Just as pre-teens are gaining a greater desire for independence, they undertake the massive task of preparing for their bar/bat mitzvahs. Many parents who seek to be involved in the process find themselves afraid of intruding on their maturing child’s personal space and, at the same time, fearful of stranding their child at a moment when he or she might need substantial support. The following are some specific tips for parents.
What Will be Expected?
Synagogues and schools vary greatly in their bar/bat mitzvah expectations, though most require students to lead certain prayers, read or chat some text (Torah and Haftarah), and deliver a d’var Torah (homily). Some also require tasks not directly related to the bar/bat mitzvah service such as volunteer projects, written research reports, and/or attendance at religious services.
Most medium and large synagogues assign bar/bat mitzvah dates according to children’s birthdates; smaller congregations usually take date requests. Ask about your community’s standards as soon as your child’s bat/bat mitzvah date is set.
When you receive the list of requirements, set a realistic timetable for fulfilling them. A child who has a busy sports schedule may find it easier to complete a community service project as much as a year early, during the summer. A child who does not want to miss summer camp in order to prepare for an early fall bar/bat mitzvah service may ask to reschedule the service for later in the school year, or may decide to start tutoring well in advance, completing all preparations before heading off to camp. Make sure to include your child in the process of budgeting time, allowing him or her to set priorities and measurable goals.
The simplest and most often overlooked method to prepare your child for the bar/bat mitzvah service is to make a habit of attending services together at least once a month, starting two years before the bar/bat mitzvah. There is no substitute for frequent exposure to the liturgy, practice with Hebrew, and the support of sitting beside a parent who takes the time to prioritize communal prayer. While attending services, talk to the rabbi, cantor, or service leader at your congregation to see if children can come up to the bimah ahead of their bar/bat mitzvah to lead a prayer.