In a special orientation Shabbat dinner to incoming B’nei Mitzvah families, Adam Steiner, a current Grade 7 students shared his “words of wisdom”…
Hi, my name is Adam Steiner and on April 12th of this year I had my Bar Mitzvah. The whole journey was a great experience right from the start. Six months before my Bar Mitzvah, in early October, I had my first tutoring lesson with Dalia (Alalouf). Coming into this first lesson I was extremely excited, after seeing what seemed like dozens of cousins go on the Bima before me I knew that this was going to be my time to be called to the Torah on behalf of our great congregation. This excitement went to the side when I received my portion that day. I had read Hebrew before and found it fun but this time I had to sing it, which I wasn’t really put on by. My tutor showed me the first group of trope or singing notes and connected it to my portion and within half an hour I already knew some phrases. Every week I learned a bit more and a bit more until I basically had the whole portion known.
One big flaw in my system in the first few months was my lack of practice. From the beginning of my lessons, Dalia told me to practice for at least 10 minutes every day. I kind of brushed this tip to the side and I thought that the Bar Mitzvah was a long way away. About two or three months before April 12th I got bored and counted days in the calendar until my special day and I noticed that it was closer than I thought and I really had to practice. I crunched down on my practicing and got back to where I should have been. So just remember to practice every single day. About a month and a half before your special day you start meeting with the cantors who listen and perfect your chanting. You also practice in the sanctuary with them while reading the real Torah scroll. These five meetings helped me a lot.
This is only half of the work for the Bar Mitzvah. The second half is more about the moral meaning of becoming a Bar Mitzvah. This part is based around a booklet given to every student called “Shaarei Kehilah” and it basically is based around the ten big commandments and you have to do a different mitzvah based on each one. The commandments are things from doing deeds of kindness and caring, to celebrating with the bride and groom. The booklet gives you some ideas of mitzvot to do and you can even make up your own and then there are some questions for you to reflect on the mitzvah that you have to answer. This booklet is a lot of work but lots of fun so you really have to get started early on it. When I first heard about this booklet I thought “Great, another thing to work on, on top of everything else. But I then found out that accomplishing these mitzvot weren’t too hard and turned out to be a lot of fun. The two things that I enjoyed most were going in the Ve’ahavta van and handing out food and clothes to homeless people and also meeting them. It was the coldest night of the year and you really noticed how tough it was for them and that built up a great sense of empathy in me. They were also insanely nice! The second thing that I enjoyed was tutoring at a school in a Regent Park school called Nelson Mandela School. This idea was recommended to me by my camp director and I went down every Thursday after school. I had such a great time that I continue going there every Thursday even after the Bar Mitzvah is over. I went last evening. Once I was finished this booklet, I found myself with an even deeper passion for helping the community and I didn’t want to stop. This was great character building and it gave me a sense that you don’t only do this stuff for your Bar Mitzvah but this was training for the rest of my life.
Before your Bar Mitzvah you meet with the rabbi three times and you typically have conversations on what it means to be becoming Bar Mitzvah and how it is a gateway to the rest of your Jewish life. This helped me get in the mindset of becoming a Jewish adult. After all this was finished, my focus went towards the actual service and getting to see my family who were coming from across the country. Before I knew it the day came and I was sitting in a private room with Rabbi Splansky, my parents and my grandparents. My granny dressed me in a tallis and I said a prayer with my parents. It was very emotional. After this meeting was finished, I walked down to the main sanctuary with my family and felt very happy from the moment I stepped into the room and saw my extended family in the front and my friends in the back. I had never really felt such a great feeling. The service soon started and then I suddenly found myself on the Bima in front of the Torah with the tallis given to me by my granny around me and holding a yad from my great aunt. I was worried that I would forget my portion for some reason and then the cantor told me to start reading. The first few lines were a bit shaky because of my nervousness and then I just settled into it and thought how this was such an honour and privilege. Before I knew it, the service was over, I did what I was supposed to do and I was now a Jewish adult. But don’t think that being an “adult” means that you won’t get big kisses and possibly the tightest hugs ever. This had turned out to be the best day of my life and I wish I could repeat. So my final words of advice are…Practice, Work Hard and when your special day comes try not to be nervous and soak in every moment because it is truly a once in a lifetime experience.