December 28, 2012
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An inspiring story of a Jewish mother

Weathering the storm

for The Brooklyn Paper

I remember being so relieved when we received the date of Nov. 10, 2012 for my son’s bar mitzvah. We thought, we won’t have to worry about snow!

Then on Nov. 3, a week before my son’s big day, I remember standing in an endless line for a case of water bottles. Except these bottles weren’t going into welcome baskets for our out-of-town guests. Hurricane Sandy had contaminated our water treatment plant in Long Island only five days earlier and my family needed these bottles so we could brush our teeth! And even if these out-of-town guests could make it here now, would it be fair to my displaced neighbors — who were suddenly calling local hotels their home — if my guests were hogging up rooms?

I had been planning this event for more than a year, and with one week to go, I was back at square one. There was no power in my home or temple, no gas to drive anywhere, and no phone service. The dresses my daughters and I agonized over for months were boarded up at the tailor.

My head began to spin.

My immediate family was intact and had suffered little personal loss during the storm. But, considering how Sandy impacted our community, was I insane for even contemplating a bar mitzvah?

Most locals assumed the event would be canceled, my relatives thought I was exaggerating the storm’s impact, but my rabbi told me to “have faith.” My son was reading the same Torah portion as his father and grandfather. If we rescheduled, he would have to read an alternate parsha or wait an entire year to read again. Without power, the party would have to be moved for sure, but would anyone even come? I asked my son his opinion.

He wished to have the service in our sanctuary with our rabbi and cantor, even without light or heat. He didn’t care about the party. He pointed out there were those friends and relatives who had already spent vacation days and money planning to be with us. He didn’t want to disappoint them. He never mentioned how hard he studied. How could I not celebrate this beautiful boy?

I charged my cellphone at Starbucks and set off with six days to go.

The florist had no phone service, so I drove there and knocked. We sat by the light of a generator and guessed the number of table signs and centerpieces, since I still had no accurate headcount (or temple with power!). The florist wanted some photos of my son, but once home I realized most of them were digital! And since we had no power, which meant no email in which to send the digital photos, I found several usable prints, and drove them back across town.

By now it was snowing and I had a quarter tank of gas.

I reached the caterer, who suggested options for the party site. But with gas lines half a day long, no one — myself included — would be able to travel far outside of our neighborhood. The caterer mentioned his temple had power and was four miles from our still-powerless temple. We had to be out by 3:30 pm, but they would let us do Shabbos lunch. Remarkably almost all of the original entertainers were still available and able to change their plans to accommodate us, and I added an a capella group who knew the hora. I auditioned them via Skype at a friend’s house, where we spent an afternoon warming up.

The snow melted and our power came on, but our temple’s power was still out. Then the relatives arrived. They bunked together and left the extra hotel rooms to those in need. Now it was time for a headcount. This was the most difficult part. I had checked in with my closest friends, but there were many others rumored to be hard hit and unreachable. I felt frivolous and guilty of my luck. Would people even want to come to a party?

Surprisingly, the answer was “yes!” One mother said to me: “Since we lost our home and there is no school, my son misses his friends so much. He will be so happy to forget this mess for a few hours.”

There were some who left town from the storm and others who were supposed to go but stayed to guard their homes. I called everyone we had originally invited and told them to come and partake in some happiness!

Three days before the bar mitzvah, the power at our temple was still out and our tailor was still closed, but the yarmulkes and party favors I had ordered before the storm showed up by surprise. I found new dresses at the mall for my girls and myself.

On Saturday, the day of the ceremony, our photographer insisted pictures wouldn’t work in a dark temple — but who knew when we would have both sets of my son’s grandparents together again — so we took pictures in the house before we left for the temple. Then we bundled up and left.

I told many of our guests to meet us after the ceremony, just for the party, because I didn’t want out guests to sit in a cold, dark, powerless temple. But as the ceremony began, the room quickly started to fill. As my son spoke, I was unprepared for the sense of pride and awe that I felt for this remarkable young man. I looked around at the shivering faces smiling at him and was suddenly glad they were there to witness it, too. I had made the right choice in keeping the date.

A jester and a juggler greeted us when we arrived at my caterer’s temple for the party — a location I had never been to before. Inside, the room had been transformed into an old-fashioned Renaissance fair. My son turned to me, awestruck. There was plenty of food, flowers on every table, and even a myichi entertainer! In light of all that had taken place leading up to that day, no one cared that the signs weren’t lit or there was a lack of monogrammed hand towels in the bathroom. I gave my son and my guests the best I had to give that day and that’s all we can ever do under perfect or imperfect circumstances.

Sometimes having faith and overcoming life’s obstacles makes something truly special — just like a bar mitzvah.

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Reader Feedback

Barbara Wasser says:
Donna, well said! So glad that we were able to share in Jason's incredible Bar Mitzvah.
Dec. 30, 2012, 12:24 pm
Denise from Orlando says:
Well said!!! We loved the whole day and could not have been more proud of Jason!! Love you!!
Jan. 5, 2013, 9:32 pm
Amy Wasser says:
Donna,

Thanks for sharing Jason's bar mitzvah with us even though we were back in Seattle, I feel like we were there with you.
Jan. 9, 2013, 1:59 am

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