MY STORY ABOUT JAKE'S BAR MITZVAH BY THE SEA
WAS PUBLISHED IN THE JEWISH STATE IN APRIL 2008
People dressed in bathing suits relaxed on a beach in Malibu, California,
enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and balmy breezes. Some of the children
were flying kites that danced merrily across the cloudless blue sky.
Behind them, further away from the water, a group of about 120 barefooted
people in party clothes were assembled on chairs facing a small podium. On
the podium was a Torah, and standing behind it, was a smiling curly-haired
boy with shining dark eyes and the relaxed demeanor of a polished, but
warm and friendly politician.
"Hello, all you Jewish people," he announced, even before the ceremony began.
On either side of the boy stood two women, Jake's tutor Ilanna Green and Cantor
Shira Fox. Seated nearby, pianist Nicholas Fryman played Hebrew music on a
The boy is my grandson, Jake Wexler, and he was celebrating his bar mitzvah.
Jake's father, my son Alan, is married to Marie, who is Catholic. In fact, all
of my four sons, including my son Steven, who died of a heart attack four years
ago, married Catholic girls -- and I couldn't love Marie, Maureen, Karen, and
Joanne more if they were my own daughters.
Jake is the only one of my nine grandchildren who has decided that he wants
to be a Jew.
"I want to say thank you to everyone who came here today," he said. "I
know many of you traveled a long way, so I just want to tell you that it means
a lot to me that you are here."
Jake, who began studying for his bar mitzvah in September of 2007, read his
haftarah (speech) perfectly, just as his father -- my youngest son Alan -- and
his uncles Steven, Ronald, and Bruce, had done many years ago.
Jake's tutor, Ilanna Green, is a Hebrew schoolteacher at Kehillat Israel in
"During my first interview with Jake I asked him why he was doing this," she
said. "He told me he wanted to go through this process and understand his Jewish
Ilanna is a member of the Reconstruction Temple in Pacific Palisades.
According to the belief of this temple it doesn't make any difference whether
the child's father or mother is the Jewish parent -- it's still part of the
"Think about it," she said. "What is the difference? The philosophy is that
we choose the path -- not that we are chosen. That's really what is so special
about Jake. He's one of the nicest kids there is and I learned to love him
because he's such a cool kid. He's a person who wants to do things, and he's
determined to do them."
Jake began his bar mitzvah studies with a rabbi, but after several lessons,
the rabbi moved to another location, Alan explained. Family friends recommended
"You don't need a rabbi to get bar mitzvahed, and Jake chose the beach
location," Alan said. "Jake's belief in religion is stronger because he
designed what a bar mitzvah meant to him and the way he wanted to do it."
In his speech, Jake noted, "A bar mitzvah means connecting with other
generations. My grandfather Sol passed away a few years ago. Having a bar
mitzvah makes me feel like I can know my grandfather more. He was really
connected to Judaism. Having a bar mitzvah connects me with the rest of my
family and because of it I will feel closer to them. I wish my grandpa could
be here. I think he would be very proud that I carried on this Jewish
The Mourner's Kaddish (prayer for the dead) was said during the services,
"dedicated to Jake's Grandpa Sol and Uncle Stevie."
Alan, Marie, Jake, and Margot moved to Malibu from Westfield, N.J. four
years ago, and we visit several times a year. Jake spoke about the days we
were together in New Jersey and in California. "I think of my grandma's latkes
and matzah ball soup, and all of the Jewish traditions I have experienced," he
said. "Nana, I still remember all of our great times together -- when you took
me to the park, to the movies, and basically watched me grow. Nana, you did a
About his mother, Jake said: "Mom, I couldn't have done this without you.
You're always understanding, always there for me, picking me up from friends'
houses, taking me to soccer and driving me to Hebrew lessons. And Mom, you have
a sense of humor, just like mine. You are incredible and I love you so much."
Of his father, Jake said, "You try so hard to take care of us. I can tell
you everything and you understand as if you're my age. You are my best friend.
Dad, I love you so much!"
And of his 9-year-old sister Margot, Jake added, "Margot, Margot, Margot.
You are always with me. When I'm doing sports you are there, always watching
me, even if you don't want to go. I can't see myself without you as my
Jake, a talented soccer player, said he is grateful for his health, and for
"I am grateful for my athletic abilities; without them I don't think my
dreams could come true," he said. "When I grow up, I want to be a professional
soccer player in a different country. By playing soccer I will see the world,
from little villages in Africa to countries I have never heard of. I also hope
to go to a good college, preferably one by the beach."
When he began studying for his bar mitzvah last September, Jake didn't think
he'd be reading Hebrew so soon, "but by the end of my first lesson with Ilanna
I was reading," he said. "Ilanna, I am so lucky to have you as my teacher and
always be a part of my life."
Alan thanked Marie for "everything that Jake has accomplished, from his
choosing to become bar mitzvahed to what we have all just witnessed. From the
invitations you received, the chairs you are sitting on, the mic I am speaking
into and the celebration this evening -- this is all because of Marie," Alan
"Marie and I decided when Jake was born to allow our children to choose
their religion," Alan added. "For Jake it wasn't a question. There wasn't a
doubt. He didn't ask for permission. He made a choice. He made that choice
like he makes all of his choices -- like he chooses to be a great student,
a great athlete, a great son, brother, and friend. I admire his spirit and
determination in the choices that he makes. Most importantly, I have
complete confidence that he will make the right choice on his own."
Grandpa Michel Barruel, who lives in France with Jake's grandma Maryse,
sent a letter to Jake, "sharing some thoughts about your double heritage.
"First, you come from parents who have very different cultures and
religions," Michel wrote. "This is the result for both of the transmission
during centuries of traditions. It is important that you study and
understand these traditions, question your parents and grandparents and
transmit them in turn.
"Secondly, I am very happy that you chose the religion of your father.
The Jewish religion is the oldest monotheistic religion and the origin of
all others, including the Christian one. I admire their transmission of
the holy books and their continuous study from centuries to centuries.
Religion is important in order to study the origin of manhood, our
purpose of life, and interrogations on our death.
"Be proud to exercise your religion -- and I hope you will be able to
do this in a peaceful world."
In her speech, Marie remembered holding Jake in the hospital, looking
into his eyes and falling in love with him.
"I remember the moment well because it was so powerful," she said.
"I have watched you grow from that tiny infant to the teenager that you
are now. Over the last 13 years I have watched you develop traits and
characteristics that will serve you well in life."
Marie spoke about Jake's sense of humor, compassion for others,
ability to make friends, his intelligence, technical savvy, and athleticism.
"I have watched you over these last eight months preparing for this day,"
she said. "I have watched you struggle and grow and I couldn't be prouder
of you. I pray that you will continue your spiritual path and grow stronger
in your faith. I also hope that as a man you will continue to uphold the
ethics and morals that we have taught you. I pray for your happiness and
well being, which I believe comes from following your passion. May you
always follow your passion and happiness will be yours."
According to Ilanna, "Marie represents the beauty of this fantastic
family. "In the Book of Proverbs, Eshet Chayel is a Woman of Valor,
Margot look so good. She teaches the kids to be menshen" (good human beings).
Little sister Margot was the last person to speak. "Jake, even though
we fight a lot I am still proud of you for working so hard towards your bar
mitzvah," she said. "Thanks for letting me watch TV when you're babysitting
me when it is not my TV time. I am proud of you Jake, but I still can't wait
for you to move out."
After the ceremony, family and friends enjoyed a party at Duke's
restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. What an amazing time we had!
If all the world's people could become the kinds of human beings that
personify Jake Wexler and our family, our world would be a perfect place.
I am blessed.