November 20, 2012
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Bar and bat mitzvah planning

Cantor banter: Dilatory strategies

for The Brooklyn Paper

Dear Cantor Matt,

My youngest son just started his lessons and I just don’t see how he’s going to learn everything in time. I’m going to end up nagging him, we’ll start fighting, and I’m sure a war will soon break out in our house. How are we going to get through this?

—Major Mom

Dear Major Mom,

Wow. Maybe you should outflank him with a pincer movement. Lock him in his room and wait for reinforcements.

When you make bar mitzvah preparation sound like you’re readying the troops to storm the beach, you’re looking at things the wrong way. This is supposed to be a joyous occasion, Major Mom, not a major pain.

Instead, let me suggest an entirely new strategy. When you assume responsibility for his training, then his mistakes become your mistakes. This isn’t about you, it’s about him. It’s his homework. It’s his burden. You have a bunch of other things that you need to worry about — ordering invitations, booking a DJ, creating a seating chart, and arranging a block of hotel rooms for your out-of-town guests (and it needs to be a different hotel than last time — remember the hotel manager “asked” your guests not to come back?)

I’m also pretty sure your son is aware that he will soon stand up on the bimah in front of a couple hundred of his closest friends and family and have to sing something in a language he’s now just learning. That’s a pretty good incentive to do well. And if he goes AWOL on his practicing and even bombs a little, well, that’s a pretty valuable life lesson, isn’t it? Plus, by letting him maneuver through the minefield on his own, you’re allowing him to begin the process of becoming an actual adult, which, essentially is the point of this whole process.

It’s perfectly appropriate for you to keep tabs by asking him questions about his studies, but he’ll feel a lot more satisfied captaining his own ship and succeeding than having his mom bug him everyday to memorize a few pages of haftorah that he’ll end up forgetting in a few weeks.

Oh, and maybe if you book the hotel under a fake name they won’t figure it out…

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at

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