Bar Mitzvah Stories For Inspiring Your Tween

"But Mom! All the other kids have had tons of entertainment. You should've seen the party last night -- stilt walkers, human bowling, music video machines. They even had an oxygen bar! I'm going to be so embarassed if my party has less."

Feel like your tween needs some perspective? Sit down together and read these powerful tales of kids having B Mitzvahs under extraordinary circumstances:

Jackson Klein's Story
By Caroline Broida Trapp.
Jackson Klein's B Mitzvah took place right after 9/11

"Friday night, I attended a Shabbat service at the Birmingham Temple of Farmington Hills, Michigan that would have been inspirational at any time, but for the three-hundred-plus who attended in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, three days before, it was an incredible experience.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine began by stating that the evening had two purposes. The first was to mourn the victims of the terrorist attack, including the son of a beloved Temple member, killed in the World Trade Center. The second was to thwart the terrorists’ desire to demoralize us by continuing to celebrate life cycle events – in this case a Bar Mitzvah.

At our Humanistic Judaism temple, it is the custom of Bar Mitzvah boys and girls to spend the year prior to their 13th birthday researching the life of a Jewish hero or heroine and apply lessons from their hero's actions to their own life. Tonight, the Rabbi stated, Jackson Klein would be our teacher.

Jackson climbed the step to the podium and faced the congregation. He announced that he would share the life story of Solly Ganor. The Bar Mitzvah boy had read his book, Light One Candle, about how, as a 12-year-old boy in Germany, Solly had endured unspeakable hardships to keep himself and his family alive during the Nazi regime. Amazingly, Jackson had located Solly, now a 74-year-old living in Israel, and had begun a year-long e-mail correspondence.

He told us how Solly, as a 12-year-old like himself, enjoyed sports and hanging out with friends, when suddenly he was no longer free and he was in danger because of his Jewish identity. He told us how Solly's family missed a chance to leave the country, and after they were forced from their home, hid briefly with five other families in a barn. In the middle of the night, Solly's father woke them and led them out of the barn, just as soldiers arrived. The family watched in horror as everyone in hiding was forced out, forced to dig their own grave, and shot, one by one.

Jackson shared stories about how the Ganor family lived for a period in a ghetto, where Solly endured hunger and cold. Solly was bravely able to retrieve food thrown over the ghetto wall by a boy who had been a friend before the war, each risking his life to make a midnight run to the barbed-wire fence when the guards were not looking. Boredom was another hardship, as the Germans banned one of the Jews’ last remaining pleasures by ordering the collection of all books. Knowing he risked his life, Solly and a friend hid books in a forbidden part of the ghetto. Solly grieved when his former math teacher was found with a book and shot. Solly attributes his ability to stay alive in the ghetto to his friendships with two other teens, both of whom later died in concentration camps.

Solly's family was sent from the ghetto to a work camp, and then to a concentration camp. It was here that he was separated from his mother, and promised that he would keep his father alive. The Bar Mitzvah boy told us about Solly's heart-wrenching experiences at the Dachau work camp, but also told us how Solly used his wits to keep himself and his father fed and clothed.

Finally, the Germans sent Solly and his father along with thousands of others on a death march through miles of snow-covered roads south of Munich. Here Solly, in his fatigue, lost track of his father. Eventually Solly collapsed beside a tree, and believing he was about to die, fell asleep. But in the morning, four men of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion drove by, and a Japanese American soldier lifted him out of the snow, and told him he was free. Solly was later reunited with his father, who had been taken to a hospital.

In the spring of 1992 Solly was reunited with the soldier who rescued him, Clarence Matusumura, in Israel. This reunion brought back many memories that Solly had long suppressed, and that was when he began to write his book. Jackson stated that he has committed himself to the telling of Solly's story of courage. At this point, the entire congregation stood and loudly applauded the very moving presentation.

