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The Bar/Bat-Mitzvah Institute
at Harvard Hillel

Harvard Hillel is a good place for a young person
to prepare for and become bar- or bat-mitzvah.

The Worship & Study Congregation at Harvard Hillel is an inviting entry for young people on the road toward becoming a bar- or bat-mitzvah. Some of our young people have come to us after years of Jewish education, while others come with no knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet. We welcome children and families from the local community as well as from Harvard. Our rabbinic advisor and lay members of our congregation serve as discussion leaders and teachers. Lively and unabashed participation by the students is encouraged.

We meet with the children on Saturday mornings for group discussion of the weekly Torah portion to teach them to be comfortable expressing their viewpoints, discussing the text, and presenting their opinions about how to interpret the text.

Background of our young people

Over the past 30 years or so, the Worship & Study congregation at Harvard Hillel has served as an entryway for young people (and their families) on the journey toward becoming a bar- or bat-mitzvah. Some of our young people have come to us after years of Jewish education (for example, at the Rashi School or at Kesher). Other have come at age 10, 11, or 12 with no knowledge even of the Hebrew alphabet. Some of our young people have been the children of Harvard professors; some have been the children of community people with no connection to Harvard.

Click here to see an article about the Institute.

Goals of the Institute

Whatever their background: --

  • We welcome young people to worship and study with us.

  • We find them tutors (usually undergraduate members of Harvard Hillel).

  • We celebrate Shabbat and the cycle of Jewish holidays with them.

  • We rejoice with them and their families at our service when bar/bat-mitzvah day finally arrives and they are first called up to the Torah.

The program 

We established the Bar/Bat-Mitzvah Institute a few years ago to provide an explicit structure for our young people as they move toward the age of becoming bar/bat-mitzvah.  Our rabbinic advisor, Norman Janis, oversees the Institute, and highly educated lay members of our congregation serve along with Rabbi Janis as discussion leaders and teachers.  Lively and unabashed participation on the part of the students is encouraged.  

Our Institute’s structure for teaching and helping our
young people consists of four major components:

1. Close consultation with the Institute’s coordinator and rabbinic advisor to create an appropriate curriculum for each child. For students with limited or no knowledge of Hebrew, we will arrange for instruction in basic Hebrew.

2. Small-group learning, with 10-to-12-year-old peers, on Saturday mornings from 10:15 to 11:45 (during our regular Saturday morning services), led by Harvard students and/or Worship and Study members and/or our rabbi. 

These sessions focus on understanding, participating in, and leading parts of the Shabbat morning service; fundamentals of Torah and Haftorah chanting skills; and discussion of the weekly Torah portion.

3. Private tutoring (usually with an experienced undergraduate from the Harvard Hillel community) to provide more intensive instruction in text study, in chanting Torah and Haftorah, and in the preparation of a short talk (devar torah) on the particular Torah portion that will be read on bar/bat-mitzvah day.

4. Participation of the student and his/her parents in our Shabbat and holiday services and in the life of our congregation.

Financial implications

The financial implications of becoming bar/bat-mitzvah at Harvard Hillel are small: parents are asked to jointly contribute to defray the cost of the Torah teacher. We can afford to charge so little because Harvard Hillel, our parent organization, supports us and covers our major expenses.  In turn, and to the best of their ability, individual members of Worship & Study support Harvard Hillel with their financial contributions.

Since there is no fee for the group learning sessions on Saturday mornings, the only significant expense for the family of a bar/bat-mitzvah student at Worship & Study is for private tutoring sessions.  Normally, a young person preparing to become bar/bat-mitzvah has weekly tutorial for approximately one school year (9 months or so).

To learn more

To learn more about Worship & Study or about becoming bar/bat-mitzvah in our midst, contact our Rabbi, Jim Morgan, at:    RabbiJim@worshipandstudy.org