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Bar Mitzvah Boys Come of Age a Second Time
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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

The largest snowstorm in Washington history took place on the day of Buzz Coe’s bar mitzvah in 1950. Since the rabbi’s house was blocked with snow, Coe and ”a minimal minion” conducted his service at home.

Ken Lewis received his bar mitzvah in the Catskills Mountains in 1947, tutored on the Torah by the Fleishman butcher where Lewis learned to milk a cow.

Steve Conovitz was bar mitzvah’ed in 1952 at the Temple Gates of Prayer, a conservative congregation in Flushing, N.Y., that his grandfather co-founded 50 years earlier.

And Jay Cooper said his parents got a change from a $20 for what they spent on the reception after he was bar mitzvah’ed in 1952.

These and six other members of the Wood River Jewish Community recently took part in a second bar mitzvah at the new synagogue in Sun Valley. And, though all were in their 80s, all amazingly had a full head of hair underneath their yarmulkes.

“When I was born, it was the ninth birthday of the Jewish nation,” said Cooper as he offered a Prayer for Israel.

Bar mitzvahs are a coming-of-age ritual in Judaism. Parents are considered responsible for their children’s actions before they turn 13. At 13 Jewish children are considered accountable for their own actions and so they learn Jewish ritual law, tradition and ethics. Boys share what they’ve learned in a bar mitzvah, meaning one who is subject to the law. Girls share in a bat mitzvah.

The custom of a second bar mitzvah is based on Psalm 90:10, which says that 70 years is the expected lifespan of most humans. Reaching age 70, then, can be a considered a new start in the Jewish tradition and, therefore, age 83 would be the equivalent of reaching b’nai mitzvah age again.

The men studied under Dana Berntson as they prepared for service that included reciting aliyahs, or portions of the Torah.

“All of us celebrating our bar mitzvah today have entered into our ninth decade,” they write in a joint statement. “It means a great deal to us to share this joyous event with you.”

In addition to Coe, Conovitz, Cooper and Lewis, the other men taking part were Ted Gold, Ron Green, Alan Hofman, Irv Littman, Marshall Meyer and Ken Molkner.

“Ten very brave men have shown up,” said the visiting rabbi. “For some it is their second bar mitzvah. For others, their first. Some mentioned that when they were 13 they didn’t understand the importance or  significance of this very big day.”

Some who had been schooled in Hebrew as youth, read their parts fluently; others read their parts  more slowly and measured.

 

Littman shared that the Torah contains 613 commandments.

“By receiving the Torah as did the Israelites at Mount Sinai…you are showing…you are continuing to keep the flame alive,” said Lewis.

Marshall Meyer noted that Moses commanded Israelites to eradicate idolatry.

“What do we do with this today?” he asked “Should we fight falsehoods or should we fight for the right to make falsehoods? Should we fight idolatry of for the right to have idolatry? What is the balance between truth and unfiltered speech? I am not learned enough to answer these questions…but it is my strong sense we …will have to develop clearer answers to these questions…”

Ted Gold noted that Alexander the Great, considered one of the world’s greatest generals, had ruled his kingdom by force. Moses had a different approach, handing the Jewish nation off to a successor appointed by God.

“The Jewish have been around 33 centuries since,” he added.

With that, as the ceremony came to an end, the congregation began pelting the Bar Mitzvah Boys with candy.

“It’s to wish them a sweet life,” said Berntson.

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