This is my Bar-Mitzvah year and it sure is turning out to be a lot different than I had expected.

A few years ago I realized that becoming Bar Mitzvah is not just about a party or a trip to Israel, that maybe there was more to my 13th birthday than I understood there to be. Initially I pictured a party for my big day because that’s what everyone else did. We would have a fancy dinner, a D.J, and dancing. We even talked about going on a safari with my family but when Covid hit, all the plans went out the window.

But a unique opportunity arose and I grabbed it.

I’m the youngest of four children. My dad was born in New York and raised in a pretty traditional home, observing Shabbat, Jewish holidays and other major life cycle events. My mom is from Vancouver and was raised with a strong Jewish identity but less of the formalities of Jewish traditional observances. I go to a community Hebrew day school, and my family attends synagogue on the holidays.

Boys have the opportunity to take "The 40 day Tefillin Challenge" where they put on tefillin supplied by The Worldwide Bar and Bat Mitzvah Program. When they finish their 40-day challenge, they get to keep their set of Tefillin FREE!

Because of Covid, my friends were doing Zoom and virtual gatherings for their Bar Mitzvah. At first I was annoyed that I was expected to read the whole Torah portion for my Bar Mitzvah. It was more work than I had bargained for and hardly anyone will hear it anyways. But I eventually realized how accomplished I would feel for taking on such a daunting goal and how proud I would be for achieving that level of personal success. But I still felt something was missing, and the missing piece came in the most unexpected way. It was a Bar Mitzvah game changer for me, even during Covid.

My dad heard about a B’nei Mitzvah program for fathers and sons and mothers and daughters called The Worldwide Bar & Bat Mitzvah Program. He signed us up and I didn’t put up a fight. I always enjoyed spending time with my dad, and later I learned how much he enjoyed spending time with me.

Bat Mitzvah class prepping to make beautiful Rosh Hashanah baskets to be delivered to nearby old age homes

We gathered weekly in front of the screen with dozens of other soon-to-be Bar Mitzvah boys and their dads and learned some pretty awesome stuff. We learned tons of Jewish facts, including a cool way to remember the 10 commandments, how to put on Tefillin, and so much more. But we also learned life skills like time management, effective communication, and active listening skills, all inspired by a book called “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Shawn Covey. My dad told me that he didn’t learn these lessons until a lot later in life and was impressed that I was learning them at my age.

I’m enjoying my Bar Mitzvah program and I’m starting to see the silver lining here...

So, for all my Covid Bar & Bat Mitzvah brothers and sisters out there, from one Covid Bar mitzvah boy to another, here are my top three pieces of wisdom for you:

Fathers and sons participating in "The 40 day Tefillin Challenge" share their excitement and motivate others on our Tefillin Whatsapp group chat

  1. Bar & Bat isn’t just about Torah reading; pay attention to the life lessons. You can learn so much and walk away with tools that you will need as you move through the next phase of your life, especially if you can find an online program like we did.

  2. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” That’s what my dad and I have done during this time and so can you. Becoming Bar Mitzvah is about learning to rise up to the challenges in real life, and focusing on the positive.

  3. In life we all go through tough times, but we can get through them together. Get your friends and their parents to join you. Doing a program as a community is loads of fun and creates memories that will last you a lifetime.

I know my Dad is really proud of me for taking this year on with more enthusiasm than he or I could have imagined. And I’m proud of myself too. We've all dealt with some sort of loss or missed opportunities this year. And even though kids like me no longer have the option of trips and parties, we do have the ability to turn any situation into an opportunity and to focus on the positive.

I’m grateful that this year has turned out to be more meaningful and impactful than I thought it would be, and so could yours.

To find out more information about the worldwide bar and bat mitzvah program visit www.WorldwideBarBat.com

This article was also made possible by an interview conducted about my Bar Mitzvah by Anat Ishai, Board member of Momentum Canada and blogger for Times of Israel