Bar and bat mitzvah study guide

Study guide rewind

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Sometimes it feels like there’s no light at the end of a tunnel. Especially for b’nei mitzvah kids, who often think during the process: “Will I ever be done with all the learning and practicing?”

And then to stand up on the bimah and sing in front of everyone they know? Fuggedahboutit!

But, here is a tiny, sparkling, glimmer of hope: I’m going to give you a step-by-step guide on how to get through the entire studying process. As a cantor who has helped hundreds of kids with their bar and bat mitzvahs, I will tell you what you should be doing and thinking about at each point along the way (aside from “When will this be over????”)

But wait — this isn’t like any other guide you’ve come across before. To better help you visualize your accomplishment, I’m going to start at the end and work backwards. Hopefully, this tactic will lighten your load while lighting up your face.

The morning of your bar mitzvah

You’ve done it. All the work and practicing have gotten you to this point. Because you’ve spent so much time going through the prayers and melodies, you know your stuff. Sure, you’re nervous, but you have that well-deserved feeling of satisfaction knowing that you have learned all the material. Take a deep breath and try to enjoy the day. You won’t believe how well you will do.

One week before your bar mitzvah

Unlike everyone around you, it’s time for you to relax. You’ve got nothing more to learn now. Take a cue from expert marathoners — after all the rigorous training and running in the weeks leading up to the big race, they take at least a week to ramp down and take it very easy. You should do that too. A few times during this week, take out your books or folders and give everything a couple quick run-throughs, just to keep it fresh in your head. Nice and easy.

About a month before your bar mitzvah

It’s starting to get real, isn’t it? The invitation responses are in, and you have a good idea of who’s coming and how many people to expect. This is your most crucial time — I bet there are a few pages or passages that you’ve never quite nailed down, even if you’re pretty good at most everything else. Take the next few weeks and methodically go through each page of what you will be singing or reading. Is something not sounding great? This is when you should give your brain the last push and fix it. In a lot of cases, this month is when you will spend the most time practicing and catching up.

Six or so months before your bar mitzvah

Depending on your temple, this is the time when your lessons start. You’re likely to feel completely overwhelmed when you receive your folders or prayer books and see the seemingly insurmountable hurdle ahead of you. Remember, if your cantor expected you to learn everything immediately, he would have given you the material and said: “Here you go, see you at your bar mitzvah.”

Instead, everyone knows that it will take months of slow but steady progress. Just start learning one page at a time and set a regular schedule of practicing on your own, even if it’s not very long. If you do this, you will make a dent in the material even by your second lesson.

A year before your bar mitzvah

Get ready for a really action-packed year. Not only will you start your bar mitzvah training at some point over the next few months, but you will also be attending a lot of b’nei mitzvah services for your friends. This could end up being your most exciting and educational year.

Three or four years before your bar mitzvah

Congratulations! Your temple just assigned your bar or bat mitzvah date. I bet that the year sounds like something out of a science fiction movie — you simply can’t ever imagine a time that far in the future.

Take it from me — it goes very fast!

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Reader Feedback

Charly McArdle says:
For the young men who wish to be inspired by their peers and their great speeches, this might be exceptionally helpful!
Feb. 25, 2014, 5:25 pm

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