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December 22, 2014 / 30 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Bar Mitzvah’

A Boy, a Camp, and a Bar Mitzvah He’ll Never Forget

Friday, September 5th, 2014

What makes one bar mitzvah celebration better than another? That probably depends on your outlook. Is it the lavish buffet including every delicacy known to mankind? The amount of money received for showing up in the ubiquitous bar mitzvah blue suit? Or perhaps you’re thinking that a bar mitzvah is an excuse to get the family together.

But the thing is a bar mitzvah is not about any of those things. Nor is it about parties or speeches, fountain pens, or the attainment of manhood.

A bar mitzvah is about one thing only: accepting the yoke of the 613 commandments of the Torah. With gratitude. And joy.

Huh? What’s that you say? Commandments? What are these commandments you speak of?

Funny you should ask. Or rather, how rare it is for anyone at all to bring up the subject of the mitzvot, the commandments, in conjunction with the bar mitzvah celebration. Because hey, we give money to charity. We’re good people. Isn’t that good enough? Do we really need all these laws?

Actually, for 10% of American Jewry the answer continues to be no. It’s not good enough. The Torah is a blueprint for life, says Orthodox Jewry, and the bar mitzvah boy is celebrating the point in time from which the performance of commandments counts for something.

Before the age of 13—12 for girls—Orthodox Jewish children practice the mitzvot, getting ready for the time when they will have gained the maturity and wisdom to be responsible for their deeds, both good and bad. Before this time, if a child goofs up and flips a light switch on Shabbos, it’s a learning experience. But after 13, it counts.

Luckily the good stuff counts, too. For instance helping that old lady cross the street. The bar mitzvah, however, marks the starting point from when early childhood religious practice morphs into reality, and a Jew is deemed responsible for his own behavior.

For the Orthodox, this is a reason for joy. They find the Torah and the commandments an immeasurable gift to the Chosen People: something even more precious than lavish spreads or lucre, and infinitely more delightful than time spent with family. To a mitzvah-observant Jew, there is nothing greater than the commandments and a boy of 13 has been waiting breathlessly all of his conscious life for this very moment.

How that celebration happens is generally according to community custom. And at one Jewish summer camp in the Catskills, community custom means “Rocking this place like it’s never been rocked before.”

At least, that’s what Rabbi U. said, issuing these enthusiastic words to the skies at large. He had just invited me to attend the bar mitzvah of camper Zusha Steinherz, to be held that night at TheZone, a summer camp in Stamford, New York run by Oorah, a Jewish outreach organization. It was clear the rabbi was seeing a vision, fully formed, of how the bar mitzvah would play out.

I had my own ideas about what bar mitzvahs should look like having hosted a mess of them for my own sons (all eight of them). Now I would see the summer camp vision of the ultimate bar mitzvah made flesh at a small town, the final stop on the Trailways bus to the Catskills. How would one dress for that? I wondered.

As it turned out, the counselors dressed in crisp white shirts and the married staff wore suits, while most of the campers wore their usual camp clothes. The bar mitzvah boy himself wore a dress shirt of vertical purple stripes on white with a gray pullover. But these were just the external details. The main event was the tension in the air, the palpable excitement of what was yet to come.

‘Muslim’ Boy Escapes Arab Village and Holds Bar Mitzvah at Kotel

Monday, April 7th, 2014

A 13-year-old boy born to a Jewish mother and raised in an Arab village celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall last week after she had escaped with him and her two daughters from her “prison at home.”

Details of the dramatic rescue mission cannot be published, said the anti-missionary Yad L’Achim organization, which engineered the escape.

The location of the Arab village is not known, and lips are sealed on how the woman, identified as “R,” was able to contact Yad L’Achim despite prison-like conditions imposed on her by her Arab husband. No information has been released about the ages of her two daughters.

