Etz Chaim Adult B’nai Mitzvah Fulfilled
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STYLE MagazineB'nai Mitzvah

Etz Chaim Adult B’nai Mitzvah Fulfilled

After a COVID year off, 10 adults read from the Torah to complete their mission.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Photo by Gary Feinberg // Top row: Rabbi Dan Dorsch, Susan Shapiro-McCarthy, Steven Caras, Lance and 
Tamar England, and Rabbi Shalom Lewis
Bottom row: Marisa Gewertz, Allison Barchichat,  Galina Barshay, 
Helen Ehrlich and Lynne Goldman Johannesen. Not pictured: Jay Schwartz
Photo by Gary Feinberg // Top row: Rabbi Dan Dorsch, Susan Shapiro-McCarthy, Steven Caras, Lance and Tamar England, and Rabbi Shalom Lewis Bottom row: Marisa Gewertz, Allison Barchichat, Galina Barshay, Helen Ehrlich and Lynne Goldman Johannesen. Not pictured: Jay Schwartz

After a year’s pause, 10 dedicated b’nai mitzvah adults realized their dreams of completing a live ceremony. On April 17, limited family members attended socially distanced and in person on the bimah, while others watched online. One of the early COVID stalls, the original ceremony was scheduled for April 2020.

Throughout the past year, the group continued to meet with Rabbi Daniel Dorsch, each other and their tutors to keep their skills, learning and passion stoked.

The celebrants at the recent service were Susan Shapiro-McCarthy, Steven Caras, Marisa Gewertz, Jay Schwartz, Allison Barchichat, Galina Barshay, Helen Ehrlich, Lynne Goldman Johannesen, Lance and Tamar England. Each brought a family member or friend to recite the familiar blessings before and after their part.

Photo by Gary Feinberg // Susan Shapiro-McCarthy chants from the Torah
during the b’nai mitzvah.

“Waiting an extra year for the BIG day was, of course, at first, a bit of a disappointment, said tutor Beverly Barnhard. “However, as the additional stretch passed by, our class realized that they had received the gift of time to up their game! That guided us to an incredible performance by all! The congregants could feel how meaningful and purposeful that morning was for the class! In the end, it was worth the wait; we were all so proud of them for achieving their lifelong goal so beautifully.”

Photo by Gary Feinberg // Beverly Barnhard said waiting a year for the b’nai mitzvah was “a bit of a disappointment.”

In a letter to the group, Dorsch stated, “Our celebration together marks the culmination of over two years of study. Like the great sage Rabbi Akiva who famously began to learn Torah in his 40s, many of you started by learning the Aleph Bet. Others began by learning Torah cantillation, or the meaning behind the prayers. Together, all of us immersed ourselves in two years of text study with Melton, where we learned about the purposes behind so many of the Jewish practices and beliefs that we hold.

“Then most significantly, when the virus hit, you persevered. You continued to check in with one another virtually throughout the year. Clearly evident is that your learning together brought you together as a micro-community within our synagogue. Your resiliency is a lesson about the power of Torah to connect people together in challenging times. ….This Shabbat, as we celebrate together, we recall the words of the sage Ben Bag Bag who famously encouraged his students to ‘turn it over and turn it over again, for everything is in it.’ ”

Photo by Gary Feinberg // Bat mitzvah student Lynn Goldman Johannesen said “we pieced together an alternative way” to learn, celebrate and worship.

During the ceremony, Dorsch spoke of Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Chiya, who debated how to react in the event of the Torah disappearing. The former believed in the power of his mental faculties, while the latter understood that bringing Torah to the world began with planting seeds and letting them sprout. “This morning, I am feeling like Rabbi Chiya, who sowed seeds that blossomed. I am so proud of all of you and what it took to get here today. Only now that you are ‘Jewish adults,’ here’s the deal: Somewhere out there, you and I know that there are Jews for whom Torah has also disappeared from their lives. Maybe it was never there to begin with.”

He proffered that they could be family members whose children go to school with our children or were members of a synagogue 20 years ago and left after their kids became a b’nai mitzvah. “Somewhere out there is a Jew who has given up. They may never have even dreamt of having an adult bar or bat mitzvah, let alone taking a class at their synagogue. They might be saying ‘it’s too late for me.’”

His final charge was, “As a b’nai mitzvah, you must now take the Torah you’ve learned and share it. I remind every bar or bat mitzvah that this is not a graduation; it is a commencement. Each of you is now an ambassador for reconnecting to Judaism as an adult. … I take much joy in knowing that it’s because of people like you that Torah will never disappear from the world.”

Photo by Gary Feinberg // A year ago the same class was scheduled to have
their b’nai mitzvah.

Johannesen spoke on behalf of the group about the past year’s struggles, with Torah portions remaining the same, but changes from the pandemic. She connected this to the Torah portion about a leper who might have looked inward for gratitude after recovering from the experience. “Like solving a puzzle, we pieced together an alternative way to work, to learn, to grieve, to celebrate, to shop, to socialize, and to worship. … The fortunate leper returned to his community self-healed with a refreshed soul. Will we be like the leper and appreciate the emotional, the social, and the spiritual support we received during this pandemic? I will and always will be grateful.”

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