By Arlene Caplan Appelrouth
When I boarded the Delta flight to Toronto, my thoughts and feelings put me in a kaleidoscopic vortex of emotion.
I was going to my oldest grandson Raphael’s bar mitzvah ceremony at an Orthodox outreach synagogue where my son David has been the assistant rabbi since 2007. It’s his first job as a rabbi, which he began after 11 years of total immersion studying Torah in Jerusalem. He’s probably the only graduate of Pace Academy to become a yeshiva bocher.
He married Dalia, and they had two children before he returned to North America as an Orthodox rabbi.
When Raphael was born in Jerusalem, my heart opened to the special love between a grandmother and grandchild. I had no idea how much love I would have for the son of my son.
In spite of the thousands of miles between Atlanta and Jerusalem, I visited often, maintained a close relationship by telephone and did everything possible to be a part of my grandson’s life.
My husband, Dan, and I had been looking forward to the bar mitzvah ceremony for almost a year. But two months before the simcha, Dan fell off a bicycle, landed in the hospital for 10 days and was transported to a facility for rehabilitation.
When I got on the plane, I left Dan at the Jewish Home, where he had been for five weeks and remains as I write this column.
The five days I spent in Toronto filled me with pride and were soul satisfying in a way that doesn’t happen often. The events were extraordinary.
It wasn’t only that my grandson was self-confident and had mastered everything necessary to become a bar mitzvah or that his reading from the Torah was flawless.
Raphael has always been an exceptional student who takes his responsibilities seriously.
His performance as a bar mitzvah was consistent with the person he has always been.
The Temmy Latner Jewish Community Centre in Forest Hill had just moved. My grandson’s simcha was the first in the elegant, beautiful new building.
The Shabbos services had an air of excitement not only because the rabbi’s son was called to the Torah, but also because the Torah itself was now housed in a magnificent aron kodesh.
There were many things to celebrate and enjoy in Toronto.
My daughter, Michelle, and her family, who live outside Washington in Silver Spring, Md., came for the simcha. My son Jed, who lives in Atlanta, was there. Aunts, uncles and cousins flew or drove to Toronto. It isn’t often that our scattered family gets together.
Sharing meals, services and other activities enhanced the experience. It was simply wonderful to be together.
My daughter-in-law is a perfectionist. Everything was well planned. The hospitality bags containing drinks and snacks, all the catered meals over the long weekend, and the fact that guests were told again and again how grateful the family was that they had come — all contributed to the joy of celebrating with Raphael.
It’s hard to describe the nachas I felt listening as my son David gave the sermon. His delivery was impressive not only because his words revealed what a Torah scholar he is, but also because his easygoing personality, warmth and sense of humor came across loud and clear, reinforcing for me, as his mother, why David is beloved by people wherever he goes.
It was heart-warming to see the way the Toronto Appelrouths are embraced by the Forest Hill Jewish community. It wasn’t only the congregants of the shul who participated in the simcha. Rabbis and others from all over Toronto came to celebrate with the family and wish them mazel tov.
My son is the assistant rabbi of the Temmy Latner Jewish Community Centre. When the founding rabbi spoke to Raphael during Shabbos services, he said the whole community thinks of him as “our son.” Rabbi Elie Karfunkel was generous with his praise of David and Dalia and how much they give to their community.
What’s more important than knowing you are appreciated for who you are and belong where you are?
By virtue of what he accomplished regarding his Jewish learning, Raphael knows who he is and where he belongs.
I witnessed the love and appreciation the congregation has for my son, my daughter-in-law and each of their five children.
Simchas don’t get any better than that.