The boy, identified as “S,” recited the blessing over the Torah in a tear-jerking celebration last Monday at the Kotel in Jerusalem. On his way to the Western Wall, a social worker who accompanied him asked what he would have said a year ago if told that he would be celebrating his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel the following year.

“S” replied, “I would have asked, ‘What’s a Bar Mitzvah.?’ My father forbade my mother to speak anything about it, and I didn’t even know I was Jewish.”

“R” suffered two decades in what is a common story of a young Jewish woman falling into the charms, and usually gifts, of an Arab and then marrying him, converting to Islam and becoming a prisoner in his house and a victim of wife-beating.

Her Arab husband prohibited her from making contact with other women in the village, and he did not allow her to step out of the house alone.

After the rescue, Yad L’Achim took the woman and her children to a “safe” house and helped provide the means to help her rehabilitate back into normal life.

Relying on the organization’s legal advice, she filed a complaint with the police, charging her husband with violence, and she nullified her conversion to Islam in a Rabbinic Court.

Brooklyn Boy Killed By Van One Month before Bar Mitzvah

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

A Brooklyn boy was struck and killed by a van Tuesday night, one month before his bar mitzvah.

Samuel Cohen-Eckstein, 12, was hit on Prospect Park West in the Park Slope neighborhood after chasing a ball into the street, the New York Daily News reported. The boy was pronounced dead soon after arriving at nearby Methodist Hospital.

The van driver remained at the scene and no summons was issued.

The Park Slope Stoop website reported that Cohen-Eckstein had been scheduled to mark his bar mitzvah at Kolot Chayeinu, a liberal congregation in Park Slope, and planned to donate a portion of his gifts to Heifer International.

His parents, Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, have spoken at community meetings “in support of traffic calming and the protected bike lane on Prospect Park West,” according to StreetsBlog.org.

Struck by Lightning at Camp, Ethan Kadish Battles Brain Injury

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

On Saturday, two weeks after Ethan Kadish’s 13th birthday, the members of his family will gather around a Torah scroll in the chapel of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for a small ceremony marking his entrance into adulthood.

This was not the bar mitzvah that Scott and Alexia Kadish envisioned seven weeks ago when Ethan was still at the Goldman Union Camp Institute, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Zionsville, Ind.

Scott and Alexia had just finished mailing Ethan’s bar mitzvah invitations and were making final plans for a week of vacation when they received the call: While helping younger campers learn the rules of Ultimate Frisbee, Ethan and two other children had been struck by lightning.

The other children were released from the hospital soon afterward. But Ethan, who suffered cardiac arrest as a result of the strike, was in critical condition. Nearly two months later he is still fighting the effects of a catastrophic brain injury.

“We know that Ethan will be in the hospital for many months,” Scott said. “But the progress we have seen — which we are measuring week to week and month to month, not day to day — has been in a forward direction.”

Initially hospitalized in Indianapolis, Ethan was airlifted to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in early July. After two weeks in intensive care, he has regained the ability to breathe on his own, but he remains unable to engage in purposeful movements. Although he has irregular periods of open-eyed wakefulness, his parents told JTA they are not sure of the extent of his vision.

The family has benefited from the support of their community, including their rabbi, Sissy Coran of Rockdale Temple in Cincinnati, who spent the night with the Kadishes on the second day of Ethan’s hospitalization. Meals have been delivered to them three times a week, and hundreds have signed up for Team Ethan on the Lotsa Helping Hands website, which assists families caring for a sick relative.

“We have experienced the best of humanity,” Alexia said.

Now the family is seeking another kind of help.

In cooperation with the HelpHOPELive fundraising website and the Great Lakes Catastrophic Injury Fund, the Kadishes are hoping to raise money to cover Ethan’s medical expenses, many of which will not be covered by insurance, they say.

In an interview, the couple — who also have set up a webpage to keep well-wishers informed of Ethan’s condition — were candid about the emotional difficulties of the preceding weeks, from the anguished ride from Cincinnati to the hospital in Indianapolis, to the emotional pain of having an unresponsive child. But they remain hopeful.

