Sunday, December 17, 2017

Temple Emanu-El
Torah School

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Handbook

Click here to download a printable version of the handbook

We hope that this information will answer all the questions you may have about the preparation process.  It is a time of hard work and intense study for the student and planning of a happy celebration for the family.  Rabbi Devorah Marcus, Executive Director, Shiri Haines, Becky Combest, Star Laddon, Donna Lander and Joni Cohen are always available to answer any questions.

Throughout this process, we will offer many paths of preparation.  One of the best ways to prepare is to come regularly to Saturday morning services and participate. This way, the student and the family will become familiar with all the prayers and customs of a Saturday morning Shabbat service.  

We expect regular attendance from our students and their families throughout the Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation months.  At services, students will have the opportunity to come up onto the bima to lead with their peers and with Rabbi Devorah.  This weekly practice is an invaluable component of the preparation.


Six months prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service, the student will begin working with one of our tutors.  The private tutorial sessions will involve all Torah and Haftarah preparation.  Our B’nai Mitzvah coordinator will contact you when it’s time to begin.  Three months prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service, students will meet with the rabbi for weekly thirty minute sessions to study the content of their Torah portion and to guide the student in writing the D’var Torah.

You will need to supply your child with the following items:
1.    A 3-ring loose-leaf notebook having four divider sections.  All Prayers & Blessings class notes are to be taken in this book; all translation work is to be done in it as well.
2.    Lined notebook paper.
3.    An MP3 player or a CD player for home use.

The Temple will provide your child with the following items:
1.    A book specific to his/her Torah portion that contains all the Torah and Haftarah texts they’ll need.
2.    Two recordings, one containing the prayers and blessings and another containing the Torah and Haftarah portions.  They are to be used as study aids throughout the learning process.
3.    A Prayer Packet containing a copy of all the prayers the student needs to learn and polish for their service.  

The B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator makes all tutoring appointments.   The B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator will create the tutoring schedule and it will be emailed to you. If you need to make any changes or if you ever have to cancel a session, please call the B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator, Becky Combest at: (818) 939-1891.   We schedule appointments three sessions at a time.

Our Tutors will contact you if your child is falling behind so that you can be their partner in keeping our students on track.  Please be sure to communicate with your child’s tutor if your child is struggling or having difficulties so we can create a positive and encouraging learning situation for your child.  Please help us by letting us know if your child has any learning needs so that we can tailor the sessions and the tutoring to a technique that will allow your child to learn in the best way possible.  Our tutors will keep all information you share confidential to protect the privacy and dignity of your child.  We thank you in advance for helping us help our students.  

Bar/Bat Mitzvah students should spend one hour every day on their Bar/Bat Mitzvah studies. It is helpful for the students to listen to the recording of their portion daily.

Chanting studies begin one month after tutoring starts. We will provide the student with a recording of the trope (the musical notations used for Torah chanting), and of the portion.  We will meet individually with each student weekly.  If you have questions about chanting, contact the B'nai Mitzvah Coordinator.

Every student will attend “Prayers and Blessings”, a group class to polish the prayers and blessings of the Shabbat Morning Service.  The class will also study the meaning of the prayers.

The Prayers and Blessings class will meet on Sundays from 9:30 to 10:20a.m. It is expected that the student will attend the Prayers and Blessings class on a regular basis.
Students continuing their Bar/Bat Mitzvah studies through the summer should plan to continue their studies while out of town. For students who attend Camp Newman, Camp Hess Kramer, and Camp Mountain Chai, arrangements can be made to study with a Rabbi while at camp. Be sure to notify the B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator of your vacation plans.
Students are encouraged to spend 15 minutes every day on Prayers and Blessings practice.

During the week of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, there will be a final rehearsal with Rabbi Devorah on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m.  Parents and student should be present at that Wednesday rehearsal.

Becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is about each student taking their place in the Jewish community as an adult. Our goal is to help our students and their families embrace an active Jewish life that includes regular involvement as God’s partners in tzedakah and tikkun olam. To help our students and their families embrace these practices, we ask that each student complete 18 hours of community service that address issues of justice and repairing our world. Students can participate in one ongoing project or participate in a series of different opportunities. We ask that every family spend at least one Sunday volunteering with our Temple Emanu-El group when we go to serve food at St. Vincent de Paul. This experience will help set the tone for the 18 hours of service. Below you’ll find a list of other possible Mitzvah Project options. Students should participate in projects and programs that are personally meaningful and that help them connect to our community from a Jewish perspective. Feel free to pursue options not on the list – the list is just a starting point. If you find a project you feel other families may be interested in, please notify Rabbi Devorah or the B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator so we can consider adding your idea to our ever changing/growing list. If this sparks an interest of passion for you and your child, please know that you are always welcome to join our Social Action Committee. Please contact Lee Loventhal at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more details or to get more involved.

