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Baruch's Bar Mitzvah

Baruch's Bar Mitzvah

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I never thought that I would have written a story about Baruch. But I did, and it has been one of the best things I have done. Little did I know that one story, my personal experience, could affect people in the way that it has. Little did I know that it could affect me in the way that it has.

When that article was posted, (See, Baruch, Our Special Child) I showed Baruch the picture of himself that accompanied the piece. The first thing he did was point to his picture and then point to himself (means “me”). Then he saw my name and signed "good" and gave me a big hug! I took this as my personal sign from G‑d that I did the right thing in writing that story.

We felt uncomfortable making a big affair, yet we could not just ignore the day

It was because of that story that I am now writing this one. I am grateful to all who read about Baruch and were concerned and connected and inspired me to once again write about him.

As you know, Baruch is not the ordinary kid next door. Baruch is truly a miracle child. He was born with severe disabilities that caused other infections and problems, so much of his first few years of life was touch and go. We lived with the knowledge that at any moment our precious boy could be taken from us. And yet we lived to witness miracle after miracle as he survived and triumphed time and time again.

Now, at the age of 13, Baruch is still deaf, has a trachea tube in his throat and eats only through a gastrostomy tube in his stomach, but for a boy that all his doctors thought would never walk or understand or interact, he has proven them more than wrong.

It is now Saturday evening, and today was Baruch's 13th birthday. It is hard for me to say "Bar Mitzvah" because he is not yet ready for the responsibilities of the Torah's commandments, nor do we really know when he will be. Yet, today was a special day. Emotional, but special.

A few months ago, as his 13th birthday loomed closer, my husband and I began to discuss what we should do. At first we thought nothing should be done at all. How could we "celebrate" a "Bar Mitzvah" that wasn't? But then we realized that there was much that we did need to celebrate. We had reached many milestones. Baruch was still alive. He was learning and progressing. He was sharing his special smiles and hugs with all those who met him. He attended synagogue each week and was part of the "shul family." But what could we do? We felt uncomfortable making a big affair, yet we could not just ignore the day.

Soon it was March, and Passover preparations began. We felt it was time to try to get Baruch more involved in what was going on. We decided to make him a Haggadah (the Passover guide and story) with simple sentences and lots of pictures, so that he could follow the Seder and understand what the whole holiday was about.

My eldest daughter, Chaya Mushka, put it together. We put the pages in a display folder with plastic pockets to protect it from saliva. This became our teaching tool and we went through it with Baruch a number of times before Passover. Baruch would not let go of his "Haggadah." He sat through the Seder in our home, and for the first time signed the Four Questions. We were very proud.

The big test was the second night. We went to our cousins for the second Seder. There were twenty-two people there. Would Baruch sign again or would he be too shy?

Baruch sat through the entire Seder. When it was his turn, he signed the Four Questions. You could hear a pin drop. There were many children there, and during their turns, I must admit, not all the adults kept quiet. But Baruch, who said nothing at all, signed in absolute silence!

For us, that was the turning point. We began to think, "If he can accomplish this, why can't he sign the blessings on the Torah in synagogue?" Right after Passover we began planning a "Bar Mitzvah book."

We took pictures of the shul, of the Torah, and the bimah (where the Torah is read) and of Baruch. We began to think of what the notion of responsibility could mean for him, and we came up with a few ideas: keeping his kippa on his head at all times, the ritual washing of his hands in the morning, not mixing up We began to think of what the notion of responsibility could mean for him my milk and meat dishes in his attempt to help clean up, keeping his room clean and not switching lights on and off on Shabbat, to name a few. These became the basis of the Bar Mitzvah book. We started with the order of the Bar Mitzvah day: Baruch will go to shul with his family; the aron kodesh (the Ark) will be opened, the Torah will be taken out and put on the bimah; Baruch will be called up to the Torah, Baruch will sign... And we included the blessings. We sent the book to school as well, so his teachers could practice with him.

We then called the synagogue and explained that we would be sponsoring the Kiddush (meal following Shabbat services) in honor of Baruch's birthday. Our synagogue has an email notification system and we asked that everyone be notified of the occasion since we were not sending out any formal invitations. I also called my cousins who live here in Melbourne to join us in our shul and to stay for the Kiddush. We decided to cater it ourselves. My husband and I made a number of salads, my cousins and friends pitched in too, with gefilte fish, spreads and cakes. We thought it would be a small affair.

Boy were we mistaken! We did not realize the impact Baruch had made on all the people here. Word spread in the general community and people began approaching us to wish us Mazel Tov and the informal "invitation list" grew bigger. Our simcha (joyous occasion) was not only the shul's simcha but a community simcha. The shul was packed. We were nervous. Baruch can get very silly in a crowd. Would he be able to sign the blessings as he practiced, or would he become silly and shy?

