Cantor Matt Axelrod

I am available to talk to your bar/bat mitzvah class and parents.

Click here to contact me and schedule a presentation.

Upcoming Appearances

December 3-5, 2017
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Convention
Atlanta, GA

September 18, 2016
2:00 pm
Jewish Community Center, Columbus, OH

March 24, 2016
12:30 pm
Greenwich JCC, Greenwich, CT

March 13, 2016
9:30 am
The Jewish Center, Princeton, NJ

January 31, 2016
11:00 am
Congregation Beth El, Voorhees, NJ

September 30, 2015
11:15 am
JCC of Central NJ, Scotch Plains, NJ

September 17, 2015

12:30 pm
Greenwich JCC, Greenwich CT

Press for Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays:

Review in

The book opens with the familiar but still funny line some Jews use to describe their holidays: “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.” Happily, this book takes things further and does so in highly readable manner. All the major holidays are covered, as well as some of the lesser ones, including Tishah-b’Ab, a day that commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Ironically (or not), it is also the day the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. Because the book is written without affectation, those new to the holidays will find it a way to understand both the meaning and the observance of Judaism’s special days. The text is full of interesting facts, from the origin of the Kol Nidre service to the story behind gift giving at Hanukkah and the derivation of Moses’ name. And, appropriately, each holiday gets a section, called “Let’s Eat,” that details the foods associated with the day (or in the case of Yom Kippur, how to fast). A good starting point for both Jews and their non-Jewish friends who want to know more.

Review in Library Journal:

If you want to know the story behind the Jewish a cappella group the Maccabeats’ latest video, look to this book. If you are one of a burgeoning number of interfaith families, this guide will help you. Axelrod (cantor, Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ; Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah) has a facility for making the shofar and the seder accessible to all. Without compromising their theological importance, he sets the 11 most important Jewish holidays in their historical and ritual contexts, adding wit and a bit of whimsy. In explicating a holiday, he titles sections with such headers as 'The Back Story,' 'Let’s Eat,' and 'The Bottom Line.' Certain celebrations require additional headings such as 'Come on Baby, Light My Fire.' There are 'Tips for Parents' and 'In Depth' segments throughout. He describes the holidays also through real-life applications and scenarios such as alternatives to camping in a tent for seven days during Sukkot. The three appendixes—a 'Quick Guide to the Holidays,' a Jewish calendar, and a glossary—offer great value on their own. VERDICT. . . This is an excellent choice for readers new to Jewish holidays and history and anyone wishing to incorporate these meaningful celebrations into their own lives.

Press For Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah:

in Booklist:

Axelrod, a longtime cantor from New Jersey, offers young adults and their parents helpful information about preparing for a bar/bat mitzvah ceremony. Beginning with a clarification (bar/bat mitzvah means “of age,” not “a ceremony”), he goes on to discuss practice (“yes, you have to”), trope (“the secret code for singing any haftarah or Torah portion”), parts of the service, making mistakes, and dealing with over-involved parents. Although he opts for a humorous tone (comparing the bar/bat mitzvah service to a lavish Broadway musical with a child star), Axelrod’s message is both down-to-earth and serious: treat your service as an opportunity to be prepared and do your best, and take the initiative to become an active, rather than passive, participant in the ceremony. Chapters are divided into manageable sections with catchy subtitles (“Services Are Boring”), while frequent sidebars (“Insider’s Tips” and “Just for Parents”) and cartoon illustrations will keep even reluctant readers engaged. This is a must-have for Conservative and Reform congregational libraries as well as public libraries serving these populations.

Review in Publishers Weekly:

In this humorous and informative primer on becoming bar or bat mitzvahed, Axelrod helps kids and their parents navigate this meaningful but often stressful time with useful tips and back-to-basics knowledge. Axelrod, a cantor with over twenty years' experience training soon-to be thirteen-year-olds for their induction into the world of Jewish maturity and responsibility, takes readers on a step-by-step tour of what the celebration means, what tasks need to be accomplished for that special day, and how to make it through the process without succumbing to the myriad pressures.

