Beth Tfiloh adapts b’nai mitzvah projects for social distancing

From left: Spencer Miller and Ami Bresler.
From left: Spencer Miller (Spencer Miller) and Ami Bresler (Netanel Fenichel Photography).

From high school graduations to family vacations to wedding ceremonies, people have had to either make drastic changes to their planned life events or else place them on indefinite hold, thanks of course to coronavirus. B’nai mitzvahs are no exceptions to this, with synagogues such as Beth Tfiloh Congregation having to find creative new ways to keep ancient customs chugging along.

“Because of COVID and everything, we’ve kind of changed our format for how we’ve been doing it,” said Rabbi Eli Yoggev, one of Beth Tfiloh’s rabbis, on how the synagogue has been approaching bar and bat mitzvah learning and projects this year. “So we’ve been having all of our bar and bat mitzvah students, there’s like around 20 of them, we’ve been having them do projects together.”

Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev
Rabbi Dr. Eli Yoggev (Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, courtesy of Yoggev)

In this new format, the b’nai mitzvah students meet over Zoom once a month with their instructors, with each student doing a similar project to the others, Yoggev said.

One example involved students writing to or calling up senior members of the community who were unable to leave their homes, Yoggev said. “We connected one bar mitzvah student with one senior member of our community,” he said, “provide them questions they could ask them, kind of like do an interview, and either call them or write them.”

Yoggev, in addition to Rabbis Mitchell Wohlberg and Chai Posner and synagogue program director Cherie Brownstein, worked to put the program together.

“We received a wonderful response from both sides,” Yoggev said. “The kids enjoyed it, and the senior members, they wanted to talk more, and they felt very empowered that someone reached out to them and showed them love.”

Ami Bresler
Ami Bresler (Netanel Fenichel Photography).

Sixth grader Ami Bresler of Pikesville spent the summer emailing back and forth with one of the seniors, as well as a few children from Israel.

“It’s really fun and a special thing to do,” Ami said. “We’re able to email or send notes to older people, and email people from Israel that weren’t able to come into America due to COVID.”

Not content to call or write, at least one student, seventh grader Spencer Miller of Baltimore, actually went to speak with the senior resident he was assigned in person, outdoors and six feet apart. The senior owns a boat at a local marina, and “seemed like a very nice guy,” Spencer said. “I’m interested in sailing, and he also is, so it was great connecting with him outside.”

Another project involved packing bagged lunches for those going through hard times. Donning gloves and sanitizer, Spencer explained, students assembled bags filled with items from their homes, including sandwiches, applesauce, pretzels, candy and drinks. The bagged lunches were then brought to a preapproved drop-off for distribution.

Despite all the challenges that come with COVID-19, Spencer said that his bar mitzvah project this year was actually “more fun, and it’s definitely helped me learn the valuable lessons [that] no one’s alone, and that you should always help people when they’re in need and connect with other people, so no one has to be alone.”

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