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Our REal (Virtual) Bar Mitzvah

By Anne Kinderlerer

This was not how we thought our youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah would be.

We’re old hands at this now - we’ve survived the other two so we knew how the day is supposed to run. We thought about postponing it, picking another date and reading a different parsha (Torah portion), but in the end, the middle of the coronavirus pandemic is when his Bar mitzvah is.

So we had to work out what's important: what it is that is fundamental to us about this ritual.

-That Ephraim can continue to learn to leyn (read Torah), to discover more about Judaism and to think about what his Torah portion means to him

-That he is called up to Torah

-That he is called up in his community

-And that family and friends are able to be with him in some way

There were unexpected joys. We wanted a technical rehearsal, so we gathered a Zoom minyan for a Shacharit service on Thursday morning where he could lay tefillin, and put on his tallit (prayer shawl) for the first time watched by his grandparents and all his teachers.

For Ephraim, it was almost better on Zoom. He didn’t have to see everyone watching him; he was just reading to Rabbi Daniel. Family from all over the world were able to join us. He could hide afterwards when it all got too much.

We needed all of us to make this work. As a family we were surrounded and supported by the community, from helping Ephraim attend one of the Navigating Judaism classes to showing him that learning continues and that he can contribute, to running the Zoom call that lets the service actually happen, to leading the service and to all those messages of love and support.

Right at the beginning of the pandemic, in our first Zoom service on 14 March, we studied Ki Tisa, where we hear how in the aftermath of the plague following the golden calf, the people actually built the Mishkan. A verse from that parasha held hope for me in those early days, and speaks to us of what we built this Shabbat and what we continue to build in community:

וְהַמְּלָאכָ֗ה הָיְתָ֥ה דַיָּ֛ם לְכָל־הַמְּלָאכָ֖ה לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אֹתָ֑הּ וְהוֹתֵֽר

their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done

(Shemot 36:7)

As we look forward to the High Holy Days, we’re learning what is real in our virtual services. As Ephraim said in his Dvar Torah, if we can let go of our rage at the unfairness of what the Bar Mitzvah wasn’t, we can see the miracle of what it was.

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