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Just4You Bar/Bat Mitvah School - Testimonials

Testimonial #1 – Mason & Andrew
HI Rabbi! - Sorry for the delay but you know me already! Say "hi" to Denise for me and please tell her that I made the sushi soufflé and it was adored. Also, the rice cooker is a great addition to the kitchen.

Anyway, down to business. The praises still keep coming in (three weeks after the B'nai Mitzvah) from our family and friends. It has been an amazing outpouring of love and appreciation! For a little background, my husband and twin boys live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Last year, as their 13th birthday approached, I realized that our parents would never be able to make the journey up to us for the boys' B'nai; we decided to move it down to Florida. Sounded good but then reality struck: we needed a Rabbi in Boca Raton to work with the boys to create a meaningful ceremony, and quickly.

My mother found an ad for Rabbi Mike in the newspaper and the rest was in G-d's hands. From the moment my mother and I walked into his house to meet him, I knew we had found our Rabbi. Being more spiritual than religious, my husband and I wanted to create a memorable Jewish experience for our boys' simcha rather than forcing them to learn things they wouldn't appreciate. Rabbi Mike crafted a program achieving this goal that was far beyond my wildest expectations. These sessions were conducted by phone and even then, Rabbi Mike got to them. Imagine kids not dreading preparing for their Bar Mitzvah (as so many of their friends did)! In addition to discussing their Torah portion, they looked inside themselves as people and as Jews and shared these feelings with our core family and friends and Rabbi Mike plus his wonderful family at their home, over a Shabbos meal. The following morning, we watched the boys be called to the Torah as Bar Mitzvah.

Everyone was astounded! No one had ever been to a celebration like this. Denise, the Rabbi's wife, is an amazing woman and actually brought a feeling of Judaism to a cousin who never really identified with our religion through her most unique and touching Shabbos candle lighting ceremony. My mother's aid, a wonderful and religious non-Jewish woman, got up and spoke during dinner to tell everyone how truly moved she was by the ceremony. And the list goes on. Thank you, Rabbi Mike! - Best,

 Testimonial #2 – Samantha at age 20
“All of these transitions are long and hard, and I wanted to keep in touch with you more because you are still my Rabbi (no matter how far away) and the person I feel most comfortable talking about certain aspects of my religious future with. Some of the things that I am trying to work out for myself I think that you could help to give me some clarity, and help me to not feel as overwhelmed. I know that you would be proud of the road that I am on right now”. A letter from Samantha –20 years old. We started out having Pizza with her parents a few times a year when she was 15 – at the time she was not yet interested in Judaism and had no connection to a Rabbi

“Two particular things, among so many things, stand out to me when I think of you guys. The first is Mike’s great gift: is that you see the good in every person you meet and by doing so make us better people, make us want to be, and strive to be as good as you believe us to be. You have a unique ability to mine the bloody battlefields of character traits to find the gold nuggets within each of our souls, and then support the highest and best in us without judgment or criticism” - Bruce-father of Samantha (right above)

Samantha at age 30
During my teenage years I was as disconnected from Yiddishkeit as I ever have been.  I had a very un-stimulating experience with my reconstructionist education as a child and found that they had no answers for the deep philosophical questions that I yearned for answers to.  The secular world bombarded me with instant gratification and easy choices and it was a no brainer to a 14 year old…the secular world was easier and let’s face it, much more fun. 
My father had started learning with Rabbi Mike Stern in my early teens, and as he watched me starting to go down a path that was anything but rooted in the foundations of Jewish values and principals, he decided to call for back up. 

Rabbi Stern and I would have monthly pizza dinners to just schmooze, and debate all of the things that I had found no resolution to in my life.  We discussed and debated deep philosophical concepts, as well as the simplest life choices and issues that any teenager goes through.  Rabbi Mike saw the real me trying to find my way in a very mixed up world and supported me through years of fighting to find a road that was authentic and proper for me.   He helped me lay the groundwork of what it means and why we live as Jews, and he and his family lived by example and were always an inspiration to me.
As an observant Jewish woman that recently hit 30, I look back to those pizza dinners in my teenage years and know that it was Hashem sending me a life raft.  He sent me a very special person that could  see my neshama and help me to work things out on my terms, and without that I truly don’t know where I would be.

I recommend for any parent or teenager to connect themselves to Rabbi Mike and the entire Stern family.  The truth, wisdom and connection that they have brought to the world are immeasurable…but even more than that is that they make it accessible and attainable.  They continue to be a source of guidance, inspiration and light to me and I could not be more grateful for their ongoing presence in my life.  

