To my family, friends, friends that are like family, rabbi, cantor and my TBE congregation: Thank you all for being here today to celebrate this special moment with me. It's hard to believe that this day has finally arrived, and I am deeply grateful for your presence, (your presents) and support during this milestone in my life.
As I chanted the Bereshit torah portion, I took on the responsibilities and privileges of a Jewish adult. Bereshit, which means "in the beginning," is the very first portion of the Torah, and it holds a profound significance in the Jewish tradition. It's the stories we’ve all known since our first year of Hebrew School: The creation of heaven and earth, Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel. You know, all the good stuff.
Bereshit opens with the creation of the world, a story that reminds us of the infinite power of our Creator, the sacredness of all life, endless possibilities, and creating something from nothing. It all starts as a happy tale, “let there be light”, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.” However, it was not in fact very good. The snake, the apple, getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden, Cain slaying Abel, on and on.
This portion taught me several very important lessons: perseverance and responsibility.
Let's start with perseverance:
Ok, let's face it. I’m a teenage boy; perseverance is not exactly my strong suit. Sometimes, it's just easier to give up or move on. Adam ate the apple, accepted his consequence, and persevered. “G-d banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the soil from which he was taken.”
I’ll be the first to admit, nothing I’ve encountered is on par with the struggle of Adam or the struggle of others. What can I say? I’ve been fortunate. My most consequential struggle? l got in trouble. I know I screwed up and it was time to accept my punishment. I read, I studied my torah portion, I practiced baseball. Did I enjoy it? No. Was I thrilled? No. Was it amazing? Heck no! But, I persevered.
Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed others struggling. Several years ago, I lost a family friend,
Emmet Manheim. As I reflect on his loss, I have vivid recollections of Lisa and Jeff during that time. Back then and still today, I stand in awe of their perseverance. Their ability to survive that, let alone to thrive after it amazes me. And while I can never even fathom that type of loss, its taught me fighting through, surviving and persevering is possible. Jeff and Lisa, thank you for showing me what is possible. Emmet, we miss you.
Next, lets discuss responsibility. Yes, I am my brother’s keeper and we all should be. Over the past two years I have been volunteering at my elementary school (which is literally right there), Roxbury Elementary. Two times a week I volunteer with their homework helpers after school enrichment programs. Volunteering at my elementary school, where more than half of the students are on free or reduced lunch, has had a profoundly impactful experience. It has provided me with a unique perspective on the power of community and the importance of giving back. Witnessing the resilience and determination of these young students, despite facing economic challenges, has been both humbling and inspiring. It has also allowed me to recognize how lucky I am. Every year my parents buy me new sneakers, clothes, and school supplies – pretty much whatever I need. I never thought that some kids in my classes are not getting the same. However, most of the students in this after school program do not get any of this. Research shows that having these items not only boosts the confidence of elementary school students but also provides them with the essential tools for a successful and organized academic journey.
I decided to create my bar mitzvah project to help these students that I have become attached to. I worked with my principal, the social worker and parents advocate to assess what is needed not only for this year, but years to come. I want these students to have the same advantage as I did at the start of the school year. They are eager to learn, and we should help them do this. I am collecting items requested and creating packages for Roxbury. I will continue to volunteer at Roxbury this school year and hopefully for years to come.
And finally, there’s one more lesson that I have learned in my 13 years of life, although this one wasn’t taken directly from my torah portion. I’ve learned that laughter and tears have an important place in Jewish life, and they always seem to come together.
As most of you know, I have an unique ability to laugh so hard that I cry. When I find something incredibly funny, the laughter, the cramping stomach, the tears running down my face, its both an overwhelming of the senses and more importantly, it’s an emotional release. In those moments of laughter, we are reminded of the joy that can be found in simple pleasures, the beauty in shared experiences, and the goodness within each of us. It bridges gaps and dissolves differences.
During this journey, studying for my bar-mitzvah has allowed me to reflect, learn and to understand the importance of continuing to learn. This moment would not have been possible without the unwavering support, love, and guidance from every one of you, and I am deeply humbled and thankful. Whether or not you realize and whether or not I realize it.
My heart is heavy today thinking about what is happening in Israel. As this day got closer, I worried about trivial things like forgetting my Torah and haftorah portion and if my parents’ speech would embarrass me. This war was not on my list, but now it is. My parents have told me it is crucial to remember the strength and resilience of the Jewish people and the power of joining together to celebrate simchas. I pray for peace for all of Israel. I am so happy to look around and see my extended family. Thank you for coming to celebrate this weekend with me.
I look forward to the journey ahead, to find and share the goodness in life, to laugh so hard that I cry and create beautiful moments of connection and joy along the way with each of you.