Hunger Project at St. Vincent de Paul
Temple Emanu-El volunteers serve a meal the first Sunday morning of each month. Volunteers must be at least 12 years old and an adult needs to accompany the student. Please contact Gordon and Debbi Krass at (619) 401-9908 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to coordinate your visit.  Everyone is asked to complete one Sunday of volunteering here as a kick-off to your 18 hours.

Projects at Jewish Family Service
JFS offers a variety of ways to be involved which are appropriate for Mitzvah Projects. For projects at JFS, see their web site at You may contact Volunteer Services at (858) 637-3245, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or go to
Among their projects are:
•    Conducting a drive for personal hygiene items, backpacks and school supplies.
•    Leading an arts and crafts project for children of military families during a monthly food distribution at Camp Pendleton or Murphy Canyon.
•    Conducting a food drive for the Hand Up Youth Food Pantry.
•    Shopping for household items for newly arriving refugee families.
•    Bringing Shabbat services for older adults at residential care facilities.
•    Contributing to holiday programs through donations or volunteering – Passover Packages, Thanksgiving Packages, Embrace-A-Family.
•    Volunteering in the annual United Run for the Hungry 5K/10K on Thanksgiving morning.
•    Creating welcome baskets for newly-arrived refugee families.
•    Riding along on an On the Go Shuttle and assisting older adults on their way to Shabbat services.
•    Bringing companionship to an isolated individual.

Linus Blankets
Project Linus provides handmade blankets to hospitals, police and fire departments and various agencies to be distributed to children in stressful situations.  The need is for small child sized blankets which may be hand knitted, crocheted or quilted. You may also make a “no sew” fleece blanket. Instructions and sizes are on the Linus website at www.

Martin Luther King Day Balboa Park Cleanup
Every year on MLK Day, community volunteers come from all parts of San Diego to participate in a group clean-up of Balboa Park.  The clean-up begins at 9:30 a.m. at Morley Field.  Volunteers go in groups to different areas to work on habitat restoration, clean-up, and planting projects.  Many volunteers bring a picnic and enjoy lunch on a blanket in the park at the end.  It’s a great day with activity and involvement options for people of all ages including younger siblings. 

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger raises funds to help alleviate hunger in this country and around the world.  Mazon encourages that Bar/Bat Mitzvah
families contribute 3% of the cost of their celebrations to MAZON as a way of sharing the joy of the day with people suffering from hunger in our communities. Here in San Diego, Mazon supports 14 food pantries including Mama’s Kitchen and Hands Up Food Pantry.  Contributions may be sent directly to MAZON at 1990 South Bundy Dr., Suite 260, Los Angeles, California 90025, or through their website,

Design-Your-Own Mitzvah Project
Some students have designed their own mitzvah projects, working as volunteers with a service organization, in a school program or doing art or theater projects. If you would like to choose this option, present your project in writing to Rabbi Devorah for approval.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony marks the first time when a Jewish youth has come to a place in their Jewish learning where they can lead us in our prayers and read Torah on our behalf.  Now that they have reached the age of majority, and advanced this far in their studies, it is our congregation’s opportunity to say “amen” to their prayers.  

It’s customary for Jews to wear a tallit, a prayer shawl, for morning services, especially when reading from the Torah.  Families can use the tallitot provided by the synagogue if they wish.  Most families use the opportunity of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah to purchase their child’s first tallit.  We have a wide selection in our gift shop and they can also be ordered online.  Many people also wear a kippah, the head covering.  Again, synagogue kippot are available but many families choose to order kippot as a gift for guests to commemorate the day.  Kippot can be worn by everybody.  Tallitot are worn only by Jews who have reached the age of majority.  

The morning of your child’s service will be the first time they will officially wrap themselves in a tallit for prayer.  10 minutes before the service starts, the family will gather with Rabbi Devorah in the Simcha Room so that we can have a private moment to breathe, reflect, pray, and wrap ourselves in our tallitot.   

