month we had a Bar Mitzvah column prepared and “ready to go” when this moving
account of a Bar Mitzvah that took place post-9/11/01 arrived. While we don’t
know the author, the language indicates a wish to share this moving story
of a life-affirming experience.
The Friday night following
the tragic events of Spetember 11th, a thirteen year-old boy became Bar Mitzvah
and spoke at Friday night services at the Birmingham Temple of Farmington
Hills, Michigan. As is customary in this Humanistic Judaism temple, the Bnai
Mitzvah spend the year prior to their 13th birthday researching the life
of a Jewish hero or heroine, and apply lessons from their hero’s actions
to their own life.
This particular Erev Shabbat,
Rabbi Sherwin Wine addressed the congregation about the horrors of the terrorists’
atttack and together with the community rememered the son of a member who
was murdered in the WTC bombing. He continued by explaining that it was important
to thwart the terrorists desire to demoralize people and that they should
continue to celebrate Life Cycle events, such as a Bar Mitzvah, the coming
of age of a Jewish boy.
Next, family members of the Bar Mitzvah
boy read passages about milestones, family, dignity, power and peace. The
congregation sang songs about community, peace and love. The eleven-year-old
sister of the Bar Mitzvah boy read the following poem: written by a 12
year-old from Be’er Sheva, Israel:
a Box of Colors I had a box of
Shining, bright and bold.
I had a box of
Some warm, some very cold.
I had no red
for the blood of wounds
I had no black for the orphan’s grief.
I had no white for dead faces and hands.
I had no yellow for burning sands.
But I had orange
for the joy of life.
And I had green for buds and nests.
I had blue for
I had pink for dreams and rest.
I sat down and painted
Then Rabbi Wine introduced the Bar
Mitzvah boy. The Rabbi stated that horrible experiences throughout history,
from pogroms, to the Holocaust, to Tuesday’s attacks have often provided
us with heroes and heroines.
The Bar Mitzvah boy announced that
he had chosen to share the story of the life of Solly Ganor. Jackson had
read his book, Light
One Candle: A Survivor’s Tale from Lithuania to Jerusalem about how,
as a 12-year-old boy in Germany, Solly had endured unspeakable hardships
to keep himself and his father alive during the Nazi regime.
The boy was deeply moved by the book.
He wrote to the author and a friendship, via e-mail, grew.
Through the correspondence, the Bar
Mitzvah boy learned that Solly, now a 74 year-old man living in Israel, had
his life turned upside down as a twelve year-old. He too enjoyed sports and
hanging out with friends. Suddenly he was no longer free and he was in danger
because of his Jewish identity.
As the Bar Mitzvah boy spoke he shared
aspects of Solly’s story of survival throughout the Holocaust, in the ghetto,
work camp and the concentration camp.
When he was separated from his mother
in the concentration camp, he made a vow to would keep his father alive.
The story of survival and heroism involved both heart-wrenching experiences
at the camp, and quick wit to keep himself and his father fed and clothed.
When the Nazis sent them on a death
march through miles of snow-covered roads, Solly, in his fatigue, lost track
of his father. Eventually, he collapsed beside a tree, where he truly believed
he would die. Apparently, he fell asleep. He was awakened by a Japanese American
soldier, who lifted him out of the snow and told him he was free. Solly was
later reunited with his father, who had been taken to a hospital.
Five years ago, Solly was reunited
with this very soldier in Israel. This reunion brought back many memories
that Solly had long suppressed, and that was when he began to write his book.
The Bar Mitvah boy concluded that Solly
Ganor was his hero, and that he was committed to telling the story. At this
point, the entire congregation stood and loudly applauded the moving presentation.
As the clapping finally slowed, Bar Mitzvah boy anounced he had one more
thing to add.
He stated that, due to the closing
of the airports, none of the out-of-towners had been able to attend the Bar
Mitzvah with the exception of one person … Solly Ganor.
Maintaining his presence, the Bar Mitzvah
boy continued: “Since Mr. Ganor was not able to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah
when he was 13, I would like him to join me now”.
A white-haired man in the front row
stood and slowly made his way up to the podium next to Jackson. The crowd
stood and applauded wildly. For several minutes, Mr. Ganor stood with a hand
over his eyes, struggling to regain his composure. Then, together, the two
became Bar Mitzvah, together they read, first in Hebrew, then in English.
Then Mr. Ganor addressed the congregation,
stating that he never expected that his experiences would one day be an inspiration
to a 13-year-old boy. He stated that he was glad he had been able to make
the journey from Israel, and meet his e-mail pen pal.
Mr. Ganor’s story reminded us that
evil in the world is not new, but that the human spirit and will to survive
is strong. At a time that many of us are asking how can we bear the sadness
of these last few days, we are reminded of those who suffered for the years
of Nazi cruelty, as well as people in countries all over the world where
terrorism is a way of life. We were reminded by 13-year-old that we must
indeed continue to celebrate life.