I suggest a community-wide think-tank whose task it is to revamp bar/bat mitzvah training.
This is my conclusion from the column I wrote a few weeks ago, “Does bar/bat mitzvah mean anything?” (May 27), and the responses I received. The article was predicated on the idea that a vast majority of bar/bat mitzvah students are not prepared, or interested, in this Jewish rite of passage.
Some shul leaders felt their particular place of worship had it right.
Rabbi Cory Weiss of Temple Har Zion, wrote: “Our experience at Temple Har Zion suggests it absolutely does [have meaning].”
The rabbi said the children are taught the trope (notes for reading Torah), urged to attend Shabbat services with their parents (and actually learn about the liturgy) and must play a role in a tikkun olam project.
This is indeed progressive, as the deep meaning of prayer is mostly not taught to students, regardless of denomination. When I was in yeshiva, we didn’t spend any time on studying prayer.
Temple Har Zion’s approach to teaching bnei mitzvah seems to be a positive one. It would be interesting to see how involved the bnei mitzvah are for years after their special day.
Another synagogue teacher wrote me that the system is often antiquated and has not advanced very much over the years.
She stated: “My own experience training for my bar mitzvah was conducted in the old-fashion style of rote learning. The teacher was a curmudgeon who hit me over the knuckles when a mistake was made. There was no explanation of my parshah, and I sat on a bench with a few other students awaiting my turn.”
I have seen dozens of children enter “adulthood” with little or no interest in this incredibly important Jewish part of this “rites of passage.” A Jewish leader wrote me that it’s common for children to study for a year and, unable to read Hebrew once classes were finished, have little knowledge of their portion, or Judaism in general.
Teachers are not the only problem. Often children are dropped off by parents and teachers babysit them. Parents rarely get involved. Shuls frequently hold bnei mitzvah back from learning as much of the service as they might. Expectations of the students are that they can chant the Maftir, Haftorah and sometimes some of the Torah portion, when in fact children can often do more, such as Musaf.
Sometimes we Jews fall so terribly short.
Why not bring together some of this city’s finest educators and some bar/bat mitzvah students and develop a comprehensive approach that might include the following.
a) Three months learning one’s Torah portion prior to any other lessons. This could be done in a yeshiva way, with a teacher and perhaps using a chevrutah (partner in learning);
b) An intense study of the history of the Jewish people and responsibilities as a community member, including learning leadership skills;
c) Taking on a particular mitzvah, something having to do with tikkun olam;
d) Partnering with a mentor;
e) Learning an area of interest such as Jewish law, musar (learning about personal behavior) or an area that fascinates the student (for example, if one’s portion is Noah, learn about the laws of treating animals);
f) And quarterly testing (of parents, too).
We need to demand a more holistic and comprehensive year of study with emphasis on learning and doing good, and less on the caterer.
How about a cross-city think-tank made up of our finest educators to create a groundbreaking model for “A Year Studying the Jewish Rites of Passage”? I have some ideas.
To comment, go to http://avrum.net.