Sampling the bar mitzvah speech

Philip Davis and his family celebrate his bar mitzvah at Temple Rodef Shalom on June 30.
Philip Davis and his family celebrate his bar mitzvah at Temple Rodef Shalom on June 30. (Photo courtesy of Senior Cantor Michael Shochet)

The bar or bat mitzvah speech is an opportunity for the child to explain how their Torah portion relates to their lives. It’s also a chance to report back on their mitzvah project, an act that takes them outside themselves. Three recent b’nai mitzvah shared their speeches with WJW. Here are excerpts.

Cooper Gershman
Jan. 30
Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church
Torah portion: Beshalach: Exodus 13:17–17:16.

Cooper’s parshah tells the story of Moses splitting the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to flee from Pharaoh.

“The Israelites were scared when they were running from the Egyptians, they didn’t know what to do except to keep moving; but they didn’t know where they were going, they didn’t know where the Egyptians were, they just knew to keep moving. They were experiencing a lot of change just like us.

“When Covid first struck, none of us really knew what to do except stay inside, keep apart and wear masks. Even though it seemed scary and hopeless at first, it didn’t stop us finding ways to connect — from talking with loved ones through Zoom and other applications — just like we are doing right now — and finding new ways to having fun with friends — like playing video games online.

“Even though change can be scary, we all need to do our part to help keep moving forward. Many people might not want change to happen, because they like things the way they are. And change takes time, effort, and energy that some people might not want to commit to. But it is important to accept change. The sooner we change, the sooner we get it over with and can continue moving.”

Mitzvah project: In light of the pandemic and the economic hardship brought with it, Cooper raised money for the Falls Church Homeless Shelter.

Matty Stillman
Dec. 5, 2020
B’nai Israel Congregation, Rockville
Torah portion: Vayishlach: Genesis 32:4 – 36:43.

In Matty’s parshah, Jacob and Esav reconcile after Jacob tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn.

“Something that stood out to me from the parshah was how Jacob and Esav felt about each other after being apart for so long. When two people don’t see each other for a long time, it can change their relationship and the way they feel about each other. In some cases, separation can make you forget how much you cared about someone. And in some cases, it can make you love them even more than you already did. Time can also heal emotional wounds, as it did for Esav and Jacob.

“I relate this to my life and I’m sure you can, too, because of the pandemic. So many of us have not been able to see people that we love, including our friends and family, for more than eight months now. It has been really hard for everyone, including me. Little things like small fights or disagreements no longer seem important. What this pandemic has helped me realize is that the most important thing in life is family.”

Mitzvah project: Matty’s Bubby lives in a nursing home. Before the pandemic, a rabbi visited the home every Friday to lead Shabbat services. But the pandemic put a halt to those visits. Wanting to help, Matty started to lead Kabbalat Shabbat services over Zoom for his Bubby and the other Jewish residents.

Henry Katz
Nov. 11, 2020
Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church
Torah portion: Vayera: Genesis 18:1 – 22:24.

In Henry’s parshah, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of faith.

“While it is almost impossible to imagine slaying your own child, I’ve spent some time thinking about Abraham’s perspective. I wonder if Abraham was able to come that close to slaying his son because he believed in God and trusted in his word. He had great faith and believed that everything would be OK. One definition of faith is the complete trust or confidence in someone or something. Faith, and especially believing in yourself and believing in others, is a very important life skill to have. You may have times when you feel hopeless and that everyone has given up on you.

“Or, you may have periods when you feel great happiness and joy. However, having faith in yourself will help you through ups and downs. Perhaps we can learn from Abraham and keep him in mind when we are struggling. He had faith that this horrible situation would lead to a good outcome. In the words of the great Davey Martinez, manager of the Washington Nationals, ‘bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.’”

Mitzvah project: Henry volunteered with the McLean Little League Challenger Division. It enables children with physical and mental challenges to play baseball, paired with a buddy, whose primary responsibility is to make sure the players have fun.

“I found this to be such a worthwhile experience that I have also become a best buddies volunteer and will have a pal assigned with whom I will email for the coming years.

“Just remember that if you believe you can change the world. Abraham believed and saved his son with the power of faith.”

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