Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Today I Am an Actor

Expert tips for the phony bar mitzvah boy

Print Email

A few months ago, an email message began circulating among religious scholars: “Film studio looking for someone to teach non-Jewish 13-year-old actor a haftorah portion for Todd Solondz movie bar mitzvah scene.” Since few details about this movie have been made public, it’s hard to know what Solondz—the indie auteur whose films have gotten progressively weirder and bleaker since his 1996 debut, Welcome to the Dollhouse—has in mind. How might a young actor achieve authenticity in such a scene? For advice, I asked Marlene Brostoff, who has been a bar and bat mitzvah teacher near Los Angeles for 38 years (and is the mother of Marissa Brostoff,’s staff writer).

John Goodman and Julie Hagerty in Todd Solondz's 'Storytelling'
John Goodman and Julie Hagerty in Todd Solondz’s Storytelling

Struggle with pronunciation.
“Probably the most difficult sound to master, because we do not have it in the English language, is the ‘ch’ sound,” Brostoff says. “So I always tell kids, ‘Pretend you’re at the dentist’s office, and he’s asking you to spit into a spittoon, and you kind of are clearing your throat and you kind of have that ‘ch’ sound.’ And somehow a lot of kids can do it. Some cannot do it. It’s very, very difficult for them to make that sound. It’s the same sound you have in German in the composer Bach’s name.”

Go too fast.
“One of my mantras to them is ‘Loud, slow, and clear,’ because they do tend to want to rush. Most students, if they know their portions well, want to go way too fast. I often tell them just to say their names in their heads whenever they get to a period.”

Pretend you’re on American Idol.
“A big thing that I would want to emphasize—something I emphasize with my actual bar mitzvah students—is that it’s not a show. It’s a time to be embraced by the community. It’s not that they’re standing up there waiting for their cue. At different points in the service, when there are congregational readings in English, or even in Hebrew if they know it, they need to partake in that. It’s not just standing and waiting for a little line and going up to recite. You’re a part of the congregation when you’re doing your specific solos. I also tell them, because it’s not a show, not to be waving to their friends—you almost have to ‘stay in character’ as a bar mitzvah person. You can smile, you can be natural, but you’re there to do something of a serious nature, and since you are leading the congregation, you’re expected to be acting in a way that is very adult-like.”

Imagine the world is not like a Todd Solondz movie.
“I would want the actor, and the actual bar mitzvah student, to look at this as almost a day of hope, more so in terms of their interpretation—when they’re writing their speech—their interpretation of their torah or haftorah portion. Often this can be a way to motivate kids to say something to this audience out there that hopefully encourages them to do something better with their lives—a pretty awesome responsibility for a 13-year-old.”

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Today I Am an Actor

Expert tips for the phony bar mitzvah boy

More on Tablet:

Rediscovering the First Woman Rabbi

By Laura Geller — Ordained in 1935, Regina Jonas died at Auschwitz. Now, she’s being honored.