Testimonial #3 - Sam
I can’t say enough good things about our experience with Rabbi Michael Stern (“Rabbi Mike”).  Our son Sam studied with Rabbi Stern on a weekly basis during the period of time leading up to his Bar Mitzvah.  Since Sam does not go to Jewish day school, we knew that he was not getting any formal Jewish education.  Knowing Sam, we knew that it would be a big challenge to find a way to bring the wisdom of Torah to him in a way that he would find relevant to his life now, and to his future.  Rabbi Stern was the perfect match for us and for Sam!  With creativity and the right blend of seriousness and humor, “Rabbi Mike” was able to bring to life many of the invaluable lessons, timeless values, and “real life” issues that Judaism has to offer to a 12 year-old boy, and beyond.     Through a course of individualized study in Jewish history, ethics, and texts, Rabbi Stern proved himself to be a trusted mentor to Sam, and a friend to our family.   We are grateful that our son had the opportunity to learn with him.  - - David and Elizabeth Hallerman,

Testimonial #4 - Paul
“Over the past year, Rabbi Stern has become a great mentor to me. Thanks to Rabbi Stern who kindled my Jewish light. Though I can’t speak a word of Hebrew, I understand what it means to have Jewish wisdom and Ethics. Paul, I love this man this is going to be a great experience for you. And my father was right; Rabbi Stern gave me one of the most influential experiences I have ever had”. Paul – 13 years old

Testimonial #5 – Alex
Hi Mike, - It was great getting caught up, via Hilary, on all that is going on with you and your family.  We think of you often, and look forward to seeing you and meeting some of the new additions to that family.  Hilary mentioned you had asked for a reference as you are working on a new venture and that is so easy to do given the impact you have made on this family!

While we ALL benefitted from the times we spent together, obviously the greatest beneficiary of your wisdom and teachings was Alex.  He is nearly 18 now, and a terrific, loving, and kind young man.  We take great pride in his character and the person he is and where he is headed, and while it reflects well on the parenting we have thoughtfully provided, there is no question in our minds (or his) that as a 12 year old, meeting Mike Stern triggered a new way of thinking that supported and reinforced the development of all the wonderful traits he exemplifies today. 
 After all, if an Orthodox Rabbi can be cool, then that creates a lot of room for a 12+ year old to be cool too, even if to do so goes against the grain and at times, the peer pressure that can take these kids to bad places.  So, you’re teachings of Tzedakah, and the skillful way you used basketball so effectively in analogous fashion to Life, are deeply engrained in his psychology. 

Let me share a recent story you will appreciate, and which is a great example of who Alex is, and has that “Stern” quality:  About two months ago Alex was in the cafeteria, in line, behind a special-needs student.  The boy wanted a cookie but did not have enough money, and the cashier barked at him angrily, to put it back.  The boy was embarrassed, and after putting the cookie back, went to a seat by himself.   Alex, retrieved the cookie, paid for it, and walked it over to him.  The boy’s face lit up for a variety of reasons; he got his cookie, he got it from a “cool kid”, and he was the beneficiary of a true random act of kindness.   The story gets even better; when Alex got back to his table with his group of friends, they had witnessed what he did, and were abuzz over it with one commenting, “Alex, you are the nicest person”. 

Lastly, the only reason we even know of this story, is because Brooke told us! Alex, in his own humble way, chose to tell his sister but not us!   My guess is that he didn’t want to make it seem like he did this kind act for “credit”, so telling us would look self serving.  This too, is another life lesson Alex received from the time you spent together - humility.  Alex realizes that there is no need to boast to make oneself feel better, as he understands that when you do good things for others, it feels good, and that is enough. Related, he also knows that when you are good at something you commit yourself to; there is also no need to boast, as others will tell you!   

 When we did confront him about his kind act, we told him how prideful we were and also asked him to think about the ripple effect this one act could make.  I suggested that the boy probably told his mom, which made her happy for her son and also probably made her feel good about the school district, that Alex’s friends now just may feel it is OK, not geeky, to be kind and emulate his action with similar acts which only strengthens the community.   We specifically reminded him that this is the type of lessons Rabbi Mike used to teach….and he agreed.

Mike, to this day when Alex pushes the envelope, as all kids his age do, we simply say “what do you think Rabbi Stern would think of that?”……and he gets the message and does the right thing, so it is clear that the wisdom for living you taught Alex heading into his Bar Mitzvah has become part of his makeup, part of who he is, and that will last and benefit him a lifetime.  He still remembers his Torah portion and will draw reference to it at times which completely baffles me as we are NOT regular synagogue attendees, so there is nobody reinforcing these memories.  Without a question, you are the ONLY Rabbi that has touched our family in this way, despite the fact we never belonged to a synagogue where you presided.

Mike, we will always wish you the best because you deserve it - we have benefitted so much from knowing you and are proud to call you our friend.
Regards to you and Denise,

Watch Our Video
Light in the Darkest Place - Rabbi Mike Stern
at the Aish Center, Tisha B'Av 2013