As we begin the Torah service, families will be invited up onto the bima to participate in the Shalshelet HaKabbalah – the Chain of Tradition.  At this special moment, we’ll pass the Torah through the generations until it is placed in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah’s arms.  Rabbi will work with you to help you decide who to include in this ceremony.

As a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, your child will:
1.    Lead the service in partnership with the Rabbi.
2.    Chant their Torah portion.
3.    Read or chant the Haftarah portion.
4.    Lead the Kiddush and Motzi prayers after the service.

On the Shabbat evening preceding the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the family will be invited to light Shabbat candles.

The Bar/Bat Mitzvah student will chant the Kiddush along with the Rabbi.

Six weeks prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, you must submit to Becky a list of the people to be called to the bima for aliyot and other honors.  Please include all Hebrew names for the parents and student.  If you are unsure about the Hebrew names, please make an appointment to go over these with the B'nai Mitzvah Coordinator or Rabbi Devorah.

At the Torah service, when your child is chanting or reading Torah, they will be fulfilling the role of Ba’al Kriah – Torah Reader.  At each service there are seven aliyot.  An aliyah is the honor of being called up to the bima to offer the blessing before and after the reading of a section of the week’s Torah portion.  Your child will be reading Torah for a minimum of three and a maximum of six aliyot.  The reading for each aliyah consists of three or four verses of Torah.  

Your list should include names and relationship to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah student.  The first aliyah is reserved for members of the congregation.  We encourage you to use this spot to honor fellow congregants – either people that you’re close to from the congregation or your child’s teachers.  The parents (sometimes including older siblings) have the sixth aliyah and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah has the seventh.  If you don’t have enough people to fill seven aliyot, we can select members from our regular Saturday morning minyan community to come up for the first few aliyot.  By the day of your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah, you and your child will be familiar with many of these congregants after your child has fulfilled the requirement to attend and help lead regular Saturday morning minyan for the 6 months leading up to the day.  

It is customary for the list to begin with friends or relatives most distantly related to the child and should proceed toward closer family relationships.

Non-Jewish Parents – should join their family on the bima for an aliyah if they are comfortable doing so.  They will be asked to recite the Shehecheyanu, our prayer of gratitude, in English (or Hebrew for the daring) instead of doing the traditional blessing.  This is because the traditional blessing refers to being “commanded” to read and study Torah, something a non-Jewish parent is not obligated to do.  We
don’t want anyone to offer words in vain on the bima but we also want to acknowledge and publicly thank our non-Jewish parents for allowing their children to be raised Jewish.  The Shehecheyanu prayer allows for family togetherness and public recognition without requiring the non-Jewish parent to say words that are not authentic for them.  

Other honors:
Ushers – Ushers need to be synagogue members.  They will work as synagogue ambassadors helping to greet everyone at services.  They should arrive at Temple no later than 9:45 a.m. to ensure that they are ready to greet people as they enter the synagogue.  A letter will be mailed to the ushers describing their duties.

Torah Dressers – These honors can be given to adults or children.  Dressers help take everything off the Torah before the reading and help put everything back on afterwards before we put the Torah away.  They do not have to be Temple members, nor do they have to be Jewish.

Hagbah – Raising the Torah.  This is an honor that must be done by a Jewish adult, preferably one who has experience in raising the Torah.  The adult should be strong and comfortable lifting the Torah.  Please remember, if they drop it, we all get to fast (sun up to sun down) for forty days, so choose carefully.  If you don’t have someone, we can have a minyan regular volunteer.  

Ark Opener/Closer – This can be done by adults or children, Jews or non-Jews.  They must be able to get onto the bima and open one of the two doors.


When selecting your invitation, it is good to keep in mind the religious significance of the occasion.  They may be engraved, printed, custom designed, handmade, or simply hand written.  

Order your invitations well in advance (5-6 months.)  This leaves plenty of room for correction of errors.  Remember to order extra invitations and envelopes for the unexpected.  Please be aware in the wording of invitations that the celebrant is not “Bar Mitzvahed” but rather that he/she “becomes a Bar/Bat Mitzvah” or “called to the Torah as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.”  Rabbi Devorah and the B'nai Mitzvah Coordinator are happy to proofread your invitations if you have questions or concerns.  They are also happy to proof the invitations for any Hebrew that is included to ensure names are spelled correctly.  As a general rule, invitations are usually mailed to your guests eight weeks prior to the date.

