The Bar/Bat Mitzvah process at B’nai Israel begins nearly 3 years before the actual event, when dates are assigned. Parents and children are invited to a meeting to learn more about the process and to get to better know different members of the synagogue staff who are involved in different aspects of the process. Several special programs during the sixth year are designed to generate enthusiasm and to help prepare for the tutoring process (private lessons), which begins about 9-12 months before the big day. Students work extremely closely with one of our cantors and also have the opportunity to meet with our rabbis along the way.
Most families choose to celebrate B’nai Mitzvah on Saturday morning. Whether it is a single or double simcha, our students chant Haftarah, read Torah, and lead certain parts of the service. In certain circumstances, we also celebrate B’nai Mitzvah at the Mincha (afternoon) service on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. or on a Sunday or Monday when the Torah is read (e.g. on Rosh Hodesh or Hanukkah). For those services, our students also chant Torah and lead parts of the service. All of our students are also invited to participate in the service on Friday evening and are encouraged to join the morning Minyan on the week of their celebration.
Throughout an entire year of study and preparation, the Cantors ensure that the Bar/Bat Mitzvah students are proficient prayer leaders, going over with them thoroughly the liturgy for both the Friday night and the Saturday morning Shabbat services. We coach them in clear pronunciation of the words, tuneful singing at an appropriate volume, and strong lay-leader presence.
The Cantors are responsible for reinforcing the students’ knowledge of Torah and Haftarah cantillation symbols and corresponding melodies, already acquired in the 5th and 6th grade Talmud Torah classroom settings, strengthening the students’ ability to decode their Torah and Haftarah portions. By the end of the training process, the Bar and Bat Mitzvah will be confident chanters of their portions for the day of their celebration, as well as strong and proficient chanters the congregation upon whom may call to chant in the future on other occasions when readers are needed.
The Cantors often help the students to lay the foundations for the D’var Torah (or short sermon) they will be delivering, enabling them to form a rough draft that may be taken to the meeting they will eventually schedule with one of the rabbis to help them finalize their observations.
Finally, the Cantors make themselves available in every possible way to their students, helping them to overcome the psychological and emotional struggles that are sometimes a part of the journey toward becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah who will lead major parts of a very large, formal service in front of an extremely large congregation. They help the students understand the spiritual importance of the occasion while underscoring and developing with each one the special individual talents and skills he or she brings to this very special Shabbat in the Jewish life-cycle.