Recently they took Ethan outside into the sunlight and were rewarded with a response from their son: a tiny but unmistakable laugh.

Nonetheless, as they prepare for the months and years ahead, the Kadishes are cognizant of the many challenges facing their family. They have two other children, ages 16 and 10.

“Our other children certainly know there has been a huge change in our family lifestyle,” Alexia said. “They see how many hours Scott and I spend at the hospital. But we’re trying really hard to create a schedule as the school year starts to provide some source of normalcy in our family unit.”

“This,” Scott added, “is our new normal.”

Maccabiah Games Draw US Athletes to Become ‘Bar Mitzvah’

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Luke Rosener removed his orange T-shirt, changed into a white dress shirt and alighted from a chartered bus.

The garb was a far cry from the uniform Rosener will wear while playing for the U.S. volleyball team at the Maccabiah, the 78-nation sports competition that began in Israel last week. The Cupertino, Calif., native’s attire was more befitting a religious ceremony — in this case, his bar mitzvah.

Rosener, 22, had never had a bar mitzvah, owing to his family’s financial situation and his early struggles with dyslexia. But as part of the 1,200-member U.S. Maccabiah delegation, Rosener encountered a ready-made opportunity to become a bar mitzvah alongside scores of new friends also celebrating the traditional rite of passage.

That’s because Maccabi USA, the American branch of the international sports movement, brings participants to Israel a week before the competition for a mandatory program of touring and discussions rich in Jewish content. In recent years, the program, known as Israel Connect, has featured a mass bar mitzvah ceremony for participants who never had one.

“There’s so much more to [the Maccabiah] than playing sports,” said Jeffrey Bukantz, Maccabi USA’s general chairman and a former fencing Olympian. “We really do consider it the flagship of the program. It’s to the point that Israel Connect is more important than the actual sports. The kids are really impacted by the program.”

On the lush grounds of a reception center in the hills west of Jerusalem, a mile beyond the Elvis Inn pub guarded by a white statue of the King, the delegation gathered in the setting sun Tuesday for the ceremony. The entry hall’s long red carpet was lined with red, white and blue balloons and round tables in the vast garden were stacked with wrapped presents.

The Tuesday ceremony coincided with Tisha B’Av, the 25-hour fast commemorating the destruction of both Holy Temples — a day on which celebrations are frowned upon. But as he prepared to chant the Torah portion designated for the closing hours of many fast days, Daniel Greyber, the delegation’s official rabbi, offered a fresh perspective.

“The afternoon of Tisha B’Av is a time of rebuilding, of looking forward,” Greyber said. “The bnai mitzvah ceremony connects us to the Jewish people — not only in this world at this time, but for all of history. In that regard, it requires celebrating.”

Along with the U.S. team’s assistant rabbi, Noam Raucher, Greyber led the crowd in spirited singing. And he punctuated the Torah reading with references to group discussions he had led the previous day covering biblical events and their relevance today.

Dave Blackburn, a star softball pitcher who has competed in six Maccabiah Games, recited Birkat HaGomel, traditionally recited by those who have escaped harm. In 2009, Blackburn was nearly killed in a car crash, an accident that claimed his right leg below the knee and broke 27 bones.

“I’ve lived to share this Maccabiah experience with you, my extended family,” Blackburn said from his wheelchair.

Greyber called the Maccabiah participants to the Torah in three groups, and as the last one ascended the podium, he called for attention.

“Everyone, look at the miracle that is happening,” said Greyber, “as the sun goes down over Jerusalem, as this group that has never been to Israel and never had a bar or bat mitzvah is having an aliyah for the first time.”

Then Blackburn’s nephew Landon stepped forward. “My uncle,” he began, struggling through tears to get the words out, “is keeping me alive, and that’s all that matters.”