The Saturday Morning Service begins promptly at 10:30 a.m. You may also want to include an invitation to the Friday Evening Service.

Our synagogue has programs for services to inform both visitors and regulars about the service and details of the day. You are welcome to use the synagogue’s program which we will prepare for you. If your family would like to have a more personalized program on the sanctuary seats, the B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator will provide you with the text containing standard information about Bar/Bat Mitzvah and the Shabbat service all of which must be included in custom-made books. Two months prior to your date, the B’nai Mitzvah Coordinator must proof-read and approve custom-made programs. Help us help you. When programs aren’t proof read we tend to see some creative and mistaken uses of Hebrew.

Each month, the Bulletin will publish a photograph, the child’s name and parents’ names and Bar/Bat Mitzvah date of upcoming B’nai Mitzvah students.  To include your child’s photograph, please email a headshot to Joni Cohen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. three months before for inclusion in the Bulletin.  If you do not submit a photo, just your child’s name and Bar/Bat Mitzvah date will appear in the Bulletin.


You may wish to have pictures of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah as a remembrance.  

In order to help create sacred space, no photographs are permitted during any synagogue services.

If you would like to take family photographs in the week before the service, a session may be scheduled with the office at a time that works for both office staff and the family.  On the day of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, families may take photos in the morning before the service or immediately following the service.  Photography may begin at 8:30 a.m. and must be concluded entirely by 10:00 a.m.  This means all photo equipment needs to be away by 10:01 am.  A synagogue representative will arrive at 9:40 a.m. to take out the Torah for ‘ritual’ photos if the family requests such.  The rabbi will be available for photos following the service.

In the past, Temple Emanu-El offered to video record the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service for our members.  However, the recordings were very basic with a single camera covering the whole bima.  The video was not high quality and depending on the day and the mood of the electronics, the sound was often very poor as well, so we will no longer be offering this service.  Having a recording of this special day is important to some families, so if you wish to preserve the memory on video, we encourage you to hire a professional videographer.

On Shabbat mornings, Becky Combest or Marshall Voit are available to join us to provide music.  Please let Rabbi Devorah know at your initial meeting if you’d like Becky or Marshall to be at your child’s service so we can schedule them.

Many families choose to provide either one or two fresh floral arrangements for the bima on the weekend of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  Most people use Allen’s Flowers, owned by Temple members, Max and Marilyn Levy.  Please contact the Temple office with regards to times for floral delivery on the Friday preceding the Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  It is your responsibility to take the flowers with you after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah (no later than 1:30 p.m. on Saturday).  

Many families choose to express their appreciation and joy by giving a donation to the synagogue.  This is an old Jewish practice that transforms one family’s blessing into a blessing for the synagogue community.  A list of funds is available at the Temple office.  This practice of tzedakah helps set a wonderful tone for the day and gives your child a powerful example of how we really celebrate our blessings in the Jewish community.  


At both Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday evening service) prior to the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and at the Shabbat morning service, the Bar/Bat Mitzvah student and his/her family should wear clothing appropriate for the bima. Modesty is a core value in Judaism and should be reflected in the way that you, your guests, and your child dress. Shabbat is a special time so clothing worn at services should be special.

Boys and Men:
Suits, slacks, khakis, button downs, and sweaters are all appropriate choices.
Shorts, t-shirts, and tank tops are never appropriate attire for Shabbat services.  This is a great time to discuss the difference in clothing for a party versus a sacred setting.

Girls and Women:
Suits, dresses, slacks, khakis, skirts, blouses and sweaters are all appropriate choices.
Shorts, t-shirts, and tank tops are never appropriate attire for Shabbat services.  Skirts should be closer to the knees than to the tush (if you can’t bow for the Bar’chu, it’s definitely too short) and shoulders should be covered.  This is a great time to discuss the difference in clothing for a party versus a sacred setting.
*** Girls, please remember you will be carrying a Torah.  The higher the heel, the harder the hakafah (Torah carrying).  

There are some tactful ways to include this information in your invitations.  Rabbi Devorah and the B'nai Mitzvah Coordinator have samples available.

The celebration has, for too many families, become the focal point of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience.  We have worked diligently to help your child understand the true meaning of this experience.  To that end, we are asking all parents to help your child understand the importance of inclusion and kindness on this day.  

