This article appeared in the Jan. 11, 2007 Jewish Advocate.




New high-tech methods help b地ai mitzvah prepare

By Susie Davidson


Fading fast are the days of rewinding the tape to hear each Torah and Haftorah segment, heaven forbid splicing it together. Today痴 b地ai mitzvah are using portable music players and other high-tech devices to both study for and enhance the big event. On their Shuffle playlist, between Weezer and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, may just be their Torah portion. Amid the rapping, they may be chanting.


Rabbi Melissa Wenig is all for it. 的 tell my students: 賎et out your iPods. You are now going to record the chant notes that you just learned,樗 she said. Wenig, also Adult B地ai Mitzvah Teacher at Congregation B地ai Or in Watertown, says that though the method may be different, not much else is. 的 am training a new generation of Torah learners/chanters in the same way it has been taught for at least a thousand years - from my mouth to their ears, she says.


典here is nothing hi-tech about it, she says. 的t is an ancient practice. We sing each group of notes several times, so that they can play it back on their iPod on their way to school or basketball practice - or for adults, while they are cooking, or picking up their kids.


In fact, the entire Torah is now searchable, digitized onto CD-ROM, with navigational translation and commentary. There痴 interactive bar and bat mitzvah training for each Torah portion and Haftorah, taught through the voice of a professional Cantor, with English, explanation and commentary on the side, with or without vowels and Cantilation marks. Kids can listen to the commentary alone as a guide for their speeches. Other programs explore people, places, plants and animals in the Torah, geneology or other criteria. You can get software on the Bible Codes, interactive Jewish calendars, Who痴 Who in the Bible, or the whole Bible narrated on four CDs.


The Kol Kore Bar and Bat Mitzvah Tutor and Levsoftware.com痴 Trope Trainer teach Torah, Haftorah and Megillah chanting, in choices of melody, accent, speed, pitch and voice. One can select the display style and play a word, phrase, verse or entire reading, in Ashkenazic or Sephardic pronunciation, can chant or speak the Hebrew text, and choose from over 100 instruments for accompaniment. And yes, the audio can be downloaded to the iPod and other MP3 players using iTunes.


Five Star痴 Bar/Bat Mitzvah Companion helps negotiate details that can take away from the meaning and the fun. Parents enter their information once, and the software will track guest details, capture RSVPs, store received gifts and thank-you cards sent, input out-of-town guest accommodations and hotel info, create and maintain a budget, 鍍o do list and seating arrangements, pick photographers, videographers and caterers, note aliyah and candle lighting ceremonies, and manage musical selections. It can print outer and inner envelopes, maps, menus, and synagogue programs. The Companion is currently on sale for $39.95. MitzvahPlan.com痴 Ultimate B地ai Mitzvah Planning Handbook offers a PDF with some of these features for only $9.95.


Sites like and can print invitations, thank you notes, placecards and even napkins. has templates for a guest book, RSVPs, event planning, polls, quizzes music, and video and photo uploading. MitzvahChic痴 free bar/bat mitzvah calendar lists by geographical area, to avoid dreaded conflicts with other parties.


Temple Isaiah of Lexington has transitioned from cassette to digital. 展e have a two-pronged approach, using recordings and trope to learn the portions, said Cantor Robbie Solomon. An Olympus Digital Voice recorder (DS-2), he explained, converts the sound into a digital format that is then uploaded onto the computer. 添ou can place the files into iTunes, convert them to MP3s, or burn them onto a CD, he said. Files can also be shared, and Solomon saves the files for future use, to minimize the number of times that I have to record the portions.


溺y sons, Kevin and Alex, are practicing for their joint 全t. Patrick's Day Bar Mitzvah by using iPod Minis, which are about the size of a pack of chewing gum, said Adam Altman, a Brookline native and ophthalmologist who practices in the Reading, Pennsylvania area. 典he Haftorah is digitized by Rabbi Brian Michaelson at Temple Oheb Shalom in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, he said, 殿nd loaded onto their iPods, so they can listen for a few minutes at a time throughout the day. Kevin also uses a computer language program made by 迭osetta Stone" that helps him with pronunciation and translation. 的t痴 certainly more convenient then the reel-to-reel I used when I was a kid, he said.


Marcia Holman痴 daughter Ariel will become a Bat Mitzvah in November. 展e are downloading her Haftorah and the blessings onto her iPod so that she can listen and practice during car rides, our trip to Florida, etc., she said. They have also set aside a time to read from the Chumash.