As the clapping finally slowed, Jackson announced he had one more part to his bar mitzvah. He stated that, "due to the closing of the airports this week, none of the out-of-towners had been able to come in for this night, except for one. That person is . . . Solly Ganor."

A gasp went through the entire room.

Jackson continued, "Since Mr. Ganor was not able to celebrate his bar mitzvah, I invite him to join me now." A gray-haired man in the front row stood and walked to the podium. Everyone stood and applauded, many shedding tears. For several minutes, Mr. Ganor stood with a hand over his eyes, struggling to regain his composure. Then, they read together, first in Hebrew, then in English.

Mr. Ganor stated he never expected his actions would one day be an inspiration to a 13-year-old boy. He was glad he had been able to make the journey from Israel and meet his e-mail pen pal.

Mr. Ganor's story reminded us that evil in the world is not new, but that the human spirit and will to survive is strong. At a time when many of us are asking how we can bear the sadness of these last few days, we are reminded of those who suffered during the years of Nazi cruelty and of people who live in places where terrorism is a way of life. We were reminded by a 13-year-old that we must indeed continue to celebrate life."

Amended from an article by Caroline Broida Trapp. Click here to read Solly Ganor's postscript, written from Israel a month later.

Herman Rosenblat
It may have taken 63 years but Herman Rosenblat is finally able to celebrate being a man.

Rosenblat received his Bar Mitzvah [in 2007] at Congregation Beth Sholom Chabad in Mineola, New York. Although most Jewish boys celebrate at age 13 -- the age when the child becomes responsible for himself under Jewish law -- Rosenblat was hardly in a position for balloons and streamers: the 76-year-old Polish immigrant spent his 13th year in a concentration camp during World War II. READ MORE

Marian Finkielman
Marian Finkielman turned 13 inside the Warsaw Ghetto

"When it was my turn to have a Bar-Mitzvah in June of 1941, I lived in a closed ghetto and my father was no longer alive and able to instruct and bless me or share in my joy. In spite of that I still wanted to go through with the ceremony even though it was to be conducted in the harsh ghetto conditions.

I was called to the Torah in the large synagogue downtown during an ordinary weekday, unlike the customary Saturday. And there was no celebration afterwards. It wasn’t important for me that it was held during the week without a celebration. What was important was that I would have religious acceptance and would be able to pray with the other men in a Minyan during the prayer sessions and recite Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, for my father like any adult.

On the day of my Bar Mitzvah I recited my Torah passage, from the bima in the middle of the synagogue, and additional chapters from the prophet Zachariah. Then the attending rabbi encouraged me to remain a faithful Jew in his sermon and spoke of love of one’s faith and to be brave. The rabbi also tried to cheer us up by saying that what we were experiencing in the ghetto was a temporary predicament and would soon be over. "The Highest One blessed be His Holy Name is testing us Jews in the hard times." The rabbi encouraged us not to lose hope and that difficult times would soon pass.

Another memory links me to the synagogue at Merchant Street: when the typhus epidemic became widespread the synagogue was turned into a place of quarantine for the sick. It was there that in the fall of that year, 1941, I lay unconscious for many days. My Bar Mitzvah allowed me to achieve a spiritual connection and leave behind for a short while the harsh conditions imposed on us in the ghetto.

Excerpted from "Out of the Ghetto: A Young Jewish Orphan Boy's Struggle for Survival" Published by The Concordia University Chair in Canadian Jewish Studies Copyright © Marian Finkielman, 2001

Ted Friedman's Story

Ted Friedman's B Mitzvah was held during the Great Depression
My father took me to the synagogue one morning, I read a few prayers and when it was over we had tea and cake. That was it. You see, I didn't know much Hebrew because you had to pay to take lessons and we were very, very poor.

KNOW SOMEONE WITH AN INSPIRATIONAL B MITZVAH STORY? Maybe it's your father-in-law's story. Maybe it's yours. We'd love to include it. Just send us an email at [email protected]