Please invite the entire class to the celebration.  We know that not everyone’s kids hang out together on a regular basis.  We understand that your child may not want to invite everyone.  Now imagine being the parent of the one child who is left out.  Please be our partner in creating a truly inclusive, caring, and kind Temple Emanu-El family and help us ensure that no child here feels left out, embarrassed, or ostracized.  Tikkun Olam begins with the invitation list. We are all responsible.

Sponsorship of the Friday night Oneg Shabbat and the Saturday morning Kiddush on the weekend of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah is included in the Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation fee. Your sponsorship covers: Challah, wine, white grape juice, plastic wine cups, flowers for the Kiddush table, set-up and clean-up for both the Friday evening oneg and the Saturday morning Kiddush. You may enhance your Bar/Bat Mitzvah Oneg and Kiddush in many different ways. Please contact the Executive Director, Shiri Haines to discuss ways to make your simcha unique.

If you are interested in having an optional dinner reception on Friday night or an optional Kiddush luncheon immediately after Saturday service, please check with the Executive Director about requirements and costs. The community expectation is that if you have a Kiddush luncheon it will be open to the Shabbat morning regulars who come to services each week (usually 20 or so regulars). Please keep these extras in mind when planning.
All families will pay the appropriate fees to Temple Emanu-El two months prior to your child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah. If you have any questions about the Oneg Shabbat and Kiddush fees, please contact the Executive Director.

At the time the student begins the Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutorial program, his/her family’s financial obligations to the congregation (dues, school fees, building maintenance fund and other assessments) must be current, unless special arrangements are made with the Executive Director.  Please contact the Temple bookkeeper if you have questions about your account.

Tutoring, Prayers & Blessings Class and Chanting
In addition to regular Torah school fees as specified in the Torah school brochure, there is a fee of $2,400.00 for Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation. This covers the Prayers and Blessing Class, 25 private tutoring sessions with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah Tutor, chanting preparation and sponsorship of the Friday evening Oneg and Saturday morning Kiddush. If the student needs more than twenty five 45-minute sessions with the tutor and the twenty 15 minute sessions for chanting, additional tutoring will be billed to the parents at $50.00 per 45 minute session.
All Bar/Bat Mitzvah fees must be paid in full at the start of tutoring unless provisions are made. The Bar/Bat Mitzvah fee is not refundable. These prices are subject to change. If you have any questions, contact the Executive Director, Shiri Haines.

Many families may choose to enrich their experience by reading about the process of becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah and what it means.  The following is a list of books that address this life-cycle event and may be of use to you as you prepare for your child’s experience.  These are not required, they are a resource.  If you have suggestions of other books that can be added to the list, please feel free to share them with Rabbi Devorah so they can be considered.   

Amichai, Yehuda: The World is a Room and Other Stories, Jewish Publication Society, 1984.

Blue, Rose: The 13th Year: A Bar Mitzvah Story, Watts, 1977 (fiction).

Davis, Judith: Whose Bar/Bat Mitzvah Is This, Anyway?, St. Martin’s Griffin.

Drucker, Malka: Celebrating Life: Jewish Rites of Passage, Holiday House, 1984.

Goldin, Barbara Diamond: Bat Mitzvah: A Jewish Girl’s Coming of Age, Viking, 1995.

Kimmel, Eric A.: Bar Mitzvah: A Jewish Boy’s Coming of Age, Viking, 1995.

Leneman, Cantor Helen (ed.): Bar/Bat Mitzvah Basics: A Practical Family Guide to Coming of Age Together, Jewish Lights.

Lewit, Jane & Ellen Epstein: The Bar-Bat Mitzvah Plan Book, Scarborough House, 1991.

Moscovitz, Patti: The Complete Bar/Bat Mitzvah Book: Everything You Need to Plan a Meaningful Celebration, Career Press.

Neusner, Jacob: Mitzvah: Basic Jewish Ideas, Rossel Books, 1981.

Provost, Gary & Gail Levine-Freidus: Good If It Goes, Bradbury Press, 1984 (fiction).

Reisfeld, Randi: The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Survival Guide, Carol Publishing Group, 1992.

Sage, Linda Seifer: The Complete Bar/Bat Mitzvah Planner, St. Martin’s Press, 1993.

Salkin, Rabbi Jeffrey K.: For Kids - Putting God on Your Guest List, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010.

Siegel, Danny: Tell Me a Mitzvah: Little and Big Ways to Repair the World, Kar-Ben Copies.

Strassfeld, Sharon & Michael: The Second Jewish Catalog, Jewish Publication Society, 197