Typical excuses for not doing bar mitzvah homework

The dog ate my column

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dear Cantor Matt,

What are some of the best excuses you’ve ever heard from a student?

— I Was Abducted by Aliens Last Night and was too Traumatized to Think of a Clever Signature Handle

Dear Signature Handle,

Would you believe that one time, a student came in and told me his dog ate his haftarah? I was ready to laugh him out of my office until he produced the folder and papers inside — half shredded and obviously chewed up. I figured that even if he made the whole thing up, you gotta appreciate that kind of effort.

Unfortunately, I tend to hear the same tired excuses over and over instead of really creative ones. But let me share with you what are the most popular excuses and how I’ve responded to them:

I couldn’t practice this week because I was really busy.

This is the granddaddy of all excuses. It’s been around so long, I think Moses used it on his bar mitzvah teacher. I have come to pity the poor kid who trots out this sorry excuse for an excuse because he thinks it’s really going to work.

Too busy? So does that mean that in the past week, you never once watched TV, surfed the net, texted your friends, or did anything fun at all? Are you really saying that you couldn’t have found a few ten- or fifteen-minute chunks of time to run through some singing?

I tried to practice but I had a lot of trouble.

I never understood what “trying” to practice means. I picture my student sitting at his desk with the folder in front of him, and no sound will come out of his mouth, no matter how hard he pushes. Then the pages all stick together so he can’t turn them. Maybe the chair breaks for good measure, or the lights go out. Yes, this kid sure is having trouble practicing.

I couldn’t get the CD to work.

OK, not a bad excuse, especially if you’re just starting out and don’t know the stuff very well. It’s pretty hard to make any progress if you can’t sing along with the recording. However, when did you figure out the CD wasn’t working? Was it five or six days ago? If you had just let me know back then, I would have given you another one. Instead, you let the whole week go by.

I lost my folder so I couldn’t practice.

You probably expect me to get upset if you lose your folders, but you’d be wrong. I lose things all the time. But just like with the non-working CD, when did this happen? Why did you wait all that time until the next lesson to let me know? I could have made you a replacement set and gotten it to you in a few hours.

I left my folder at my father’s house.

Now we’re getting to some real issues. A lot of kids, unfortunately, have to shuttle back and forth between their two parents’ houses, whether it’s on certain weekends or more frequently. Sometimes, things get overlooked and it makes sense that something like this might happen. My simple solution: I’ll give you two identical folders and sets of material. Keep one at each house.

I have soccer (or band, gymnastics, drama, karate, tutoring … ) every afternoon after school, and then it’s time for dinner and then I have to do my homework and then I have to get to bed.

Yup, I believe it. I know all about over-programmed kids and adults. How about if you try to add just five or ten minutes to your homework time before you go to bed? Or set your alarm a few minutes earlier in the morning. Simple and effective.

What’s the best excuse that you ever came up with for not practicing when you had bar mitzvah lessons? Email me at cantormatt@mattaxelrod.com and I’ll share the best ones!

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at cantormatt@mattaxelrod.com.

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