80th Bar Mitzvah Anniversary Address
I am so happy to welcome you all this evening, this certainly is a much bigger turnout than at my original Bar Mitzvah 80 years ago, when in our small congregation in Germany we struggled to assemble 10 men for a minyan.
It is funny how some events in our lives are permanently etched into our memory, and for me that Shabbat in May 1937 certainly is one of them.
I had prepared for my Torah portion for a year under the weekly tutoring of our Hebrew teacher and cantor, and as a result my Torah reading did turn out very well. Then our cantor addressed me, reminding me of my obligations as a Jewish adult; and there were cautions about the difficult times that could lie ahead for German Jews. As a token of my coming of age, I was presented with the traditional Bar Mitzvah gift: a copy of the Holy Scriptures.
After the service had concluded, our family went back to our apartment for a dinner celebration that my mother and Aunt Babette had prepared in advance. My aunt had come from Mother’s birth village near Heidelberg, and my god-parents, Aunt Hedwig and Uncle Robert, had arrived the day before from Paderborn. During those couple of days, we all lived at improvised close quarters in our apartment, because during those Nazi times Jews were no longer allowed in hotels. My brother Harry could not be at my Bar Mitzvah; he had already emigrated a year earlier to my mother’s brother in Holland, and my Uncle Wilhelm refused to travel to Nazi Germany.
Before dinner, everybody gathered in the living room, where another important part of the day's events took place: the presentation of my Bar Mitzvah gifts. Mother had carefully arranged every gift on a table⏤in those days gifts were not wrapped⏤everything was displayed in one overwhelming vision of bliss. There was a fountain pen with a fourteen carat gold tip from Aunt Babette, a Sterling silver pencil from Aunt Hedwig, and a pocketknife from the Salomon family. Uncle Wilhelm had sent twenty Dutch Guilders from Holland and Cousin Helma five Pounds from Palestine. There were some books and sweets and "practical" things like shirts and socks. I was overwhelmed with all those wonderful gifts, but especially the secretly hoped for fountain pen.
As some of you may know, Congregation Adas Emuno was founded in the year 1871 in Hoboken by German/Jewish immigrants. We still have some of the old congregational records, all hand-written in a German script, discontinued long ago. All congregational meetings were held in German and the religious services were performed in German and Hebrew, as were their weekly Religious School classes.
A custom we did not have in Germany, or in Hoboken in those days, but that has become a very laudable tradition in America, is a Bar Mitzvah project. So as my belated Bar Mitzvah project now, I have recently started to study some of those old congregational records. I have deciphered, translated and transcribed the first annual report of its president to the Board of directors, dated October 20, 1872, and an 1873 Report of the School Committee.
Since Tradition and Remembrance are an integral part of Jewish custom and survival, I think it may be of interest to some members of our congregation, as well as our next generation of Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s, to know something about the origin and background of our German/Jewish ancestor congregation. To celebrate my 80th Bar Mitzvah anniversary, in a reversal of procedures, I want to present to you a wonderfully informative book for our library, an illustrated History of the Jews in Germany since Roman times, including the origins of the Reform movement in early 19th century Germany.
In closing, let me thank our Congregation and the Ritual Committee for sponsoring the Oneg Shabbat, Rabbi Schwartz for his caring support and Cantor Horowitz for reading my Parshe today; hopefully I can do that on my 90th anniversary.
Thank you all for sharing this day with me,
Leonia, May 12, 2017 16 Iyar, 5577
To which we can only add, thank you Kurt, and mazel tov!