Preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah can be a daunting challenge for many in the Jewish community, particularly those who aren’t fully engaged in Jewish life. Not only are the logistics demanding, trying to squeeze in lessons between other extra-curricular activities, but the lessons themselves are intensive. A young man or woman is expected to gain a certain level of proficiency in Hebrew, to a level where they can comfortably read from the Torah. The barriers are high for almost any family in the Jewish community, perhaps enough to keep some from even choosing to participate in this important life-cycle event.
A new website, launched by a 3rd year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, aims to lower these barriers by offering bar and bat mitzvah tutoring lessons online. The website MyBarMitzvahTutors.com (and MyBatMitzvahTutors.com) is an interactive resource that “allows for learning to take place in the comfort of your own home.”
This is an interesting example of electronic Public Space Judaism - maximizing technology to reach those on the periphery of the Jewish community where they are, on their terms. By leveraging online tools, it’s easier to work at the pace of the student and allows for greater flexibility in scheduling. But more importantly, it provides an avenue for people who might not be able to find a bar or bat mitzvah tutor in their area, or people who are unaffiliated but want to begin the training process.
Of course, there are challenges in all of this for BarMitzvahTutors.com and others who are trying to raise the profile of Jewish education online. For instance, if one of the target demographics is unaffiliated members of the community, how do you let them know this tool exists? How do you get this information into their hands in the first place?
There are a lot of pros and cons of putting traditional synagogue and institutional offerings online. But for many it is a low barrier experience that can become the first step in joining our Big Tent. Increasing access points through an online connection is a powerful tool that can lead to deeper engagement in a physical community, a strengthened identity, and sustained participation in Jewish life.