Glenn Sherman, a cantor who gives online bar mitzvah lessons, runs a b'nai mitzvah lesson to Rachel Weiss and her sister Leah Weiss, via Skype from his Delray Beach, Fla., home on July 26. Each sister, located in San Antonio, Texas, took their lesson, one after the other, then listened in for an overview at the end of the video call.(Photo: Andrew B. Innerarity for USA TODAY)
(USA TODAY) -- Everything's going digital. Even bar mitzvah preparation.
tech-savvy parents are signing up their kids for a more modern brand of
bar mitzvah lessons, rather than schlepping them to the synagogue for
the traditional one-on-one lessons in person.
Take Andrea Moody. Last
January, Moody, then living in central Massachusetts, discussed with
her family taking a different approach to readying her son for his big
day. She called Glenn Sherman, a cantor based in Delray
Beach, Fla., who gives bar mitzvah lessons online through his Easy Bar
Mitzvah program, and then conducts the service at any location - in any
country, for that matter - of the family's choosing.
about six months, Geoffrey Moody would log on to his computer, turn on
Skype and sit back as Sherman sang with him, discussed Jewish history
and helped him write his bar mitzvah speech. Geoffrey continued going to
Hebrew school and the family remained members of the synagogue, but
they wanted a unique bar mitzvah experience.
"Skype has changed everything," Andrea Moody said. "We had a face; it wasn't just a voice. We looked forward to it."
In the digital age, programs like Sherman's are becoming more common.
are hesitant sometimes because they are used to the traditional
one-on-one with a rabbi in person," said Rabbi Zalmen Stiefel, a bar
mitzvah tutor for torahteacheronline.com. "But once they try online,
they stick to it. I don't have any student who canceled out."
the Jewish religion, the bar mitzvah at age 13 for boys and bat mitzvah,
typically at 12 or 13 for girls, are seen as rites of passage into
adulthood. The process involves months of practice, culminating in a
service where the teen reads from the Torah and leads services, among
Becoming a bar or bat mitzvah literally means
becoming a son or daughter "of the commandment." A Jewish adult must
obey the commandments listed in the Torah.
Although the numbers aren't overwhelming, many of those who give
online bar mitzvah lessons say their students are typically not
affiliated with a synagogue or don't have the time in their schedules
for tutoring in person.
Rabbi Yosef Goodman is the chief
technology development director for jewishonlineschool.com, a virtual
Hebrew school program of more than 600 students. Part of the program, he
said, is one-on-one bar mitzvah lessons.
Online learning lets
Goodman get creative. He shows his students videos of others during
their bar mitzvahs so they know what to expect.
Sugarman, who runs a program called Digital Bar Mitzvah, an online
service based out of Upstate New York, turned to online learning after
recognizing its potential a few years ago. No prior knowledge of the
Hebrew language is required, and he sends most teaching material
"We work online just like they were together with me," Sugarman says.
Skype, other technological tools allow for a more interactive
experience. Sherman uses a program called Trope Trainer, computer
software that has lessons, blessings and full readings for students.
Sally Neff of Temple Beth Torah in Upper Nyack, N.Y., said she
occasionally uses Skype to teach her own students when they can't make
it to their lessons. But she disagrees with the use of these services
for those who aren't affiliated with a synagogue.
"Becoming a bar
mitzvah is primarily about becoming an adult member of the Jewish
community," Neff said. "When people decide they don't want to devote the
time or expenses to joining a community and then sidestep it and do the
bar mitzvah, they're missing the point."
Some families, like that of Andrea Moody, don't leave their primary
synagogues when turning to online lessons. Moody called Sherman when,
just months before Geoffrey's bar mitzvah was to be held at the local
congregation, the rabbi that the family had developed a long-term
relationship with didn't get his contract renewed.
So they decided to do something different. For
the Moodys, an interfaith family, this meant a week-long trip to
Barbados, where they met Sherman. He conducted the service with his own
Torah inside a 350-year-old synagogue.
"When we finally met him in person, we felt like he was an old family friend," Moody said of Sherman.
Andrea Moody said she plans to use the same service for her daughter next summer.
"I don't know where we'll go - maybe Barbados again," she said. "But there is no question that we'll be working with him again."
Jordan Friedman, USA TODAY