Today one of our seventh graders became a Bar Mitzvah, a Son of the Commandments. In his speech this boy explained that he had been asked a very important question by his parents a few years ago when he was ten. He didn't have to make a decision then but with no hesitation he did. Yes, he wanted to follow the faith of his father, his grandfather and his great-grandfather.
The boy grew up with many stories about his great-grandfather, of how as a teenager he saved his six siblings and parents during the Holocaust. Each night he would take one of his family members on his bicycle and ride miles and miles through much danger to bring them to safety. He managed to get to America and there like so many others worked and saved money in order to bring over his family, again, one by one.
The great-grandfather and grandfather and rest of the family were overjoyed that the boy had made this decision! As it got closer to his Bar Mitzvah year, there was much excitement and planning that the great-grandfather would come from New York for the ceremony. But he passed away just a few months ago.
The boy knew that his great-grandfather put on Tefillin each day and wanted to make sure he knew how to do this as well. He came to Hebrew School with his own pair and asked Rabbi David to teach him. He understood that Tefillin is not worn on Shabbat but since today was a weekday he would wear the Tefillin throughout the service. Rabbi David was especially proud that the boy knew exactly what to do as he expertly put on the Tefillin, recited the blessings and unwrapped it at the end of the service. Information about Tefillin
The boy did a beautiful job chanting from the Torah although it was actually the first time he even actually read from the Torah! Yes he knew how to chant it from the paper but the handwritten letters without vowels in the Torah looks quite different. Although planned, he didn't have a chance to attend his rehearsals. But that didn't phase him.
It didn't even phase the boy that he didn't even know what to expect. None of that mattered. He would not only be honoring his greatgrandfather but today he would be giving a gift to his grandfather. You see, this grandfather who had been battling cancer, was determined to stay alive in order to see his grandson become a Bar Mitzvah. But in the last week it was clear that this was not to be.
So with the family, Rabbi David and I planned a last minute service to be held in the hospice facility. After the grandfather was brought into the chapel, the family members and dear friends gathered around his bed. The boy stood right by his grandfather's side and led the prayers. When it came time for the reading of the Torah, the table was brought right in front of the bed.
As did everyone else, I cried many tears during the service. And more came when the boy told his grandfather, "Papa, it is not whether you lose or win the fight against cancer. What counts is the fight you give and you have fought courageously. You are My Hero!"
Afterwards I said to the boy, "I know Justin, that your Bar Mitzvah service is still a few weeks away, but today is the day that you truly became a Bar Mitzvah." We hugged for a long time and I continued to cry.
After the grandfather was wheeled back to his room, Justin's father came over to Rabbi David and me to thank us. "My father said this was the happiest day of his life. What more could I ask for?"
What more could Rabbi David and I ask for....We are truly blessed.
Here is Justin learning to put on Tefillin at Hebrew School. He is now ready for the last step - wrapping his finger with three loops.