Landon Blackburn, a wrestler, said later that his uncle’s participation in the games is his most cherished aspect of the trip. His own father would not have permitted him to participate without his uncle’s influence, he said.

A native of La Porte, Ind., Landon, 18, said he grew up celebrating Jewish holidays, but as a rebellious child opted not to have a bar mitzvah.

“But all that did was make my life harder, that the weight of the world was on my shoulders,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to help me cope with the hardships of life.” he said.

Having this bar mitzvah, he said, makes him feel “100 percent better about my outlook on life.”

Shabbos Holds 100 Proof for Whiskey Lovers

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Jewish whiskey lovers have scheduled their second annual “Whiskey Jewbilee” for October, after the High Holidays, following last year’s stunning success of the first festival that was arranged after the wider known WhiskeyFest was held on the Sabbath.

Drinking a glass of “schnapps” and saying “L’Chaim” is not a Jewish law or even an ancient tradition, but it has been ingrained in modern Jewish life. There is barely a single Bar Mitzvah, wedding or other “simchah” without whiskey. And on Purim, the corks pop faster than one can drown out “Haman.”

Last year’s WhiskeyFest was held on Friday night Saturday, precluding many observant whiskey lovers from attending.

The relatively new Jewish Whiskey Company staged a  “counter festival” on a week night at a West Side synagogue and drew 250 people, according to The New York Times , and delivered the proof that one can enjoy a whiskey festival and still observe the Sabbath.

Whiskey companies that were not represented at the Jewbilee realized that the WhiskeyFest’s Saturday event cost them customers.

Although whiskeys are often kosher without special procedures, many producers are attracting Jewish drinkers by offering their bottles with kosher supervision.

An estimated 50 percent of former WhiskeyFest events were attended by orthodox Jews, but many of them were drawn last year to the Jewbilee, which is hoping to attract a lot more this year, with a second event in Westchester County.

The Jewish Whiskey Company pushes Jewish identity and uses a watermark of the Star of David on the front of its bottles.

64-Year-Old Polish Jew Celebrates Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Mariusz Robert Aoflko, a 64-year old Jewish attorney from Krakow who grew up thinking he was a Polish Catholic, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah on Wednesday, May 30, at the Kotel, with friends and other “hidden Jews” from Poland.

Mariusz spent his entire life as a Catholic. However, 13 years ago, right before his mother passed away, she told him something that turned his whole world upside down: he is a Jew, and a Kohen.

This week, Mariusz (who now goes by the name of Moshe) is visiting Israel for the first time and this morning celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel, 13 years after the secret, which he calls “his rebirth,” was revealed.

It turns out that both of Mariusz’s parents were born to Jewish families who perished in Auschwitz. After the war, the fear of being Jewish in Poland led his parents to hide their religion and to live as Polish Catholics.

After learning his true identity, Mariusz was in complete shock, but slowly, over the years, he decided he wanted to live a Jewish life. He contacted Shavei Israel’s emissary in Krakow, Rabbi Boaz Pash, and became involved with the Jewish community in Krakow.

Last month, he met Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, at the entrance of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and told him his story. “I was deeply moved,” Freund said, adding, “I told him that since 13 years have passed since he found out he was a Jew, it is an appropriate time for him to have a Bar Mitzvah.” Freund then offered to arrange the event at the Kotel, all paid for by the organization.

“By embarking on this journey into my heritage, step by step, it all starts to become clear to me,” said Mariusz. “I am not doing this to prove anything to anyone. All I ask is to embrace the truth about my family and regain the lost identity that was hidden from me for decades.”

Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Jews who to this day are either hiding their identities or simply unaware of their family heritage. In recent years, a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, and the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China.

Shavei Israel currently has two full-time emissaries in Poland, located in Krakow and Katowice.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/64-year-old-polish-jew-celebrates-bar-mitzvah-at-the-kotel/2013/05/30/

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