4By Shmuel Katz

What a terrific week! We had been building up to Mordechai’s bar mitzvah for almost two years (the launch of his learning, his leining, and our chavruta to complete Masechet Megillah–which he dedicated l’iluy nishmat his great-grandmother who passed away last year). As we crept closer to the date of the bar mitzvah, our excitement grew (as did Mordechai’s).

Our last bar mitzvah, 10 years ago, could not prepare us for a bar mitzvah in Israel. Even though I taught both of my sons, the simple things like accents and comprehension of the words were vastly different between them. So you could almost say that it was like we were making this kind of simcha for the very first time.

We had a party for him on Thursday evening, the night he became bar mitzvah. We had family and his friends for dinner and then invited our friends and neighbors to join us for a dessert reception following the dinner. At the reception, Mordechai made his siyum, gave a dvar Torah and speech. And he danced. A lot.

Being the only bar mitzvah after a 45-day hiatus (no bar mitzvot this year in Adar Rishon) meant that his friends were also ready and energized to participate. They provided a lot of ruach for us, which was terrific.

Only one sister of Goldie’s was unable to attend. Otherwise, our immediate family was all there (including Chaim, who arrived Thursday afternoon and left Sunday at 2:00 a.m. because of work). Which is also fairly unusual for olim, who normally have extended family overseas. Although our (mine and Goldie’s) uncles, aunts, and cousins were not there, having most of his uncles and aunts there made Mordechai feel great.

Shabbat was terrific. We had a chance to spend time together and enjoy the family, in addition to having everyone participate in the simcha. Mordechai was great and really worked hard to get to this point. And his father, who taught him how to lein, was especially pleased that Mordechai has already asked to lein Parashat Chukat in shul this June. Why Chukat? He already knows 20%+, since it was his Maftir-Parashat Parah.

The following is a (slightly) edited (for clarity, not content) excerpt from my introduction of Mordechai at his bar mitzvah “party” right before his siyum on Masechet Megillah. You can see the YouTube video at http://tinyurl.com/skbarm.

“There are several things that I say almost every simcha that we have (we went to the video and checked it). I always quote a Mishnah from Pirkei Avot and explain: Shimon the son of Rabban Gamliel says that he grew up in the company of Chachamim his whole life, and in all that time, witnessing how they behave and how they act, the best course of action that he always observed was from the ones who didn’t talk.

“This is usually not a middah that I am able to demonstrate so well. But I try at smachot to do that. . . . However, this will be the longest speech that I have done from all the smachot. This is a little bit different. I apologize in advance for the length.

“After I say the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, I always say, ‘Baruch… shehechiyanu vekiymanu vehigyanu lazman hazeh.’ But this time it’s a different feel for the simcha in our family. This bar mitzvah, for us, is a significant milestone, not just because it is 10 years between bnei mitzvah and the first bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael. We’ve had bnot mitzvah here.

“It is different because of our life events. Almost seven years ago, I was sitting in shul on Shabbat planning this simcha. On the prior Wednesday afternoon, the doctors told us their diagnosis. We went home and did our homework. Based on the information they provided us, I realized that I was looking at maybe 6, 7 months, maybe 2 years at the outside range. There was a 5% survival rate after 2 years for the cancer that they told us we were facing.

“I sat in shul (Shabbat morning) with my three boys and during the derashah the entire morning I said to myself, ‘I am going to be doing this by myself. And I am going to be doing that by myself. And I am going to be making Mordechai’s bar mitzvah.’ He was sitting right next to me.

“That’s all I could think about. ‘I am going to be alone making a bar mitzvah,’ and I knew what we had done to make the other smachot, and I am going to be alone.

“It was a very difficult few days until things began to change and they realized that they made a mistake.

“Life is not meant to be alone.

“The last seven years we have gone through quite a few challenges in our family. We are now seven years and two cancers later. On top of the Shehechiyanu that I always say, I have to add, Hodu leHaShem ki tov, ki leolam chasdo.’”

I wrote these words three months ago. Two days after I wrote these words, Goldie told me, “You know I am really looking forward to Mordechai’s bar mitzvah. In the week that they told me that I had the cancer (and she did not even know how bad the information was), I took Chaim’s bar mitzvah video and I went into our room and I watched it and I cried, that I am not going to be at Mordechai’s bar mitzvah.”

For seven years, neither of us had told the other what we had been thinking. But, Baruch Hashem we are here today. v

Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at shmu@migdalhatorah.org.


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