Jay's Bar Mitzvah Experience

Ray Joelson reflects upon his son Jay’s Bar Mitzvah experience

Our son recently became Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Or Ami and there is much for our family to reflect upon and even more to carry forward and cherish for a lifetime. The culmination of our preparations, deliberations, and expectations seemed to all focus on this one day that was so unique and fulfilling and that was magically orchestrated into a seemingly flawless service by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler and Bar Mitzvah teacher Diane Townsend.

Only on the evening of the rehearsal with Cantor Doug, about a week before the Bar Mitzvah did the full impact of our son’s learning with Diane become evident to us. Leading up to the Bar Mitzvah, we had enjoyed the muffled sound of his singing in the shower and the practicing of his Torah portion, but we never quite got to hear the real thing. We consider our son talented, but the rehearsal with Cantor Doug revealed a singing voice that we were completely unaware of. Diane had somehow managed to bring a dormant talent to the surface and our son seemed to revel in the joy of his own voice. What a gift! Yes, my wife and I shed tears at the rehearsal, and little did we know this was only the beginning.

On the big day, Or Ami’s Calabasas, CA sanctuary, filled with our friends, family, and anxieties, transformed into a special place where our hopes, dreams and expectations were soon to be realized. Perhaps this same magic happens in all Temples, but Rabbi Paul, Cantor Doug and Diane are a very hard act to follow. Without hesitation, our son followed their cues and like clockwork, it all came together. It became obvious that our son had developed a very special bond with his teachers at Or Ami. Some said being in our Shabbat service was like being in a relaxing yoga class; some said the joy of the music overwhelmed them.  Others said that it was the best service they had ever attended. All agreed the service was very beautifully different from their own Temples’ services.

Something very special happened to me too on that day. The collective experience of bearing witness to my oldest son address the congregation, read from the Torah and basically conduct the service all by himself, made me aware of the role we parents play in passing down Jewish tradition, and how that role is supported by the inner workings of Congregation Or Ami. A strange but familiar feeling overcame me as the service came to an end, as if I had been here before, and I quickly realized that I was feeling the same feelings I had felt at my own Bar Mitzvah service.  The sense of L'dor Vador, transmitting Torah from generation to generation. 

B'nai Mitzvah

Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah at Or Ami: An Emotional Journey

As a family, you will experience one of the most significant, highly spiritual Jewish adventures of your lifetime as your son or daughter becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. This is a highly emotional journey and may be filled with some anxiety, but mostly joy. At Or Ami, our rabbis, cantor, B'nai Mitzvah teacher and the entire staff relish our time together with you as we create a joyous and uplifting simcha experience.

People kvell (praise) about their family's experience becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah at Or Ami.

Fill out our Bar/Bat Mitzvah Family Information Form (as soon as your child begins working with Diane Townsend).

Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies present a wonderful opportunity for Jewish families to celebrate the emergence into adolescence of a daughter or son. This Jewish tradition emphasizes learning, prayer, and public competence as demonstrations of maturity.

Of course, preparation for Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies takes hard work, sacrifice, and commitment. However, the completion of a successful Bar/Bat Mitzvah process affirms the self-esteem of an emerging adolescent Jew and his or her family. We are here to help you along the path. 

  • 12 Months Before: Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation commences with a 12 week Pre-B'nai Mitzvah Prayer class with Diane Townsend, our B'nai Mitzvah teacher. Fill out our Bar/Bat Mitzvah Family Information Form now.
  • 7 Months Before: Individual weekly meetings meet weekly with Diane Townsend, our B’nai Mitzvah teacher.
  • 3 1/2 Months Before: Family meeting - parent(s) and the Bar/Bat Mitzvah student - with either Rabbi Paul Kipnes or Rabbi Julia Weisz to talk about the whole weekend, to decide honors for aliyot blessings, and to help alleviate any growing anxiety.
  • 3 Months Before: Speech Writing meetings - meet individually for five to six weeks with either Rabbi Paul Kipnes or Rabbi Julia Weisz to develop the rabbi-student relationship, to study the Torah portion, and to prepare the D’var Torah (speech).
  • 2 Weeks Before: Cantor Doug Cotler rehearses every student to offer helpful advice even as he helps reduce the level of anxiety.

With personalized attention, the rabbis, cantor and Bar/Bat Mitzvah teacher of Congregation Or Ami are ready to assist all families of the congregation to maximize their Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies as authentic and meaningful religious experiences. 

To schedule a Bar/Bat Mitzvah date, please call Rabbi Kipnes' Assistant Susie Stark (or call 818-880-4880).

For the Family

Mazel Tov! Congregation Or Ami would like to make your life easier upon this important and joyous event in your child’s life.

Read Ray Joelson's reflections on his son Jay’s Bar Mitzvah experience at Or Ami.


Bar/Bat Mitzvah Toolbox

Blessing the Torah (for your Aliyah)Torah Blessings (in Hebrew, English and transliteration)

Listen to the blessings and practice:

Before (slow), Before (normal speed), After (slow), After (normal speed)

Watch how the blessings are done (YouTube video)

Mitzvah Project Planning Tools:

Introduction to the MP process
Mitzvah Project Planning Guide 
Mitzvah Project Resources
Mitzvah Project Share Form

Questions? Contact Project Coordinator Cathy Rutkin

Bar/Bat Mitzvah Handbook: 

Everything you need to know
Tikkun Olam (Social Justice)