Baruch went up to the bimah along with his father who was going to translate into English what Baruch was signing, and then recite the actual blessings on the Torah. When Baruch got up there, he began shyly, with one hand in his mouth. Signing with one hand is not a very comprehensible language, let me tell you. He slowly gained confidence and he beautifully signed the second blessing after the reading of the Torah. The whole shul erupted in a spontaneous Mazel Tov dance. Baruch was put up on his father's shoulders and all the men began dancing in a circle around the reading table.

What can I say? I cried. I think many people did. A bar mitzvah celebration is supposed to be the day when a young boy becomes a "man," a person responsible for his actions. For us, this is not the case. Baruch is still a young boy (he functions at the level of a six year old) and will probably be so for a number of years to come. But that was not what I was thinking at the time and I don't think that is why I cried. I can't really tell you why I cried. I just did. Maybe it was the pent up emotion of all the years. Maybe it was the relief that my son who we were told would die twelve years ago, was standing there at the Torah, blessing G‑d who had given him life. Maybe it was the outpouring of kindness, support and well wishes from all the people in the shul. Maybe it was because my immediate family was not there to witness this moment. Maybe, and maybe not.

Baruch was very excited; he shook each person’s hand and gave spontaneous hugs. The Kiddush continued for a few hours. One by one, family members and friends got up to say a few words. They described how they had been touched by Baruch and by our family. It was very humbling for me, as were the comments many people wrote on the web after my previous article about Baruch.

We did not realize the impact Baruch had made on all the people here

You see, I do not see myself as a "courageous woman" as some have called me. I struggle, I make mistakes. But as a Jew who has learned Chassidut, I forge ahead. I do not think of what could have been but of what I need to do. I am not "brave." I have my down times, I have my cries, I am human. But knowing that I have a G‑dly soul, that we all do, gives me strength when I need it. Each of us has challenges in our lives. They are all different, but they are challenges that we struggle through.

People who hear my story say that I have inspired them, but let me tell you that they have inspired me too. It is one thing to believe that all G‑d does is for the good, and it is quite another thing to see the good in a revealed way. Of course, "good" is a relative term, and there are many levels of good. But when I see how much Baruch has affected the people around him, when I hear your anecdotes, when I hear that you are more patient, more forgiving, more thankful and more tolerant because of Baruch, then you help me to continue doing what I need to do. You have "recharged my batteries," and for that I thank you all.

May the acts of goodness and kindness spread so that the world at large will be ready to greet Moshiach, when all the mysteries of G‑d’s ways will finally be revealed to us all.

Sara Rosenfeld has been a shlucha in Melbourne, Australia, since 1989. She teaches Chassidut in high school and to university students and is involved in developing numerous Judaica curricula for schools.
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Anonymous New York via chabaddutchess.com February 20, 2016

My son has Familial Dysautonomia and was a Bar Mitzvah 6 years ago. It was the the most difficult, but most wonderful day of my family's life. He shined and was extraordinary. He rose to the occasion and was so proud of himself. You need to work within the parameters of your child and the situation you're in. You can modify anything, G-d understands. Reply

Susan A May 17, 2015

Celebrating our sons Bar Mitzvah at the Mikvah Inspiring. My son has multiple disabilities. We are not part of a temple right now and our Jewish community are friends and family. We decided to have a Bar Mitzvah at the Mikvah. He will have an immersion, his dad will say the prayers (he's non verbal) and we will have a small celebration for him, about 30 people for about 2 hours. All if this is done so HE can enjoy the event. He loves the water, smaller groups etc. Reply

Anonymous Baltimore June 8, 2012

What is his Tehillim name? Since, it's been 6 years, his probably 20 by now. So, I hope that he is healed by now!! Reply

Anonymous via fcil.org January 17, 2012

wow!! I belive he will rise above, because he isn't worth less then anyone else because of his phisical issues...
CONGRATS!! Reply

Anonymous Grand Junction, Colorado December 4, 2011

Mazel Tov While searching the Chabad website I read your article. I am contemplating my sons' Bar Mitzvah. He will 13 next year. He has autism, on the spectrum, I just am afraid of what might happen, the day may arrive and he refuses to recite his haftorah. anxiety is a major part of his daily life. Your story encourages me to try at least. I'm assuming you wrote this many years ago and I thank Chabad to still have it available, It truly touched my heart. Thank you! Reply

Anonymous Providence, RI August 17, 2010

True Miracles My youngest son's Bar Mitzvah is coming this Shabbat, and in the midst of the flurry of details and, yes, anxiety, of preparation, I was surfing for something to remind myself of the true meaning of the Bar Mitzvah. Your story was the perfect antidote, a reminder that for every person, growing from a cluster of cells into a baby into a child and then an adult is an absolute miracle. (I should know this--I'm a midwife!) Learning to smile, to think, to speak, to walk, to be aware of G-d's presence--these things are as great a miracle as the parting of the Reed Sea or the daily setting of the sun. But sometimes it takes a child like your son, with his challenges and extra-ordinary successes, to remind us of those miracles. Thank you. Reply