Review in Library Journal:

Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) uses his 20 years of experience as a cantor to present the typical questions of the 13-year-old girl or boy and their families as they prepare for the ceremony that signifies the passage of a young person into the adult Jewish community. Axelrod writes with humor and ease but never condescends to his young target audience. VERDICT Axelrod’s little book should be valuable for most Jewish families, as well as rabbis and cantors wondering how to help their young bar/bat mitzvah candidates.

Review in Baltimore Jewish Times iNSIDER:

Cantor Matt Axelrod’s new guide is written primarily for kids, but how I wish it was around when I was planning my daughter’s bat mitzvah. The cantor’s simple explanations and attention to even the most obvious details of the b’nai mitzvah process sure would have come in handy. “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah” may even appeal to those hard-to-please, eye-rolling young teens who are actually experiencing the rite of passage. And unlike so many books about bar and bat mitzvahs that spend so much time on the party, this book manages to be fun while only focusing on the religious aspects of the ritual. Your child might not admit it, but if you left it on his bed, he just might check it out. If not, you can read it yourself.

Review in Jewish Book World:

This is a comprehensive look at what a family will experience when they go through the bar or bat mitzvah process. A cantor who has guided and instructed children for many years, the author writes with both authority and humor.

There are sections within chapters that are designated “Insider’s Tip” and some that are “Just For Parents” as well as several clever cartoons. At the end of the book, there are two appendices, one with a checklist of the most important tips and the second, a glossary of Hebrew terms.

The book is very detailed and parents should read it all. However, I would highlight only certain chapters and sections for students.

The introduction sets the tone. It talks about the origin of the bar and bat mitzvah. Written tongue-in-cheek, it describes a meeting with God and his angels. They decide that they will take young people who are about thirteen who are “socially awkward and self-conscious…make them stand up in front of all their friends and family and sing for hours… Plus they’ll have to do it in another language.”

Cantor Axelrod spends a lot of time sending the message that this process is an opportunity for the whole family to become knowledgeable about the Shabbat service, not just for the “special day” but for a lifetime. He also presents strategies for the parents and child to cope with the stresses that accompany these events. As an example, he talks about how contagious anxiety is. He clearly distinguishes between the roles of parents and those of children. Indeed, it is not the child’s issue to know that “…Aunt Rose won’t sit anywhere near cousin Marvin because of the chopped liver incident in 1975. (And we all know that Marvin was at fault, but he’ll never admit it. That Aunt Rose is a saint.)”

By giving both parents and children a detailed roadmap, this book gives families guidelines that will make their simcha easier and more meaningful. Recommended for ages 11 to adult.

Review by
Association of Jewish Libraries

There is a shelf of books for families planning b’nei mitzvah. One of the best is Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin’s Putting God on the Guest List. But that volume is almost twenty years old, and speaks much more to the parents than to the children. Enter Cantor Matt Axelrod, who has provided a hands-on, accessible book on the process. His aim is multi-faceted: to provide an overview for young people in contemporary language and to guide the parents. His chapter-titles tell much of the story. “What if I make a mistake” describes some nightmare scenarios, and suggests ways to relieve the stress of the day. “You need to attend services more” tells both parents and children why it’s important—they will learn what the service contains, and become comfortable as observers before they are participants. In addition, he discusses Trope, the Jewish calendar, and “What if we’re not religious?” The final chapter, “Now what?” reminds children that their b’nei mitzvah is not the end of their Jewish education but the beginning of their lives as members of the community. Axelrod includes numerous “Insider’s tips” for kids, talking about how to learn and prepare. There are also somewhat more serious “Just for parents” sections, containing genuinely helpful recommendations on how the adults can be take part in the process, while acknowledging the child’s growing independence. No one should throw out their copies of Salkin, or stop recommending it. But Cantor Axelrod has provided a new, engaging guide for the 21stcentury. It does not deal with the specifics of the training process, but provides a welcome, conversational handbook that everyone can use. It should be welcome in synagogue and school libraries, and might even be useful for tutors and clergy.

Article in Marblehead Reporter about my return to Cohen Hillel Academy. Click here.

As featured in The New Jersey Jewish News. Click here.

As featured in Macleans Magazine. Click here.

Publishers Weekly article on Jason Aronson bringing back its well-respected Judaica line of books. Click here.

Release from Rowman & Littlefield about Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah leading its relaunch of Judaica. Click