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When the Lights Went Out during the Bar Mitzvah

(c) JR Anderson Photography – www.jrandersonphotography.com

Adin becomes a Bar Mitzvah by Candlelight

The Bar Mitzvah is supposed to happen publicly, under the lights and the watchful eye of the community. We pass into the arms of a thirteen year old our Torah scroll, the most sacred gift Judaism teaches that God has given us, besides our children. We teach that as the youth grasps hold of the scroll and reads from it, he or she has taken the first steps on the road to adulthood. After spending and years learning Hebrew, uncovering the meaning in Judaism, and studying the Torah portion, the young person discovers meaning among the ancient ritual. That is the beginning of adulthood.

And then there are those times when life throws in an extra challenge that tests even the hardiest of us. Such was the experience of 13 year old Adin Eshaghpour, son of David Eshaghpour and Danielle Walsmith, as he ascended the bimah (stage) at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California to become a Bar Mitzvah. No sooner had Cantor Doug Cotler finished singing the opening song, then all the lights suddenly went out.

We quickly ascertained two significant things:

  • That roadwork on the 101 freeway cut power for a short time to a small section of Calabasas, and
  • That our Bar Mitzvah boy embodied a unique combination of exuberance, vigor, confidence and resilience that transformed what might have been a disaster into a moment of spiritual ascent.

Emergency lighting worked perfectly, showing that everyone was safe and that if necessary, evacuation could proceed in an orderly manner.

Tea Lights for Torah

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Yet by mutual agreement with Adin and his parents, the Cantor kept singing. Guests in the front row swiped up to illuminate the bimah with their iPhone flashlights, while I (Rabbi Paul Kipnes) lit tea candles and placed them around the podium and next to the stairs.

Then, with an extra bit of buoyancy, a smile, and a quip that “this will make my bar mitzvah so memorable,” Adin began to expertly chant the prayers.

And There was Light

We sing Torah Ora – that Torah is light, meaning that the wisdom of Torah shines the way forward. Such a song was quite apropos because the moment Adin began carrying Torah throughout the congregation, the lights suddenly turned back on. Although Adin asked with a smile if we could switch them back off, we all deemed Torah reading too spiritually significant for such theatrics. So under the bright lights, well prepared by his teacher Diane Townsend, Adin fluidly chanted his verses and with wisdom expounded on their meaning.

(c) JR Anderson Photography – www.jrandersonphotography.com

But just after blessing him before the ark, I flipped the switch so we could spend the final moments shrouded in darkness to contemplate the abiding lessons of this amazing experience.

Life Lessons for the Bar Mitzvah Boy

Where older eyes strained to see, we hoped that Adin’s still youthful vision allowed him to see even more clearly:

  • That life is one grand adventure, during which we can make the most of opportunities or get lost in life’s challenges,
  • That growing up involves recognizing that we control less than we think so we need to learn to just adapt to what life throws at us,
  • That in addition to reciting prayers and chanting verses from an ancient scroll, a Bar Mitzvah traverses the path to adulthood along the highway of holiness, which requires us to manage the unforeseen while making meaning from the unexpected, and
  • That the brave actions we take in the darkness more readily define the content of our souls than the very public pronouncements we make under the glare of the limelight.

Each evening, Jews chant in the Ma’ariv prayer the words, goleil or mipnei choshech, v’choshech mipnei or – God rolls light into darkness and darkness into light. That Shabbat, because of unexpected roadwork, light rolled into darkness. But through Adin’s uniquely positive response, we rolled darkness back into light. Now that is a Bar Mitzvah boy and a Shabbat service that won’t quickly be forgotten!


Photo Creds: (c) JR Anderson Photography – www.jrandersonphotography.com


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