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B'nei Mitzvah Program

Becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El

The FIVE PILLARS of the program:

  • “Give Torah a Chants” class in grade 6, where you will learn Torah service blessings, how to read the cantillation notes, and how to chant Torah and Haftarah text;
  • Beit Midrash Workshop Grade 7 class (part of Sunday mornings) where you will explore with your peers Jewish topics and issue that are relevant to YOU;
  • B’nei Mitzvah Workshop Grade 7 class (part of Sunday mornings, with extra support on Tuesday afternoons) where you will engage in group and 1:1 study of your specific Torah and Haftarah portion – and with Rabbi Landsberg’s support, work on your personal D’var Torah which you will present the morning of your bar/bat Mitzvah service;
  • Tikkun Olam< Grade 7 class project (mostly part of Sunday mornings) which is your ongoing opportunity to participate in community service and social justice projects such as feeding and helping the homeless in our city;
  • Attendance with a parent at a minimum of twelve (12) Morning Minyan, Holiday or Shabbat Services.

“Give Torah a Chants” workshop is held for one hour per week, during the regular Sunday morning Grade 6 programme. The students learn at their own pace, while challenging each other through games and creative presentations.

By the end of the year, all of our students demonstrate competence in reciting the blessings before and after the Torah and haftarah readings. They are able to chant the most commonly used Torah tropes (musical notes), and are ready to being learning their individual b’nei mitzvah portions!


The Beit Midrash portion of the Sunday morning Grade 7 class is designed to spark our students’ curiosity about Jewish tradition and practice. After exploring the meaning of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, the students engage in a process that enables them to determine what is most interesting and relevant to them at this point in their Jewish journey. Then together, the class establishes the curriculum for the rest of the year.

Our topics are always rich and challenging. The material is presented in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner, and lessons are carefully facilitated to encourage questions and further discussion.

While each year and each class brings forward different ideas and subjects, some of our topics in the past have included:

  • Jewish views on Modern Issues (such as tattoos, piercings, social media, bullying, drugs and alcohol);
  • Jewish views on sex and sexuality;
  • Dating and marriage;
  • Israel, including the history of Zionism; liberal Judaism in Israel and the challenge of the modern-day conflict;
  • Ancient Jewish history;
  • Social Justice;
  • Modern Jewish history, including the Canadian Jewish experience;
  • The Holocaust;
  • Judaism and Other World Religions;
  • Jewish life cycle (from birth to death);
  • Conversion;
  • Jewish Arts and Culture;
  • Jewish Heroes (and the bad guys too!)
  • Modern Hebrew language;
  • Torah, haftarah, and the relevance of ancient text in our 21st century lives.

The B’nei Mitzvah Workshop has all of the ingredients for a most successful b’nei mitzvah preparation experience:

  • Sufficient lead time - Students join the program at least 9 months before their bar or bat mitzvah date, and/or at the beginning of their Grade 7 school year.
  • Weekly study – Ninety-minute sessions provide intensive study in preparation for each student's Torah and Haftarah portion…
    • Usually 11:00am – 12:30pm every Sunday, all year long;
    • Sessions available over the summer months;
    • Includes small group and individual (1:1) tutoring;
    • Uses large classroom areas as well as separate, quiet break-out spaces.
  • Teaching and Support - There is at least one highly qualified tutor for every 3 students, and...
    • Regular and ongoing support from Robin and the Rabbi;
    • The progress of each child is very carefully monitored and tracked;
    • And as always, individual supplementary support is available outside of class time as needed.
  • Tools to reinforce learning - Audio technology is utilized for support in class, and MP3 files and CDs provided for home review.

This model:

  • Offers thorough grounding in the skills necessary to lead in the reading of sacred texts ;
  • Ensures that each child has at least 1½  hours per week of intensive study, (separate from ongoing check-ins and supports) offered within the window of time that our families have already set aside for their children’s Jewish education;
  • Offers a communal process and experience that is vital to the growth and development of this age-group's Jewish identity;
  • Provides an essential connection to the synagogue community and to the Rabbi in preparation for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah service.

How will each weekly workshop be structured?

  • The 90 minute session is comprised of several components, including one-on-one intensive time with tutor/Robin/Rabbi tackling new text or reinforcement of Torah in sanctuary; groups of 2 or 3 students working on blessings and tropes; individual review with audio support; and work/review in havruta (partnership) as reinforcement.

After their cantillation (“Give Torah a Chants”) class this year, is my child now expected to be able to “put it together” independently?

  • In Grade 6, our students gained the background enabling them to learn their portions with greater ease and success.  In this B’nei Mitzvah Foundations Workshop, the students work together with their teachers, taking small sections of Torah or Haftarah text, “figuring it out”, then practising and practising until it is comfortable. They work at a moderate pace, learning approximately one new verse per week

What if my child needs extra support?