Lara Shwer Memphis, TN via jewishmemphis.com July 6, 2010

Baruch's Barmitzvah I happened to come across your heartwarming article as i was scrolling through the Chabad.org website. My son will be celebrating his Barmitzvah in 8 weeks and your story of Baruch's incredible Barmitzvah helped put in to perspective what this simcha is all about. My son is a miracle baby too in that he was conceived via IVF after many years of infertility and I had forgotten how important it is to focus on this amazing miracle and not on the centerpieces, caterer, hotels, invitations etc that I have been so occupied with. I will be focusing my efforts more on enjoying and being thankful that this wonderful event is going to be possible and I won't be taking anything for granted. Thank you so much for opening up my "eyes", heart and thoughts. Mazeltov Reply

Malka Wilder January 1, 2010

Thank you so much My son is autistic and will have a Bar Mitzvah in one month. I want to thank you for writing this article, it was very helpful to know how you delt with this wonderful oppertunity. I used to be scared, but not any more. thanks again. Reply

Rivkah(Rubin) Denburg Boca Raton, Fl September 14, 2006

To Sara, from an old school friend Dear Sara, your articles have touched me deeply. Your family, especially Baruch, has inspired me to appreciate everything Hashem has given us in life. May Hashem continue to give you lots of koach and may Baruch continure to go machayil el chayil (strength to strength) and give you nachas (joy). Reply

Sharla Grossman Louisville, Ky July 21, 2006

Article on Baruch is a Blessing Just as his name implies, Baruch, as revealed to us by his mother in this article, is such Blessing...I smiled, I wept, and vicariously kvelled for Sarah as I read about this son of hers who reached this milestone against all odds but G-d's! Mazel Tov! Reply

Anonymous Monsey, NY USA June 6, 2006

comment to Sara Sara, both your articles on Boruch touched me. I see how even though you're a 'strong woman' as many have labeled you, you struggle and come out to the light end of the tunnel. Many people don't realize that 'strong' people struggle just as much as those who don't seem strong. I appreciate how you can feel undone but still get yourself back together. I draw strength from your and your husband's story and wonder how I feel any challenge in my life when compared to yours. Your words on remembering that everything Hashem does is for the good and to see that is something I needed to be reminded of. Thank you for that. Reply

a cousin montevideo, uruguay May 31, 2006

Mazal Tov Mazal tov! Reply

Anonymous melbourne, australia May 31, 2006

Mrs Rosenfeld thank you for sharing your story about your precious son. He is truly an inspiration to us, and his weekly handshakes with all the members of the shul warms my heart. You too have inspired me greatly, as a former student of yours I see how you really live what you teach and how you truly beleive in it. Your sincerity and strength continue to amaze me. You have taught me in a different way, and your way is what will remain with me for the rest of my life. Thank you Reply

Rivky Gurevitch via chabad-haus.de May 31, 2006

Mazal Tov to the Rosenfelds!
Thank you for taking the courage to share Baruch's story with us. It has inspired and strengthened me, as I'm sure it has everyone else who read or will read it.
Reply

Rachel May 30, 2006

Wow-what a truly unbelievable person that you are!! Thank you for writing both your articles, and I hope that you continue writing. You genuinely have touched my heart! Reply

Jennifer Mizrahi Melbourne, Vic May 30, 2006

Baruch Dear Sara,
Mazel Tov to Baruch & to the whole family. Both your stories have touched my heart.
Reply

Shimon Houston, USA May 30, 2006

Wonderful Story and Bar Mitzvah Sara,

What an inspiring story and an even more inspiring son and parents! Your chasidic and secular insights into overcoming adversity and cherishing every personal victory, no matter how small, is what we need to teach the rest of the world.

So thank you both for reminding us that we all must learn from others like you and Baruch, and that G-d hands us miracles every day. We just need to reach out and pick them up like you do.

May we all contribute to tikun ha'olom like you to speedily merit the coming of Moshiach in our days.
Reply

Yael May 29, 2006

Thank you for sharing this inspiring story with us! Your attitude is very full of faith and it pours new light on kids with special needs. Mazal tov to Baruch on his accomplishment, and to you all! Reply

Jessica Klein Levenbrown Los Angeles, CA May 28, 2006

Baruch's Bar Mitzvah This story is even more touching than your last. Please keep telling us about Baruch and your life together. Your honesty and true goodness are inspiring. Reply

yael watts May 28, 2006

Baruch bar mitzvah Dear Sara, again I sit with tears pouring down my cheeks as I read your beautiful story about your precious son, Baruch. We were fortunate to not only have been part of this special bar mitzvah which was the most beautiful thing to witness , but also to have the priveledge to know Baruch who just lights up our world when we meet him with his friendly smiles and hugs. It was just so sweet to see him sitting on that bima and signing the blessings and you could see that he was just so proud of himself. May G-d conitnue to make more miracles for Baruch and may he have a complete refuah (healing) immediately with the coming of Moshiach right now. May you continue to get much joy from him and all your children . Reply