One Boy’s Bar Mitzvah a Big Victory

By Todd Feinburg

Published May 20, 2016, issue of May 19, 2016.
Sam Stein takes a moment to review his notes at his Bar Mitzvah. The Marbleheader turned 14 in February.
Sam Stein takes a moment to review his notes at his Bar Mitzvah. The Marbleheader turned 14 in February.

Sam Stein decided last year, all by himself and without pressure from his parents, that he wanted to have a Bar Mitzvah.

That’s not startling news for most families; kids make that decision all the time – but Sam has dyslexia, a learning disability that can make reading a slow and difficult skill to acquire. So, “The whole thought of reading out loud for him was really intimidating,” said his mother, Karen Stein, of the Marblehead boy, who is now 14 years old.

It was a combination of forces – Sam’s passion for competitive swimming, his education at the Landmark School (a private school in Beverly which specializes in learning disabilities), and an assist from a private tutor that got him ready to take the plunge last October. Plus, there’s the fact that he’s invested in being Jewish. “‘Mom, I really want to do this,’” Sam told his mother one day, she says. “He started to feel super confident with reading and he started to feel super confident with himself, and I really do give that to Landmark.”

Landmark takes a highly personalized approach to dealing with educating young people with learning disabilities. “The cornerstone of a Landmark education is our one-on-one daily tutorial,” according to Susan Tomases, the communications person at Landmark. “We match this with small classes of six to eight students,” she explained, including “a narrow student profile that we know we can address effectively, and specially trained faculty – that’s the brew that makes us truly unique.”

The formula worked for Sam. “I put a lot time and effort into this process and by the time the day came, I was ready.“ That effort was directed by a tutor. “She was a graduate student at the Rabbinical school in Brookline,” explained Sam. “Jessica and I met several times a week for about 6 months. We learned the Hebrew language, the story of Abraham, the traditions of Judaism, the holidays and what it means to be a Jewish man,” he said. 

Sam greets guests and helps them to their seats at his Kernwood Country Club Bar Mitzvah last October.
Sam greets guests and helps them to their seats at his Kernwood Country Club Bar Mitzvah last October.

Sam thinks that having a smaller service tailored to his learning style was important. “We did it in a small setting, with family, the readings were interesting and told a story and Jessica and I were able to focus on the important pieces. This sacrifice and commitment towards my Bar Mitzvah was similar to my dedication towards swim team and my studies at Landmark, which were both a huge help to me during this process.”

Karen said that the content of Sam’s service wasn’t substantially altered to accommodate his reading challenges. “Sam read from the Torah, there were aliyah’s, prayers and the makings of a typical Bar Mitzvah, but it was much more personalized,” she explained. “Sam selected the readings, did an essay on his torah portion and really became invested in the process.”

From Sam’s point of view, his Bar Mitzvah was a family event, with his mother saying that Sam wanted everyone involved. “His parents, grandparents, brother, cousins and aunts and uncles all had a part, whether it was reading a prayer, dressing the torah or throwing out candy. “ And the agenda for the day was written out by Sam and Jessica so there would be no surprises. “It was sort of a road map and allowed Sam to walk through the service in his mind,” Karen said. “He knew what was going to be next and it allowed him to focus on the individual tasks.”

It took discipline and hard work to learn the material and to execute his Bar Mitzvah, skills that Sam says he learned from being a swimmer, with five day a week practices that last two to three hours each. “Each session is structured by the head coach of the Marblehead Y swim team who emails it to the other coaches,” explains Sam. “They put it on the white board (like a LMK agenda!) and you swim what’s on there: laps, drills, etc. Each practice is over 200 laps.”

Sam was pleased with the outcome. “It probably wasn’t a typical service, but it worked for me.”

So it seems. His thoughts about the future? “My goal is to go to Medical School.”

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