  • Individual help is always available in the workshop, on Tuesdays (5:30-6:30 or 6:30-7:30), and also during the week as needed.

What about noise/distraction from other children?

  • There are separate, quiet spaces available for individual tutoring, listening practice with noise-cancelling headphones, and havruta work.

What if my child has learning issues?

  • We at Temple Emanu-El always strive to meet the individual developmental needs of each student. An appropriate program will be designed for your child in consultation with Robin and the Rabbi.

What about practicing at home?

  • The most challenging learning of any new text takes place in the Temple setting with the help of our skilled teachers. Of course, our students are expected to review regularly at home what they have accomplished in class to build their competence and confidence.

 What about my child’s D’var Torah?

  • Once our students know their Torah portion well, we invite them to teach some Torah to the congregation as part of their bar/bat mitzvah ceremony. Rabbi Landsberg will meet regularly with you and your child beginning approximately 2 months his/her the bar/bat mitzvah to help with the preparation of this short English presentation.

Who is overseeing the program?

  • As it has always been at Temple Emanu-El, the b’nei mitzvah program falls under the rubric of the Centre for Jewish Living and Learning. The B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator, Robin Leszner, a Master Reform Jewish Educator (MA, RJE) has over 20 years of experience in special education and b’nei mitzvah instruction. She is ultimately responsible for the programme and deals directly with the students and their families. Together with the exceptional skills of our teachers and Rabbi Landsberg, our team is extremely capable of ensuring a rewarding, meaningful and successful experience for each child.

We believe that becoming a bar or bat mitzvah is more than just learning Torah and teaching Torah. We encourage our b’nei mitzvah candidates to live Torah! The Tikkun Olam Grade 7 class project is our students’ ongoing opportunity to participate in community service and social justice activities.  

Currently, we are working in partnership with Ve’ahavta, a Jewish humanitarian organization dedicated to promoting positive change in the lives of people of all faiths who are marginalized by poverty. Ve’ahavta engages community members in meaningful and hands-on volunteer opportunities to support their collective mission of tikun olam (repairing the world). We are also working with Reena, a non-profit organization which promotes dignity, individuality, independence, personal growth and community inclusion for people with developmental disabilities within a framework of Jewish culture and values.

Our Temple Emanu-El program includes:

  • “Food Prep Extravaganza” at Temple Emanu-El, when our class will prepare sweet and healthy snacks on Sunday morning, for distribution to people who are homeless that same afternoon;
  • Presentations (“Tikkun Workshops”) by expert educators from Ve’ahavta;
  • Participation by each student in one shift on the Mobile Response to Homelessness outreach van, either on a Sunday (from 12:00noon – 6:00 p.m.), or 6:00pm - midnight on a weeknight.  In pairs, with one accompanying parent, the students will help to distribute food, clothing, and other essential supplies to people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Toronto;
  • Clothing drives with which we will collect essential items to be distributed by the outreach van to those experiencing homelessness;
  • “Car Kit” packing event to enable your family to help any person you may encounter on the street;
  • And active fundraising programs planned by our students to support our “Food Prep Extravaganza” and  “Car Kit”  initiatives and other Ve’ahavta programs;
  • Visits to a neighbourhood Reena group home, where our students and their family will help the residents welcome Shabbat;
  • Host residents of our neighbourhood Reena group home at Temple Emanu-El at one of our Family Shabbat Dinners.

One of the requirements of our b’nei mitzvah program is attendance, with a parent, at a minimum of twelve (12) Morning Minyan, Holiday or Shabbat Services.

Services at Temple Emanu-El are always inclusive and welcoming. Students aiming to fulfill their b’nei mitzvah requirements may count the attendance to any of the following services:

  • Shabbat morning (10:30am)
  • Holiday morning (10:00am)
  • Friday night Family/Small Fry Service (usually 6:15pm)
  • Friday night Shabbat special event (8:00pm)
  • Morning minyan (7:30am weekdays, 8:30am Sundays and statutory holidays)

Please check our calendar for current service details.

We recognize that the Grade 7 year is full of celebration for our students and their peers! Therefore we allow our students to count up to three (3) b’nei mitzvah services at another synagogue toward this requirement.

However, in order for our b’nei mitzvah students to gain a level of comfort with our Torah service, we require that their service attendance includes at least four (4) Shabbat Morning Services at Temple.

Students can retrieve their service attendance card from our little blue box on the bima, and hand it to Robin or Rabbi Landsberg after the service. Attendance is tracked on our “Torah Board” in Robin's office. Have a look!

Tue, June 28 2022 29 Sivan 5782