As a Cantor who prepares Bar and Bat Mitzvah Students online to be able to stand in front of friends and family and sing a Torah portion, it is so interesting to get feedback after an event where my students performed their Torah portion and where I officiated. The following is an excerpt from the father of the joint bat mitzvah girls who wanted to share one of his guests stories:
“Every time I attend a Bar or Bat Mitzvah I get a tight uneasy feeling …. We all know what the young person is going through “a trial by fire”, and when it’s over there is a universal exhale. Bet you can identify.
This is how I found my special Jewish community.
I am dyslexic, and have managed this all my life.
I am a horrible foreign language student. In high school and college I studied Latin, Spanish, and French with pretty poor results. But my first foreign language was Hebrew. Imagine the difficulty. Take a kid who is having challenges with English and torture him with a different alphabet going in the wrong direction.
So my Bar Mitzvah was an unpleasant passage…. But I survived via parental pressure, Mr. Blisch my private Hebrew teacher, and lots of memorization. Then afterwards for many years I put as much distance between Hebrew and myself as possible.
Through high school and college, my Judaism was just gastronomic… corned beef sandwiches , Hebrew National hot dogs ( at Yankee Stadium) , and bagels and lox.
As a young married person, reform congregations in Miami Beach, Knoxville Tennessee, and Newington CT., became places for me to reconnect. Services with lots of English was primary.
Fast forward 50+ years. I was invited to do an Alia at a Bar Mitzvah at a large Conserva/Dox synagogue in Toronto. That uptight memory of the 13 year old grabbed me as I was about to do the blessing . Its my turn …I step up…. I go to my memory bank… and start chanting Bar chu et adoni hom vo roch… and then I flip into the blessing for after the Torah reading. The big, bully rabbi says loudly STOP… START OVER… POINTING TO THE TRANSLITERATION. I felt like I had committed a major crime. Out of my mouth comes what went thru my embarrassed mind… I say in the mic “Holy shit I screwed up!” 1/2 the congregation went silent with shock… the other 1/2 went hysterical with laughter.
At the reception following the service… people came up to me and told me their many Hebrew phobic stories. I felt embraced that I had freed some of the group from their long held secrets.
This is my special Jewish community.”
Perfection is the enemy of the good this is what I tell my Bar and bat mitzvah students as part of my online hebrew school. Jewish education and becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is not about being perfect when you get up to sing the Torah portion, it’s about trying your best and practicing really hard for the months leading up to it. Mistakes happen we all know this. The best golfer in the world can practice every day hitting 400 golf balls and then get up to the tee in a tournament and slice one into the other fairway.
It’s about being able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and feeling exceedingly proud of the hard work that you put in and also knowing that the performance is just 20 or 30% of the overall experience. The 70% is all the life lessons from the Torah that my students learn online with me on how to be a great human being and how to repair the world one kind action at a time. This is the CoolCantor approach to Jewish education and the goal of my online Hebrew School.