As a cantor who has been teaching bar and bat mitzvah lessons for over 20 years, I often get comments from parents about their children’s weekly in-person lessons with me. They usually go something along these lines:
“We can’t make it today, there’s a snowstorm,” or “we can’t make it today, my daughter has a cold,” or “we can’t make it today; my son is in the playoffs on his rep team.”
These comments, which resulted in cancelled lessons with me, would be followed by anxiety and stress from parents of being that much closer to the Big Day but having missed classes. In 2016, I said to myself – “there has to be a better way!”
And so a new way of teaching bar and bat lessons was born! I innovated a system of asynchronous learning. Simply put, I created a way of teaching children using audio recordings shared back and forth over e-mail. It works like this – I send “Sarah” an audio recording of her Torah portion with a PDF of the text and specific instructions on what she needs to learn for the week. “Sarah” spends no more than 10 minutes per day learning a few words, then making a recording to send my way for me to review. Within 24 hours, I send “Sarah” an e-mail with an audio recording giving my feedback/praise/areas for improvement. “Sarah” makes the changes, sends me back a recording, and once I listen, I let “Sarah” know by way of a reply e-mail that she is good to go – learn the following line!
Students and parents LOVE this new way of learning for several reasons. The student no longer has to wait a week in-between lessons. My system allows the student to accelerate learning and have forward momentum as my students and I communicate back and forth several times per week. No more practicing things wrong for a week and wasting your next lesson trying to undo mistakes. In addition, my system lets students learn when a student learns best. A student might learn best at 6 a.m. or 4 p.m. or 10 p.m., and maybe in the following weeks, it’s completely different – they have constant access to my materials, and I am very accessible, just an e-mail or text message away!
My system removes wasted time sitting in traffic and removes the sometimes awkwardness of having a teacher come into your home or taking your child to a teacher’s home.
My system works because, let’s face it, I didn’t invent the I-phone, but I certainly am leveraging kids’ love of technology. Parents love that learning about Judaism and their bar/bat mitzvah portions is a positive use of technology.
My curriculum is not just about learning to sing a Torah portion. It’s crucial for me as an educator that I teach Torah – but Torah that is relevant to 12 and 13-year-olds in 2022. I send weekly video lessons about the week’s Torah portion and ask the students questions. For example, when learning about Joseph seeing his brothers after many years after they sold him into slavery and threw him in a pit, I ask my students if they would have forgiven their brothers if they were Joseph. We learn about forgiveness, charity, humility, leadership, sharing resources with the less fortunate…etc.
As a teacher, bar and bat mitzvah is not just about learning to recite a Torah portion. It is about learning to do acts of kindness and sharing resources with the less fortunate.
I preach the Ripple Effect – every student can be the stone that creates ripples in water, ripples that go to infinity. When a student of mine learns this, they are constantly on the lookout for opportunities daily to be kind and good. And they know that whoever they help will pass along the kindness to someone else…and that someone to someone else…and so on…the Ripple Effect.
I feel blessed that my online Jewish education and bar and bat mitzvah program has already reached so many worldwide. I have students from Paris, France, Manhattan, Arizona, Florida, Stratford On, Toronto, B.C….
Wherever in the world there are students who want to learn about Judaism and who want to have a bar or bat mitzvah, the CoolCantor (moi) will happily teach.
Stay healthy and well