Elder B’nai Mitzvahs Journey to Israel

Belated ‘Simcha’: Nine residents of Cedar Village retirement facility in Mason, Ohio recently celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs in Jerusalem.
Nathan Jeffay
Belated ‘Simcha’: Nine residents of Cedar Village retirement facility in Mason, Ohio recently celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs in Jerusalem.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published October 16, 2009, issue of October 30, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In its centuries of existence, the Western Wall may have never played host to two more different prayer services at the same time.

As young hippie-ish Hasidim beat on drums, singing ecstatically, nine elderly Americans from a retirement village in Cincinnati, Ohio, celebrated their belated bar and bat mitzvahs before the ancient stones. And history of another kind was made: The celebrants, ranging in age from 65 to 96, are from Cedar Village, believed to be the first American retirement facility to bring its residents to Israel for the coming of age ritual.

Just about everyone at the October 15 ceremony, caregivers and tour guides alike, shed a tear.

One reason for the poignancy was that for many residents, making such a trip was a mammoth challenge. It wasn’t just a matter of packing up and traveling for almost 20 hours; during the 13-day holiday, the organizers pushed residents hard — physically and emotionally.

For some, even altering their medication schedule for the time difference was a challenge, and a nurse traveled with the group to help the travelers adjust. But once this was done, the residents climbed Masada, hiked in the Golan, toured Yad Vashem and did plenty of shopping.

For one resident, Erica Gordon, 76, the emotional rollercoaster began as soon as she arrived. A Holocaust survivor who lived in British Mandate Palestine and immigrated to America before the state of Israel was founded, the trip triggered memories she thought she had lost: “I said, ‘Oh my God, this is the same place. I knew I would come back — I just didn’t know when.”

Another reason for poignancy was that the ceremony illustrated the major shift in gender roles during participants’ lifetimes. Several of the women missed their coming-of-age ceremonies because bat mitzvahs were far less common. One was Sally Korkin, 63, director of development at the facility, who was moved to join the residents on this spiritual journey.

The ceremony consisted of prayers and a Torah reading, and took place by a secluded section of the Western Wall within the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. It was led by Rabbi Gerry Walter, director of pastoral care at Cedar Village, and Rabbi Ruth Alpers, a member of its board of directors.

A Special Birthday: Seymour Tubin, a widower, turned 86 on the day of the ceremony at the Western Wall.
Nathan Jeffay
A Special Birthday: Seymour Tubin, a widower, turned 86 on the day of the ceremony at the Western Wall.

Celebrants were invited to the Torah in groups and recited the blessing together. Then they were called one by one by their Hebrew and English names to read a verse in Hebrew. After preparing for several months, said Ethel Regberg, 86, “it was just like learning a poem.” She made the trip with her husband, Paul, 87.

Several of the celebrants gave their caregivers, none of whom are Jewish, the honor of reading the English translation. The celebrants also gave brief speeches sharing their thoughts. Blessing Sivitz, 89, said that preparing for the bat mitzvah “has resulted in the blossoming of my own Jewish heart.” What the nearby drumming detracted from in terms of audibility, it added to in atmosphere.

Cedar Village residents were not the only ones for whom the trip was a big event. There was fierce competition for the care-giving places among staff members of the retirement community, and organizers ended up receiving two applications for every available space.

One successful applicant, Ghanian-born Adu Opoku, a retired international soccer player, could be seen mouthing the words to parts of the Torah reading, and arrived at the Western Wall laden with letters to God from congregants at his church.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com






Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.