A few years ago, my wife and I had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Israel with one of my long time students and his family to celebrate his becoming a bar mitzvah. The story of his preparation began in January 2011, as he began working diligently with his bar mitzvah tutor, Faryn Kates, to get ready for the big day. At the start of his preparation, Jake didn’t have any Hebrew decoding skills. He was dubious that he could learn to decipher the letters and their corresponding sounds let alone learn the musical trope to read from the Torah and lead Hebrew prayers.
Within just a few weeks of beginning his preparation, it became clear that Jake was a sponge for new information, and he quickly mastered the aleph bet. Over the course of his yearlong study, he learned some basic conversational Hebrew, he studied about the State of Israel, he learned his Torah and Haftorah portions, and he prepared a D’var Torah, or teaching, for his family and friends in attendance.
The event was incredibly special and designed in partnership with the family, My Learning Springboard, and the rabbi in Israel who officiated the ceremony. We designed a private Friday night service that took place at the King David Hotel prior to having Shabbat dinner. In the morning, we all met at the hotel at 7:30 am for the hour bus ride to Masada. We opted to take a cable car to the top rather than brave the vigorous 45-minute climb, but we did descend via the snake path, which left all of us with shaking legs and sore calf muscles for the next several days! At the top of Masada, we claimed a beautiful space overlooking the Dead Sea. The family took turns sharing meaningful readings; Jake, Faryn and the rabbi led prayers; and Jake read beautifully from the Torah.
Following the bar mitzvah, we toured the top of Masada and learned about its incredible history. After descending Masada, we headed to the Dead Sea for lunch and a most memorable swim at the lowest point on our planet. By the time we boarded the bus to return to Jerusalem later that afternoon, everyone fell fast asleep for the hour drive. We joined together again for a Havdalah service and dinner to celebrate Jake’s accomplishment and to bring our time together in Jerusalem to a close.
For me, having the opportunity to become an extended part of families and to see students mature and develop as learners is an amazing gift. I’ve been working with Jake for years to support academics, and getting to be part of this incredible life cycle event with his entire family was an experience I will never forget. I’m so proud of Jake for his persistence and dedication to learning Hebrew, and I look forward to working with more families to plan similar celebrations.