A father’s beautiful address at his son’s Bar Mitzvah ceremony
On Saturday 23rd April, we were delighted to host the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for Sava, the son from one of our member families. The family have been members of KLS since September 2020 when they moved to a nearby area. Sava and his younger sister Lilia both joined our Beiteinu school – which at that time was being held online due to the lockdown – and Sava began studying for his Bar Mitzvah. The ceremony itself was attended by family and friends, including many family members who were joining online from various parts of the United States.
Sava’s father, Daniel, gave a beautiful address at the ceremony and he has kindly allowed us to share it with you here:
First, I wanted to thank everyone here in the sanctuary and everyone participating online. Thank you for sharing this special day with us. I also want to thank Rabbi René and Rabbi Janet and all the leaders and teachers and volunteers here at Kingston Liberal Synagogue, who have welcomed us, and taught our children so lovingly. We are very lucky to be a part of this beautiful community. And the proof is standing right here in front of me.
Sava, you did great today. I need you to indulge me a bit, I have a few things to say to you in front of your congregation. I know you’ll listen deeply. You always do.
You live in a secular society
You live in a modern, more-or-less secular society here – there are expectations that any regular kid should be able to find a friendly crew to live up to (or down to) common norms, and fit right in.
Today you’ve shown us that you are not just any regular kid. But you are an intensely sensitive young man, and you long to belong. I can’t fault you at all for that – we have moved across the Atlantic Ocean three times since you were born. You have a Bulgarian heritage and family, an American heritage and family, and an English life and friends. Of course you want to fit in! And you do, with ease. You make lasting friendships with kids who care about you. You play all the sports, know all the music, and we have many, many unproductive discussions about some expensive limited edition Nike Dunk colorway about to drop.
So as your Bar Mitzvah approached, I started to ask myself why, Sava, knowing all that, why have you embraced your unique, Jewish identity so devotedly? Why have you been so eager since you were little to learn the Shabbat rituals, to celebrate the Festivals, to work so hard to learn Hebrew, study the world from a Jewish lens, and prepare for your Bar Mitzvah?
You proclaimed today as you do in every service, the Shema. “Hear, O Israel, The Eternal One is our God, the Eternal God is One.” As you know, when you recite the Shema you are saying “I am a Jew. Like countless before me. Like those with me today. Like the countless to follow.”
Why have you done this, seemingly against the grain of the world around you? The question answers itself, really – it is again your desire to belong. It’s not a fault, Sava. It’s a feature – of being human. We seek each other out. We reach for our friends, our parents and siblings, our community, our elders and our ancestors for warmth, and connection, and meaning.
You are a Jew
Shma Yisrael. Hear, O Isreal. You are a Jew, Sava, a yiddeshe kop (a Jewish head). Being a Jew will bring you a lifetime of joy, sufganiyot and latkes, hugs, ritual, and love. It will bring you kvelling, doting, touchy-feely and yet somehow always argumentative grownups. (It’s debate, we call it debate!). It comes with music – music that’s never quite cool but always fills up even the hardest heart.
You are a Jew. Being a Jew connects you to the wisdom of ages, in the endless Jewish stories of tens or hundreds or thousands of years ago. You cannot connect to all of it literally, perhaps (but you do respect where they were coming from, Sava; you’ve said as much). In the endless practice of turning these stories over, of finding new meaning, we rise up out of the everyday, out of the video games and TikToks, and school dramas, and we see the world differently; you, Sava, will see yourself meaningfully, you might find purpose, you might even feel God’s presence. It is special, it’s sacred.
I’ve been thinking about your d’var Torah since you wrote it, and how well you connected to the Jewish view of self-sacrifice; about giving up to gain. There was a Polish-born Jewish artist, Gustav Metzger, who as a refugee from World War Two came to Britain, stateless, at the age of 13. Imagine that, your age… He produced a lifetime of art in response to what he saw as the destructiveness of the twentieth century. He once said, “The twentieth century can be compared to a child in a toyshop or a sweetshop, blindly and in a random manner proceeding to dislodge and appropriate the contents… Voluntary giving up is an indication of maturity. Giving up is the key to a future as I envisage it. We need to give up so much that has proved to be destructive.” You are a Jew, Sava, and you are in very good company with your wisdom.
And throughout your adult life ahead, you will meaningfully, deeply wrestle with being a Jew too. Why do I have to be different from my friends? How do I deal with the easy anti-Semitism around me? How do I connect with the arc of European Jewish history, with the centuries of events across Eastern and Southern Europe that drove our ancestors from Russia, and Poland, and Ukraine, and Spain, and England, to America and back; with the Holocaust and the names of the Kalekas (your grandmother’s paternal relatives) written in the Death Books of Auchwitz, all these horrific events that somehow got you here, today, and maybe not others?
How should you feel about events today? From anti-Semitism in the Labour Party to Holocaust deniers and vandalism to violence against Jews in Europe and even America, to the war in Ukraine where its Jewish president is impossibly accused of Nazism, to government policies and the rising violence again in Israel and the West Bank
Everytime you feel a warm sunrise……
It’s a lot to ask of a man. But it’s what we do. You are a Jew. You are a good Jew. You are a hilarious, sensitive, beautiful, Jew. You are a lucky Jew. You are a loved Jew. And your Mom and sister and I will be on this Jewish journey with you through everything: your problems, your questions and boredom and angst and grief, and your victories and celebrations and feelings of connection, and contentedness. And your Jewish faith will be with you everywhere too, always. Remember that, every time you feel a warm sunrise.
You have fulfilled an incredible mitzvah today. And you have made me so happy. Today will fill my sails for the rest of my life. I love you Sava, I’m kvelling, I’m very, very proud of you.