I started writing this column on Sunday while on a high on my way back from a very special 55-hour weekend spent in Israel. I was there to attend the bar mitzvah of the only son of one of my oldest and closest friends from my high school days. I also had the added bonus of spending a Shabbat with my eldest daughter just as she was about to begin her Shana Bet year.
The weekend was an absolute whirlwind of activity and I never really adjusted to the timezone change. I am going to spare you the elaborate details of the lovely bar mitzvah festivities and won’t share any names for privacy reasons. But, I do want to say that the simcha was an incredible experience for all involved; I felt honored and privileged to be there celebrating together with my friend of 30+ years and his immediate family. Although we don’t live in the same community, I have been impressed for decades by how my friend, his wife, and his family on all sides have always been able to exemplify what it means to be completely engaged and serious about their Yiddishkeit and learning Torah and also fully involved and invested in the broader secular and business worlds. Despite having a very demanding job and juggling multiple commitments, he and his wife are always looking for opportunities to learn, do chesed, help their community and shul, etc. My admiration for their achievements has only grown as we have gotten older and our families have grown.
As part of the bar mitzvah activities, nearly every member of the family spoke. Thank God, I have been to many bar mitzvahs, although not nearly as many as my school principal brother-in-law, and I have heard many interesting speeches over the years. (I will never forget the time I attended a bar mitzvah where the shul rabbi did not even acknowledge or mention anything about the bar mitzvah boy but spoke only about how special the father of the bar mitzvah boy was. I later learned that this father had literally saved the rabbi’s life a few months prior, which partially accounted for the unusual speech.)
However, I was quite taken with two anecdotes told by the bar mitzvah boy’s mother about her son...and I hope to share them now. Both anecdotes involved the bar mitzvah boy getting in trouble. These were not the standard bar mitzvah speech fare.
The first story involved her son getting asked to leave the school bus for attacking another child who happened to be the son of an influential board member. When asked why he did what he did, the boy, only 5 or 6 years old at the time, told his parents that he felt he had no choice as the older boy was bullying his sister and he could not get him to stop. He had to do what he could to defend his sister. What a brother!
In the second story, which also revolved around school and discipline issues, the mom related that her son was caught texting during school hours and faced a fairly severe punishment. When the mom asked her son why he was texting, he answered her back, “Mom, don’t you remember that I was texting you because I was concerned about my friend in school who was not having a good day and was really not doing well. I was texting you to get in touch with his mother so she could be aware of what was going on and possibly help her son out. That’s why I got in trouble!”
As it happened, both mothers were in the same store at the time and when she showed her friend the text about her son, the other boy’s mom broke down in emotion. The bar mitzvah boy was punished, but obviously the punishment wasn’t as severe as it could have been once the facts came to light.
I was taken by these stories as I happen to know the bar mitzvah boy a bit and his parents (and grandparents) fairly well. I was moved by what these two stories say about this developing young man. They speak volumes about the strength of character and integrity this boy is growing up with, it illustrates what is truly important to him and his family, and is indicative of the kind of person he will surely become.
The Shabbat ended on a high note with a special Seudat Shlishit, a kumzitz, and a musical havdala with dancing, all on a beautiful outdoor terrace with views overlooking the Old City and Yerushalayim. My friend—the father of the bar mitzvah—had told me many times that his longtime dream was to celebrate his only son’s bar mitzvah with a kumzitz like this and I was overjoyed to be there and celebrate with him as he achieved this dream. It really was something else, a real sight to behold and be part of.
May he and his entire family continue to fulfill their dreams and achieve their utmost in the years and generations ahead!
By Moshe Kinderlehrer