Ray Joelson reflects upon his son Jay’s Bar Mitzvah experience
Our son recently became Bar Mitzvah at Congregation Or Ami and there is much for our family to reflect upon and even more to carry forward and cherish for a lifetime. The culmination of our preparations, deliberations, and expectations seemed to all focus on this one day that was so unique and fulfilling and that was magically orchestrated into a seemingly flawless service by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler and Bar Mitzvah teacher Diane Townsend.
Only on the evening of the rehearsal with Cantor Doug, about a week before the Bar Mitzvah did the full impact of our son’s learning with Diane become evident to us. Leading up to the Bar Mitzvah, we had enjoyed the muffled sound of his singing in the shower and the practicing of his Torah portion, but we never quite got to hear the real thing. We consider our son talented, but the rehearsal with Cantor Doug revealed a singing voice that we were completely unaware of. Diane had somehow managed to bring a dormant talent to the surface and our son seemed to revel in the joy of his own voice. What a gift! Yes, my wife and I shed tears at the rehearsal, and little did we know this was only the beginning.
On the big day, Or Ami’s Calabasas, CA sanctuary, filled with our friends, family, and anxieties, transformed into a special place where our hopes, dreams and expectations were soon to be realized. Perhaps this same magic happens in all Temples, but Rabbi Paul, Cantor Doug and Diane are a very hard act to follow. Without hesitation, our son followed their cues and like clockwork, it all came together. It became obvious that our son had developed a very special bond with his teachers at Or Ami. Some said being in our Shabbat service was like being in a relaxing yoga class; some said the joy of the music overwhelmed them. Others said that it was the best service they had ever attended. All agreed the service was very beautifully different from their own Temples’ services.
Something very special happened to me too on that day. The collective experience of bearing witness to my oldest son address the congregation, read from the Torah and basically conduct the service all by himself, made me aware of the role we parents play in passing down Jewish tradition, and how that role is supported by the inner workings of Congregation Or Ami. A strange but familiar feeling overcame me as the service came to an end, as if I had been here before, and I quickly realized that I was feeling the same feelings I had felt at my own Bar Mitzvah service. The sense of L'dor Vador, transmitting Torah from generation to generation.