Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Training Bar Mitzvah Kids with New Technology

Bar and Bat Mitzvah Preparation in the 21st Century

By Rabbi Jason Miller

In the Coen Brother’s movie “A Serious Man,” we see young Danny practicing his haftorah for his bar mitzvah by listening to the cantor’s rendition of it on his record player. That scene was undoubtedly sentimental for Jewish men of a certain age who prepared for their bar mitzvah by keying up the phonograph in their parents’ living room.

Ben Stiller Bar Mitzvah

Bar Mitzvah preparation has come a long way since the days of the record album. In the 1980s and early 1990s cantors and bar/bat mitzvah tutors recorded their voices onto audio cassette tapes so their twelve-year-old students could walk around the house listening to the chanting on a Sony Walkman. In fact, I remember many nights falling asleep with my black foamy headphones on while I listened to the late Cantor Larry Vieder of Adat Shalom Synagogue repeating the Torah trope (cantilation notes) and the long haftorah for my bar mitzvah. The mid-1990s saw the transition from the audio tapes to music CDs when bar mitzvah tutors began hooking up microphones to the computer and recording the bar mitzvah portion onto blank CD-Roms.

In recent years we’ve seen bar and bat mitzvah students receiving the audio version of the haftorah and blessings they need to learn via email, a concept that anyone over the age of thirty would find amazing.

The way Jewish teens prepare for their bar or bat mitzvah has changed dramatically thanks to technological innovation. Not only has the audio format changed over the years, but so too has the way in which these young men and women are being tutored.

I was recently at a retreat for Jewish leaders where I met Todd Shotz. Todd launched Hebrew Helpers several years ago as a way to provide in-home, one-on-one personalized bar and bat mitzvah instruction. In addition to coordinating private bar/bat mitzvah services for families that do not belong to a congregation, Todd’s company arranges for tutors to work with children to prepare for their b’nai mitzvah. While many of his students are matched with local tutors in the Los Angeles area he has also found that he can help Jewish teens around the country through Skype and other video conferencing applications.

Shotz isn’t the only one taking advantage of this new technology to help students prepare for their bar or bat mitzvahs. Even local tutors who frequently meet with their students in person are using Skype, Apple’s Facetime or Google’s hangouts to conduct reviews with their students before the big day. Today’s teens have such busy schedules that it’s not always feasible for them to meet with a tutor at the synagogue so late night sessions over the internet are more conducive.

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Rabbi Jason Miller served in several capacities for the Ramah Camping Movement and was the year-round rabbi of Tamarack Camps in Michigan. He is an entrepreneurial rabbi and technologist, who serves as president of Access Computer Technology in Detroit, Michigan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at@RabbiJason.