A Bar Mitzvah Trip For The Ages

Over April vacation, some Westport families hung out in the Caribbean. Others visited colleges.

Four sets of parents, and their 11 kids, traveled to Israel. They combined fun, education and religion. Four of the boys celebrated their bar mitzvahs at the Western Wall.

All rode ATVs and camels. They rappelled, dug at archaeological sites, shopped at outdoor markets and an Arab souk. They visited Masada and the Dead Sea.

Spencer Serels, Avi Kaner and Jonathan Kaner sift through artifacts, on an archaeological dig.

Spencer Serels, Avi Kaner and Jonathan Kaner sift through artifacts, on an archaeological dig.

When I heard about the trip, I wondered if the kids would have any insights. Avi Kaner — whose children Jack, Jonathan and Julia were part of the group — suggested waiting a while, so they could process the experience.

Now they have.

Dana and Gary Perelberg both cited the Western Wall as the most moving part of the journey.

Memorial Day made a huge impact too. Julia Kaner heard Israel’s president speak, comforting parents of lost soldiers. “Everyone stopped completely during the siren, in remembrance and admiration of the IDF soldiers,” she said. “It showed the pride Israelis have for their country, and how important every soldier is. That short, haunting moment of silence, across the entire country, was the most powerful moment of the trip for me. I wish we had one like it in the U.S.”

Her brother Jack was impressed when the Memorial Day sadness turned to “incredible joy” 24 hours later: Independence Day. Click below (or here) for highlights.

There were other highlights too.

At the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the group learned that 99% of Denmark’s Jews were saved by being rowed across the water into Sweden at night. Coincidentally, 3 Danes were in the room. The Westporters thanked them profusely.

The visit culminated in a special ceremony. Gary, Jonathan, Jesse Haymes and Spencer Serels — the bar mitzvah boys — were each given a folder with details about a specific boy killed in the Holocaust, around the same age as the bar mitzvah boys. An emotional reading of poetry compared the lives of each boy, decades and worlds apart.

Bar mitzvah day provided more amazing memories. Each mother presented her son with a tallit (fringed garment) and a blessing. The fathers held a chupah over the 4 boys as the procession made its way through the old city, accompanied by bongo drummers. Tourists from around the world photographed the large (and loud) group.

Shofars blow at the Western Wall, during the inspiring bar mitzvah service.

Shofars blow at the Western Wall, during the inspiring bar mitzvah service.

At the Western Wall, a group of young soldiers approached the Westporters. They placed the 4 boys on their shoulders. Together, they all danced the hora.

Afterward, at the party in a nearby hotel, Avi’s cellphone rang. Rabbi Yehudah Kantor of Chabad of Westport said he was “checking in” to see how the ceremony had gone.

As Avi described the great day, he saw a man with a red beard standing across the room. It was Rabbi Kantor. He and his wife Dina had flown in — surprising the families, and forging one more link between past and present, Westport and Israel.

(Click here if your browser does not link directly to YouTube.)

4 responses to “A Bar Mitzvah Trip For The Ages

  1. Marc Sholes

    Great blog, what a bar mitzvah should be

  2. Ilene Mirkine

    ‘Echoing the above….Mazel Tov! What a wonderful way for these families to celebrate their sons’ Bar Mitzvahs! Thank you for sharing, Dan.

  3. Estelle T. Margolis

    This wonderful story and video made me cry. We were her in Westport all the time the kids were growing us. Both Manny and I were brought up in Orthodox Jewish homes. We had four girls and one boy.
    We could not afford to join the Temple. Manny taught all the kids Hebrew.

    We had Josh’s Bar Mitzvah at home. Uncle Israel, the Rabbi, brought a real Torah. I created a Bema. Josh did a beautiful job with his portion.

    at home. He was the son and brother of Rabbis and knew it all. We celebrated every Jewish Holiday at home. We knew the prayers and sang the some

  4. Estelle T. Margolis

    My comment got badly mangled. What I need to tell you is that Josh wrote in a note book how much he wished he had had his Bar Mitzvah at a Temple. When I found this note I cried! We had made a mistake. We also didn’t offer the girls Bat MItzvahs. Another mistake! Even thought Manny was our Rabbi, and a very good one, we should have been in Temple.