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Bar and bat mitzvah planning

And the award goes to…

for The Brooklyn Paper

Dear Cantor Matt,

Our son is preparing for his bar mitzvah, but we have an awkward problem. We’re not religious and really don’t like going to services. We feel really hypocritical making him learn so much about how to lead services and read the Torah when we don’t think it’s anything he’ll ever do again. Right now we’re doing a good job of keeping up the act, but how long until he sees through?

— Oscar Worthy

Dear Oscar—

I’m always happy to hand out a “Best Supporting Actor in a Religious Ceremony” award, but I wonder why you feel the need to put on such a dramatic performance?

Have you considered being honest? Try seeing how to best picture doing that.

Why not roll out the red carpet for your son and have an animated discussion about the elephant (man) in the room — your titanic lack of religious feeling or observance.

I’ll help you script out some lines.

First, you probably think that you’re the only set of parents going through this rocky experience. Somehow, your temple is filled with a platoon of religious, pious, and observant members, and you guys are just great impostors.

Not true! Your temple is made up of ordinary people just like yourselves.

Many families join a synagogue not for all the religious services and content, but rather as an effective way to connect with their Jewish community. So what if you don’t come to services all the time, or just on the High Holidays? Just by affiliating with a temple, you’re already making a powerful statement about Judaism.

Next, you’re making sure that your son has the tools and background to make educated decisions in the future. Sure, right now your family doesn’t attend services too often, but that may change for your son as he gets older, goes to college, and eventually has a family of his own. He might express some terms of endearment for Judaism that you can’t envision right now. In other words, your feelings right now don’t necessarily have to be his.

Finally, your son will be able to connect to his bar mitzvah training in lots of different ways. Outside of chanting parts of the service, he’ll hopefully embark on some mitzvah project and learn many different facts and perspectives of Judaism. He might enjoy the sound of music that he learns with the cantor. It’s possible that he develops a beautiful mind for some of the poetry found in the prayers and liturgy. Certainly, it’s likely that at least one aspect will resonate with him, and will be something that he takes from his entire bar mitzvah preparation.

He’ll be a true man for all seasons.

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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