process that has been in existence for several years. When the children enter Religious School in Aleph, third grade, they begin learning their Hebrew letters and vowels. With practice both in school and at home, by the end of Bet, fourth grade, students should be comfortable functionally reading Hebrew words and sentences. The key here is practice. Attendance at Junior Congregation services on Shabbat morning and Friday evening services also leads to greater comfort with Hebrew language.
When the children enter the Gimel class, they receive a CD which has the required prayers they will need to know for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, regardless of whether it will be held on Shabbat morning or afternoon or a Sunday morning holiday or Rosh Hodesh. At this point attendance at services becomes more critical, because children need to become more comfortable with the Friday evening service and the service that will mirror their Bar or Bat Mitzvah service. Even though many prayers are introduced during their school sessions during the week, reinforcement at Shabbat services is extremely helpful.
The children begin more formal training eight to ten months prior to their actual Bar Mitzvah date. For some that is during their Dalet year, sixth grade, while for others it may be early in their Hei year, seventh grade. The children have six prayer study sessions with other children who have similar prayer requirements. When they finish classes they begin private one-on-one tutoring sessions with a trainer to work on their Torah and Haftarah portions, if applicable. They are issued a computer program to help them with their studies. Weekly lessons continue up to the week of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Rehearsals are held in the sanctuary prior to the actual Bar or Bat Mitzvah day to help bring together all of the elements of the service for the family, as well as for the child.
Returning to the questions in the opening paragraph, every family and child has their own definition of success. In business terms families now measure their return on their investment. The investment is mainly one of time. Time for practice and attendance at services are the primary commitments needed for the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child to perform both successfully and comfortably on the Bimah. The more comfortable a child is, the less nervous they are, and fewer mistakes are likely to be encountered.
As Cantor, I am always available to help any family before, during and after this special day.
Cantor Paul Frimark