We hope that the years spent preparing for becoming bar/bat mitzvah can ultimately be less about one specific morning and more about laying a foundation for a lifetime of Jewish living and learning. In the years leading up to bar/bat mitzvah, your child will investigate mitzvot, the full range of Jewish actions in the world with an emphasis on tzedakah; learn a Torah portion in depth through their own questions and traditional and modern commentaries; and learn the skills of chanting text and/or leading tefillah. As a whole family, you will have the opportunity to connect and learn with other families who are preparing for bar/bat mitzvah at the same time.
I. Come to Shul!
We encourage families in the years leading up to a bar/bat mitzvah to become regular attendees in shul. This enables your child to become familiar with the service, the space and the community, so they feel as comfortable and confident as possible on the morning of their celebration, and they start to see themselves as skilled and fluent participants as they enter Jewish adulthood. The KI community likes to get to know our children so we can welcome them exuberantly into Jewish adulthood. As a guideline, our families generally begin attending Shabbat morning services in our sanctuary a minimum of twice a month, at least 6 months prior to the bar/bat mitzvah.
II. Practice Leading Services!
Our students begin to gain their confidence leading our community in prayer by participating in Jr. Congregation in the years leading up to their bar/bat mitzvah. The students who have attended and participated consistently over the years find themselves most comfortable and prepared on the day of their bar/bat mitzvah. In addition, we suggest students lead the Torah service in the Main Sanctuary twice in the months leading up to their simcha, as well as leading other prayers like Adon Olam or Shir HaKavod at least once.
III. B’nai Mitzvah Seminar and Mitzvah Project
This annual seminar, led by KI’s educational staff, is for all students who will become a bar/bat mitzvah within a calendar year, together with their parents. We invite all students becoming bar/bat mitzvah in the year of their bar/bat mitzvah to participate. Once a month we will meet to spend time learning and volunteering together, as well as clarifying values individually and as a group. Additionally, we hope that students will devote significant time to serving the community in the year leading up to bar/bat mitzvah, in a way that reflects their values and aspirations. Click here to view this year’s seminar schedule.
IV. Mentoring with KI’s Rabbi and Educational Staff
In the months leading up to the b’nai mitzvah, all students will meet with Rabbi Hamilton at least twice. The first meeting is usually spent learning the Torah portion together and discussing the student’s dvar torah. At the second meeting, students accompany Rabbi Hamilton for acts of hessed (kindness) out in the community. Additionally, throughout the year, KI’s b’nai mitzvah coordinator will be in regular touch with all families to check in and provide support wherever it is needed.
V. Working with a Tutor
The most intensive work that our students put into preparing for their b’nai mitzvah, in terms of learning Torah and building skills, takes place in weekly meetings with a tutor. Students typically work with a tutor for 12-18 months before their bar/bat mitzvah and prepare according to their interests and skills, so that the preparation is both challenging and satisfying for each individual student. Tutors prepare students for all aspects of the ceremony, teaching them to chant, doing the in-depth learning, writing and editing work of crafting a brief (3-5 minute) d’var Torah, and building the confidence necessary to stand up in front of the kahal. Because we have significant expectations for the relationship between tutor and student, we require that tutors be approved by KI’s rabbinic staff before beginning to work with students. We maintain a list of excellent tutors in the area and are very happy to match your child with a tutor who will be a good fit for their personality, interests, learning style, skills and aspirations. Tutors are paid directly by the family, and their rates are in addition to synagogue dues and school tuition.
VI. Family Preparation and Honors
While our students are preparing for their b’nai mitzvah, we encourage families to be a part of the process. We encourage parents and other family members to think about what new skills they would like to learn in honor of this celebration. There are several ways to honor family and friends during the service. Please click on the honors sheet below to see all of the ways that you can have family and friends participate. Notice that there is a “How to Guide” to explain each honor. The B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator will review the honors sheet with you in detail and ask for the completed copy two weeks prior to the simcha.
VII. Tallit and Kippah
As our children approach the age of mitzvot, their relationship to the tradition shifts — it becomes their own. Girls and boys becoming bar/bat mitzvah at KI wear a head covering and tallit for the occasion, regardless of what they intend to wear afterwards. These garments are a physical embodiment of divine presence and commitment to mitzvot, inviting our students into an experience of wrapping themselves very physically in the Jewish tradition. As part of the b’nai mitzvah seminar, we will have a tallit learning session. Students are welcome to create or purchase a tallit that is to their liking, of appealing fabrics and patterns, to use a tallit that has significance in your family, or, of course, to borrow one from the shul for the occasion, made meaningful by the many shoulders it has caressed before those of the bar/bat mitzvah.
Girls and boys who become bar/bat mitzvah have a daily opportunity to connect with the tradition through wearing tefillin. As part of the b’nai mitzvah seminar, we will have a session on tefillin, at which parents and students are encouraged to try out this mitzvah together and learn about its significance. If your child’s bar/bat mitzvah will be on a weekday morning (that is, not on Shabbat), we strongly encourage that they wear tefillin that morning. We are happy to help you purchase a pair locally or find you a pair to borrow.