Jessica Slavin, Bar and Bat Mitzvah Tutoring Coordinator at Temple Isaiah and Hebrew Tutoring Coordinator at Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, said that converting to digital has created problems regarding updating synagogue technology, accessibility, and training of tutors. 釘ut I believe that as the use of digital voice recorders becomes more accessible and cost-effective, most folks will own and love them, she said, noting that many of her students use iPods or personal computers rather than CDs. 典heir biggest complaint is not being able to rewind for a small bit, she said. 滴opefully, the technology will advance to include that mechanism. Some students still request cassettes because of this. 釘ut overall, our transition has been smooth and a benefit to our system and our students, she said.


As a private tutor, Slavin still works off of cassette, because owning a DVR and updating her home computer system is not cost-effective yet. But at least a third of her families have a DVR she can use.


In the end, it痴 content, not method. Does the quality of learning decrease? 的t痴 actually richer, says Solomon. 典here are still the elements of personal training by tutors, reading preparation in Hebrew school, and the parsha analysis by the rabbis. Technology only makes the process more efficient.


Wenig takes it further. "賎oogle the name Zipporah, I tell my students with Exodus 18 Parsha Yitro, she says. 的 want them to really inhabit their Torah portion, to understand the beauty and depth of their tradition, she says. 迭ote learning is not an option. I demand that the learning web be cast wide, and the thinking go deep.


鉄ince we are having the Kiddush luncheon with no meal choice, I didn稚 need return cards, said Holman. She put their phone number and email on the invitations. 的 thought about e-Vites, she said, 澱ut I couldn't find one for bat mitzvahs.

As for entertainment, at, the era of disco balls and record mixing is over. 溺any of us remember a local DJ bringing his hodgepodge of equipment, the site states. But the manual flip switches and record changers are gone. A pair of CD decks and a set of speakers can do it all; some DJ痴 simply play off of computers. Flashier setups include multi-level CD decks, surround-sound amps and speakers, a mixer and high-tech headphones.


But at least one DJ resists automating. 的 still prefer to bring the old hodgepodge - hard equipment over hard drive, says 笛ammin樗 Joel Greenberg of Danvers. 的 lug my rackmounted professional CD players, mixer, cordless mic and speakers, he said. Greenberg said it痴 not equipment, it's performance. 展ith today's technology, anyone can 租ownload a bar mitzvah, but when hiring a DJ, you are paying for much more than music. Games, contests, light shows, and whatever else the DJ can offer is a top priority in DJing any party with teenagers, he explains. 的t takes me longer to set up the lighting than the sound system, said Greenberg, an author with two books out, and a movie on one pending. 釘ut a DJ without a lot of lights at a kids party is like a hot dog without a roll.


VideoPro, Inc. of Marblehead includes two flash video samples of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service and party on their site. In business for over 20 years, they have evolved with the times, and also know the rules of specific synagogues regarding taping, i.e. using only a timer-activated camera, or going with live coverage.


的n 1972, my Dad took ten of us to see a dinner theater show of Fiddler on the Roof, said Altman. 哲owadays, parties are much more elaborate. And costlier. Altman says the invitations he and his wife Robin just picked out are over $500, and the party for 130 people (DJ only, no band), will likely run $40,000 to $50,000. 撤eople can RSVP by e-mail, which was never an option 礎ack in the day," he said. (The high point will likely be their uncle Sean singing "Today I am a Man," which he does in his Jewmongous! show.)


Gifts have evolved too. 撤ens were the thing back then, said Mollie Paren of Brookline, who just turned 98. 撤eople used to joke, 蘇ow many pen and pencil sets did you get? And if you got a gold Cross or Parker set, that was really something. But today, Gifts.com痴 most popular b地ai mitzvah gifts are camcorders, digital cameras and the whole world of iPod. Wireless headphones, handheld devices and multi-feature keyboard phones are hot, as are talking translators, subcompact MP3 players, the Apple Mac Mini Computer, low-budget PCs, and mobiBLU Cube MP3 players.


You can also visit,, for great suggestions for b'nai mitzvah mitzvah projects.


Contact Rabbi Melissa Wenig at or www.joyfulservice.

Contact Jammin Joel Greenberg at

Contact Video Pro, Inc. at or (781) 631-1577.