Coronavirus couldn’t stop Shimma Wexler’s bar mitzvah

Shimma Wexler, right and his father, Aaron, seen this week.
                                Photo courtesy of Aaron Wexler

While most area synagogues closed as a precaution against the coronavirus, the doors of the Jewish Rockville Outreach Center, or Jewish ROC, were open last Shabbat and welcomed 80 guests to Shimma Wexler’s bar mitzvah.

“The rabbi kept the synagogue open, and everyone came. I still had my bar
mitzvah, and I felt good,” said Shimma this week via Skype from the Wexlers’ home in Poolesville.

Rabbi Yaacov Benamou said it was imperative that his center remain open, despite the decisions by schools and houses of worship to close.

“I am of the opinion that we have to keep prayer services, and Torah reading around the clock, 365 days of the year,” he said. “The Torah should always be read, no matter what.”

Likewise, the Wexlers were undaunted by concern over the virus. “Two days before the bar mitzvah, we had some more cancellations, and we understood,” said Aaron Wexler, Shimma’s father. “But, we had people that were older who came and put themselves at risk. We knew how special it was to be together and celebrate the bar mitzvah and support Shimma.”

Benamou said the center is taking precautions against the virus. “Of course, we have to be extremely conscientious and careful of all the regulations and expectations of the health authorities. We are keeping mindful of the cleanliness of our synagogue.”

For Shimma’s bar mitzvah, “we hired extra people to serve the food at the synagogue. We insisted that people don’t shake hands, but we didn’t have to convince people about that,” the rabbi said.

According to Benamou, a crew cleans the Jewish ROC building every morning, and staff sterilizes the building throughout the day and continues wiping and sterilizing the building as ordered by the CDC. The synagogue is also limiting prayer services and classes to 10 people.

“I was nervous, but not scared about following through on my son’s bar mitzvah,” Wexler said. The coronavirus is God’s will, he added. “It is one of those things that we accept about God’s will. We just keep going. Hysteria is not going to solve this problem or make it better.”

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  1. Do not agree at all.Why would you put this on the front page. Aren’t you embarrassed? I saw the crowd as I was walking by, and it was hardly good P.R, for Jews or anyone. Churches, synagogues, etc. were closed. I was shocked when I saw the people, standing close by and socializing. That was day #2 of my self-imposed social isolation. How many people spread the virus on that day?
    Please note. I am Jewish, and I live in the neighborhood.

  2. To hold a gathering with 180 participants at this point is to act with reckless disregard for human life.

  3. I hope Rabbi Benamou will rethink allowing non-essential activities that unduly expose the community to grave health risk.

  4. This should not be praised or even reported about. Everyone should be staying home. It’s not “hysteria,” it’s the right thing to do.

  5. For some reason my earlier post was deleted. I am not sure why this article was posted on the website. The article seems to praise the Jewish ROC and the Wexler family for going forward with a Bar Mitzvah that put human lives at risk. Plus this went against all local, state and federal guidance related to COVID-19 prevention.

  6. G-d’s will the dad said. G-d is not One who wills us this terrible disease. It is due to willfulness by the Chinese government and the laxity of the US government. I hope the Bar Mitzvah Boy is able to grow into a more independent, thoughtful fellow than his parents.


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