On Nov. 9, Avram Eli Harvey Avram Eli Chaim ben HaRav Eliezer v’ Bonya Eita, otherwise known as A.E., became a bar mitzvah. What is most unique about this bar mitzvah boy is that his father, newly elected Senior Rabbi Laurence Rosenthal, presided over the coming-of-age ceremony for his “first son” at the 100-plus-year-old congregation.
The weekend began Friday night with the Absolut Shabbat band’s liturgical adaptation to the music of Queen by congregants Michael and Bonnie Levine. Bonnie was on vocals and keys; Michael on vocals, guitar and bass; Mindy Margolis, vocals; Andy Margolis, vocals, bass and keys; and Larry Blewitt on drums. The group has previously “performed” Shabbat in the style of Simon and Garfunkel, U2, Motown, and The Beatles. Bonnie Levine, who is also an attorney and A.E.’s bar mitzvah tutor, said, “The Rosenthals are so important to the community and are like family to us; being included in A.E.’s bar mitzvah was a huge honor and source of joy. A.E. was excited by the idea of a musical Shabbat. AAbsolute Shabbat has been on hiatus since we and the Margolises had babies simultaneously. This simcha was a wonderful opportunity to reconvene and showcase A.E.’s talent.” Special “rock stars” were Rabbi Rosenthal, who played guitar, and A.E., who seamlessly performed on drums and bass.
The musical prayer interpretations to Queen songs were:
“Shalom Aleichem” (“Fat Bottomed Girls”)
“Lecha Dodi” (“Killer Queen”)
“Barchu” (“We Will Rock You”)
“Hashkivenu” (“Bohemian Rhapsody”)
“Mi Chamocha” (“We Are the Champions”)
“Aleynu” (“Save Me”)
And “Another One Bites the Dust” was reinterpreted as “Another One’s an Adult.”
The Celebration Continues
Saturday morning ushered in Parshat Lech-Lecha about blessings. Rabbi and mom Brooke’s charge to A.E. explained how he was the ultimate blessing.
Brooke began, “You are the first born, the experiment. Everything we do new in parenting seems to go through you first. I call you my ‘chalutz,’ my pioneer. You have the maturity of soul to handle whatever we throw at you. You are the first child to go to sleep-away camp at Ramah Darom. You are the first to leave AJA [Atlanta Jewish Academy] and attend public school.
“These are two of the hardest examples, the most challenging changes. You paved the way not only for your own future, but for your siblings’ future when you have these experiences. I’m so proud of how you continue to grow and learn every single day in school and in life.”
The rabbi spoke of the tragic events prior to A.E.’s birth, when many family members had passed away. “You have come full circle and done your job in healing us. Your birth and the other children’s subsequent births took away the dark hole, helped to heal the pain where we now experience light. [You and your siblings] made our lives whole.”
Rabbi Neil Sandler blessed A.E. and identified the “specialness” of being a “P.K.” (preacher’s kid), as his own three children experienced.
Saturday night the family went to Steve’s Live Music with relatives and saw an Italian group playing American bluegrass.
Sunday brunch and Sunday night party were hosted at a fellow AA congregant’s home.
Brooke explained the reason was “Since AA was booked and Lynn Friedman’s home is very important for A.E. as a place he’s been going to since the age of 2, he did not want a party at a strange location, preferring to be in a comfortable environment.”
When planning simchas, Brooke offered this advice: “Although the celebration and hosting takes so much time and effort to plan, put as much heart and time into the ceremony itself; that is truly the most important part.”
In terms of the child’s learning style when preparing for the bar mitzvah, Brooke said, “Since A.E. was 6, we have consulted with Drs. Marianne and Steve Garber about his dyslexia. Their advice was to focus on his self-esteem, because one can feel really behind, and G-d forbid ‘stupid’ when learning differently. Although he attended AJA for 6 years, his Hebrew skills were low. Therefore, learning all that he did for the bar mitzvah was a challenge. I think a big takeaway is that although there is a daunting task ahead, it can be accomplished!”
A.E. presented his d’var Torah clearly at the optimal speed. His relaxed, yet forceful presentation style was credited to AA President Mark Cohen’s coaching and seeing his dad speaking comfortably from the pulpit; both got him on the right tempo. In his d’var Torah, A.E. said, “Each and every journey has to start somewhere. You may think that today is the start of my journey, but actually my journey started 13 years ago when I was born into a Jewish home.
“My journey has taken many paths, twists and turns making me into the person I am today. This is often true with spiritual journeys. I went to Jewish camp at Ramah Darom, where I was honored with an aliyah for the first time. My dad bought me a tefillin set three years ago, and every weekend of my life I’ve celebrated Shabbat.
“My journey started a long time ago, like Avram’s journey started long before G-d called him.”
Later, he told the AJT, “The most emotional part of the weekend was my parents’ charge to me. The most fun was the party on Sunday.” In terms of study habits for the ceremony, A.E., whose hobbies are reading, technology and music, said, “I put the emphasis on coming to shul often and being exposed to the services.” His biggest takeaway from the experience was that he would always have a Jewish community alongside him.
When asked about his intention to follow in Dad’s footsteps in the rabbinate, he said, “50-50” – a wisely measured answer.