Several weeks ago, I read a story in the Oregonian about a local boy who inspired donations of almost $25,000 for cancer research. Will Rosenfeld celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in May, 2009. He had lost several grandparents to cancer and had been particularly close to a grandfather who had died three years prior.
Prior to his bar mitzvah, he had asked his mom to arrange a tour of a local Providence cancer center. There he learned about a new drug called OX40 that was being researched to provide a better course of treatment for cancer patients. In his bar mitzvah speech, he shared with the 350 guests his personal history of how cancer had effected his family. He explained the drug OX 40 and it’s implications. He compared his grandparents enslavement of fighting cancer to the Torah portion he was reading that week. Somehow he found a connection in a thousand year old text to something personal in his own life. Guests from his bar mitzvah sent more than 140 gifts in honor of Will’s Bar Mitzvah. A few days after the Bar Mitzvah Providence Portland Medical Foundation had already collected close to $25,000.
I was blown away by this article and story. Will showed a maturity far beyond his age. His request inspired a substantial amount of donations. Most charity organizations have to plan significant fundraisers to effortlessly receive that sum of money. It is refreshing to see an adolescent forfeiting their own youthful desires to help others.
Mazel Tov, Will!
This past weekend, I attended a Bar Mitzvah of a boy in our community. It was a lovely service and quite intimate since it was held at a local hotel easily accessible to all of the guests from out of town. About a half an hour after I arrived, a woman sat in the row in front of me. She seemed unsure of what to do and I figured she was a non Jewish guest. I leaned forward and told her what page we were on, she actually got up and moved to sit next to me.
She had a camera in her hand and I gentle told her that she shouldn’t try to take any photos (many observant Jews don’t use any kind of electricity or electronics on Shabbat and this could have been offensive to people who were attending.) Sitting next to her I began to think about how this service might seem to someone who didn’t know the customs. Why do we throw candy at the bar/bat mitzvah child during the service? Being unfamiliar with customs and rituals of a given group can be very intimidating. Anytime we attend a meeting, religious service or another group gathering it is always nice to be greeted by a smiling stranger who helps us through the moments of disorientation. Remember to do that the next time you see a stranger in your midst.
889) Befriended a stranger and tried to help her through the Bar Mitzvah service we were attended.
890) Complimented someone on her dress.
891) Helped find the rightful owner to a lost coat.
892) Gave a thank you note and small gift to our neighbor who helped Gabrielle recently.
Why do we throw candy at a Bar Mitzvah? I looked up why we throw candy and historically there has been the custom to throw candy at a groom who is called up in the service the week before his wedding to wish him a sweet new life as a married man. In the past 50 years, the custom has extended to the bar mitzvah celebrations as well to add to the festivities or to signify the sweetness of the new obligations of mitvzahs that are being taken on. Honestly, I think that the attendees enjoy it just as much as the bar mitzvah child since once the candy is thrown the other children collect it and many congregants get to eat some of it. This is an important energy boost for the last 1/3 of the service.