Sasha Kaye (photo from B’nai Mitz-Van)
Sasha Kaye recently launched B’nai Mitz-Van, a tutoring service that prepares b’nai mitzvah students for their Torah and Haftarah readings. She also offers basic voice training, performance anxiety management and d’var Torah writing support.
Kaye completed a double major in voice performance and psychology for her bachelor’s degree from the University of British Columbia, and she has a master’s degree in performance science from the Royal College of Music in London, England. In her master’s thesis, Kaye examined the experiences of musicians with moderate-to-severe performance anxiety in simulated performance environments.
“I came back to Vancouver in January 2023,” Kaye told the Independent. “Most of my time so far has been spent unpacking and readjusting to life in Vancouver!”
Kaye grew up attending Congregation Har El, where she is a member. She has led services as a lay cantor. “I performed at various holiday and milestone community events, and participated in extracurricular, Jewish-led activism with peers from King David High School,” she said about her younger years.
Kaye has performed with the University Singers choral ensemble, UBC Opera, the Vancouver Orchestra Club and Postmodern Camerata, among other groups. She performs as a solo recitalist and has almost 10 years of teaching experience.
“I came up with the idea for B’nai Mitz-Van while I was still in London, and the idea was partially inspired by my master’s thesis,” she said of her latest venture. “In addition to struggling with an anxiety disorder, I had particularly vivid performance anxiety as a musician. The two collided pretty spectacularly for my own bat mitzvah. Despite being well-prepared for it, I was constantly ruminating on potential mishaps and catastrophizing the consequences. What if I got so anxious that I forgot the trope for my Torah reading? What if I forgot the words? What if my voice cracked? What if I dropped the Torah? I would let my family down. These cognitive distortions are evident to my adult self, but the distress was very real to 12-year-old Sasha. When I told people I was anxious, they told me I had nothing to be anxious about. While I’m sure they were trying to reassure me, this ultimately dismissed my feelings and made me feel much worse. I had zero tools to cope with or manage my anxiety.”
Kaye said she has little recollection of the bat mitzvah itself. “I was so anxious, I essentially blacked out,” she said. “Based on second-hand information, I did well enough on the day, but I was unable to enjoy the simchah – and that’s ultimately what the day should have been about. B’nai mitzvot should be joyous occasions for everyone, including the b’nai mitzvah themselves.
“As someone who knows how to chant Torah and Haftarah, and knowing what I know now about performance anxiety, my hope is that B’nai Mitz-Van can both teach young adults what they need to know for their special day, and also give them the tools to manage feelings of nervousness or anxiety that they may have.”
Kaye has experience teaching b’nai mitzvah-age kids from when she used to teach singing lessons, which she did for about three years, and she has five more years of experience teaching older students.
“Performance anxiety is extremely common,” said Kaye. “While it may or may not necessarily impact the quality of your performance, that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to deal with.
“The experience can manifest cognitively, meaning through the kinds of thoughts you have, like fixating on the possibility of making mistakes in performances and overestimating the consequences; physiologically, meaning through bodily sensations like racing heart, dry mouth, shaking or feeling restless; emotionally, like feelings of nervousness, dread or irritability; or behaviourally, like avoiding practising.
“How to manage performance anxiety is the million-dollar question!” she said. “There are a number of techniques and methods that have been researched, and different things may work for different people. Some things that can help pretty reliably, if they are practised, are feeling prepared in your material; breathing exercises, like box breathing; grounding exercises that focus your senses on the here and now; and examining your self-talk, that is, how you talk to yourself in your own mind.
“Retraining self-talk can take a long time and it can be very challenging,” she acknowledged, “but it helps to start by noticing how you talk to yourself. Would you speak that way to a friend who was going through the same thing? If not, chances are your self-talk needs some adjusting from the harsh and self-defeating to the encouraging and self-supporting.”
About working with b’nai mitzvah-aged kids, Kaye said they “are at a really fascinating stage in life. They’re starting to come into their own sense of self, and they’re able to start thinking critically about the world around them without the cynicism that can follow us as adults. There’s an enthusiasm and idealism for tikkun olam that’s really refreshing.”
And, given her years of experience as a tutor of academic writing, Kaye can help students organize their enthusiasm and their ideas into a clear and concise d’var Torah. “More importantly,” she said, “I help them find their own way of relating to their parsha, so they can find the lesson they want to share with the congregation.”
Kaye offers both in-person and online lessons. She can be reached at [email protected] or 236-515-9469.