For the last year, I had been anticipating the bar mitzvah of my grandson Blake. It was finally here, and it was a weekend of celebrations that made me feel “over the moon.”
That’s the thing about a major life event — so much planning, so much energy is spent to get to the big day. I realized years ago that the actual event was just one piece in the puzzle to its actual completion.
But let me back up. I think my daughter Samantha began planning Blake’s bar mitzvah right after his bris. That’s the service that welcomes a boy into the Jewish faith by being circumcised eight days after his birth. Blake’s birth was the biggest deal to me because he was my first grandchild, and he’s never stopped being a “big deal” to me.
As an educator, I’ve always wondered about the balance between nature, my DNA and nurturing, the family upbringing. As I watch my six grandchildren grow, I recognize the power of both.
From infancy, there was a loving nature in Blake. I rate that partially by how many kisses he’s always been willing to give me before he slowly moves away. He’s always been fast to smile and fast to offer help. His teachers, his camp counselors, his friends and his parents attest to his uniqueness.
It takes a year to prepare for a bar mitzvah, a right of passage into manhood that entails reading a portion of the Torah, the first five parts of the Jewish bible written on scrolls of parchment by a scholar’s hand. The portion read is based upon the calendar. Since Blake’s birthday is March 5, his portion of the Torah is about the exodus out of slavery of Jews from Egypt.
Surprisingly, before the Hebrew prayers began, Blake explained his Torah portion. He talked about how his grandfather Murray and I had helped “liberate” 5,400 people from the infamous Willowbrook State School and who now live with dignity in group homes in the community. He surprised and delighted me with his commentary and eloquence.
It taught me that Blake had understood our struggle to free the people in that infamous institution without our talking a lot about it but he saw our actions — me creating Life’s WORC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission it is to provide services for people with disabilities and in the autism spectrum, and Murray fighting and winning the life-changing federal class action lawsuit that forced the government to change its delivery of services for people with special needs.
I never realized, before his bar mitzvah, what an impression it had made on Blake.
There he was standing tall, speaking seamlessly as he read his Torah portion in Hebrew to the over 350 people in the synagogue, an enormous achievement by itself.
The weekend had begun with services Friday night at Temple Sinai, led by the powerful inspiring team who prepared Blake for his bar mitzvah, the learned Rabbi Michael White and the beautiful voice of Cantor Sergei Schwartz. The service featured a children’s choir of girls who gave a dynamic rendition of the prayers. What a joyous way to begin the sabbath.
My children are my legacy and Blake through his birthday celebrating his 13th year brought our family together to share in the joyous moment.
At Blake’s celebration, his father proudly told the gathering of their friends and family that from the moment of his birth, he was a child with an infectious smile and grew into a person who lights up a room drawing people to him. After all, he had 130 kids at his bar mitzvah party because doing the right thing is in his DNA. I’ve seen how people gravitate to him because of his good spirit and kindness.
How blessed I am and grateful for him. May he achieve his hopes and dreams, he has made me gloriously proud!
I must salute my daughter Samantha and her husband Spencer, who with grace, inspiration and love created a magnificent weekend of celebrations for Blake.
And now it’s a memory for the ages that I will cherish forever.