I looked out at the crowd of family and friends. On their faces I saw utter amazement; reflected in their eyes was the wonder that this young man, in spite of all the challenges he faces, had led the prayer service so beautifully. His Bar Mitzvah teacher, the incomparably talented Diane Townsend, had been by his side, pointing to each transliterated syllable so that he could chant the prayers at his own pace. Too see how creatively she had retransliterated each word in a way that it would be comprehensible to this specific Bar Mitzvah boy is to witness a master teacher at work. Yes, we had already each experienced that Shehecheyanu moment, that blessed happening that reminds us all that we were just touched by the miraculous.
What words could I say which would further capture the holiness before us? And how to do it in such a way that everyone would understand on their own level: the Bar Mitzvah boy in his specifically special manner of comprehension and the guests who had been touched by the Transcendent?
We are taught that Torah was revealed in 70 languages at once so that each person could comprehend it. Who is to say that which languages they were? Perhaps some were the language understood by a child with special needs. Maybe the simple concepts that a profoundly challenged child could comprehend.
So I told them: We are taught that Torah was given to everyone at Mt. Sinai: the rich and the poor, the strong and the less strong, the healthy and the sick. Yes, even those who stuttered (Moses), were leprous (later, Miriam), or were beaten down by the challenges of their lives (all the Israelites) received the Holy Torah.
I reminded them, lovingly, that sometimes we doubt who was able to receive Torah, but that as long as there are people who believe (I looked at Mom and Dad and older sister), everyone can grasp hold of the holy books.
I said a bunch of other words too, but as I looked out at the congregation, seeing not a dry eye in the sanctuary, I started to choke up too, and mumbled something that I cannot remember anymore.
Then we passed Torah down midor lador (from generation to generation) completing the cycle.
Worshippers were moved. One said, “Jared’s service was the most moving and touching ceremony I have ever been to” while another explained that she “will never forget Jared’s amazing ability to turn an ordinary ritual into a meaningful event that we will carry in our hearts forever.”
I am left with three profound memories of this Bar Mitzvah service:
- That this young man, standing on the shoulders of all the Jews who came before him, became a Bar Mitzvah just like the best of them;
- That we are blessed to have a teacher as skilled as Diane Townsend who finds a way to point each child – no matter how challenged, no matter how reticent – toward Torah;
- That the Holy One of Blessing (God) blessed us this day by allowing each of us to experience the transcendent holiness of this Bar Mitzvah.
…Shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higee-anu lazman hazeh – Blessed are You, God … for giving us life, for keeping us in life, and for bringing us to this special moment.
(BTW, the other Bar Mitzvah boy earlier that day made me proud, amazed, and inspired. Because he was special too. Not special needs. Just special, like every child is special. But that’s another blog post.)
Congregation Or Ami exudes openness and welcoming of families with children with special needs. Read about it.