At Jewtor, we’ve been doing online bar/bat mitzvah lessons for a long time – since 2011, in fact. We do online individual lessons, not group classes, so that each student can learn at their own pace and schedule. You can see testimonials from other students here.
Bar/Bat Mitzvah Curriculum, or what do online bar/bat mitzvah lessons cover?
What does your child need to learn? Some parts of our online bar/bat mitzvah lessons are common, and we configure some parts based on your child’s prior learning and any requirements from the rabbi you’re working with. (And if you don’t have one, just ask us for recommendations.)
For most students, we devote a half-hour of our online bar/bat mitzvah lessons to the practicalities of learning Hebrew and how to chant their Torah readings. The second part of the lesson includes reading and analyzing Bible stories, which the kids love. When a holiday is coming up, we pause our Hebrew Bible learning to focus on the holiday, how it’s observed, what its background is, and what it means to us today.
Of course, all of our bar/bat mitzvah lessons are personalized to each student and their needs. We are able to tailor the program to match what each kid needs. This is one of the great benefits of individual, personalized instruction, and the kids and the parents appreciate it.
Here are the textbooks that we use.
Learning Hebrew in online bar/bat mitzvah lessons
Most of our students start out knowing little or no Hebrew. We get them up to speed in reading and pronouncing Hebrew so they can shine on their big days. Learning Hebrew is the building block for being able to chant Torah and Haftarah, and it is a skill that will help the children well past their bar or bat mitzvah.
We usually start with a Hebrew primer, a book especially formulated for youngsters taking bar/bat mitzvah lessons. We learn all the Hebrew letters, building on the student’s previous knowledge. For example, a student might know the word Shabbat. We look at a picture of a Shabbat table, and learn the three consonants – shin, bet, and tav – and one vowel that make up the word Shabbat. In the second lesson, we add the letter mem. We are now able to read the word shamash – the word for the helper candle that lights the other candles on Hannukah. In this way, we gradually build our knowledge of Hebrew using concepts that the children may be familiar with.
Once the student has finished the primer, which means they know the entire alef-bet, we have a choice of how to continue. This depends on the interests of the student, the family, and the time available. We might continue delving deeper into prayerbook Hebrew, and study the synagogue service. Or we might decide to focus on modern, conversational Hebrew. Sometimes, this is the time that we start to prepare specific texts for the bat mitzvah service.
Learning from the Bible
As for the Bible curriculum, we learn a new story each week, starting with Genesis. Right at the start, we learn that humans are created in God’s image. We discuss what this means. Do we look like God? Can we create worlds? Well, we don’t, but like God, we can do creative work, we can care for the universe, and we can care for each other. What does this mean in terms of how we behave in our own lives?
In the following lesson, we learn about Adam and Eve making choices. After they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, their eyes were opened. How does knowing the difference between good and evil require us to behave? This is a great topic for discussion.
Later, we learn about Abraham offering hospitality, and about King David taking responsibility for his misdeeds. We might look at paintings of Jacob’s Ladder Dream, or listen to the song about Joshua who fought the Battle of Jericho.
These are just some examples of how each chapter, besides teaching us about our heritage, offers us a moral lesson that we can apply in our lives. Each lesson has activities that encourage the student to reflect on how this applies to our lives in school, at home, in our relationships with our parents, siblings and friends.
Jewish Holidays as part of our curriculum in online bar/bat mitzvah lessons
As Jewish holidays approach, we put the Bible lessons on hold, and learn about the many festivals of the Jewish calendar. What is the historical background? How do we celebrate these holidays today? What do we eat? What do we sing? Is there a difficulty involved in observing these holidays? How do we express our joy and our pride? We look at various websites that enrich our knowledge, we listen to songs, watch movies, and look at art. We might check out the yearly sukkah building competition in Jerusalem, or look at how matzah is baked. We listen to Hanukkah songs, and watch a woman write a Torah scroll, and a man blow the shofar.
Learning about the holidays is fun and lively, and is an important part of every Jewish child’s education.
Learning Skills for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Service
In terms of preparing for the bar mitzvah service, we often start by learning how to go up for an aliyah. Not just how to say the proper blessings, but where to stand, what to do with your hands, when to go up, and when to return. Feeling comfortable in a new situation is so important for bar and bat mitzvah students. We use web-based materials that explain all that, and we even watch a movie of a person having an aliyah to the Torah. We practice this as many times as necessary. And then a little more!
Children, and adults, feel comfortable in a new situation when they’ve had plenty of practice. This is especially important for kids who haven’t had a lot of prior Jewish learning. We work with the children to help them feel that they have mastered the skills involved, so they (and you!) can be proud at their bar/bat mitzvah.
Learning to Read Torah – a key part of online bar/bat mitzvah lessons
Most students read Torah at their bar or bat mitzvah, and we patiently practice the text with them, first making sure they can read the Hebrew correctly, and then teaching them to chant it the traditional way. We can make recordings for them to practice from during the week.
We are experienced in working with Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbis to help get your child ready to do what is expected of them in your synagogue. And if you don’t have a rabbi, we’re happy to recommend one for you.
The same goes for learning prayers, or haftarah readings from the Prophets. We learn the most prominent prayers, like the Shma, Veahavta, various blessings, perhaps the Kiddush or the Amidah. We learn what each prayer means in English, and we practice reciting it in Hebrew.
Here, too, we work with your rabbi to make sure that your child is ready.
Some students are asked by their synagogue, or their rabbi, to craft a dvar Torah, a brief lesson showing the congregation what can be learned from the child’s Torah portion. This is typically a 2-5 minute long lesson, where the student talks about something that he or she found interesting in the Torah reading. We study the text together, identify what they would like to share, and help them write it. (Sometimes, the rabbi will do this.) We focus on finding a lesson from the Torah reading that we can apply in our own lives.
Online Bar/Bat Mitzvah Lessons: Summing Up
At Jewtor, we construct a personalized program of online bar/bat mitzvah lessons for each child. We’ve been doing this since 2011! We share in the joy of each family as their child learns so they can shine at their bar or bat mitzvah.