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By Annette Wexler
Published in the Jewish State on August 15, 1986

I am a Bar Mitzvah Veteran. My sons, Steven, Ronald, Bruce and Alan are grown and two of them have children of their own. I am grateful to them because after having been through four bar mitzvahs I can honestly label myself a "survivor." I remember watching each of them with their yarmulkes, taleysm, and shining faces (Bruce’s was covered with chicken pox spots) flawlessly reading their haftorahs.

I recall how handsome Alan, my baby, looked – even with the cast on his arm. They say you learn from experience, so life gets less complicated – but that didn’t seem to apply to the Wexler kids’ bar mitzvahs.

In our case, Steve’s (the first) bar mitzvah was the least complicated. We bought suits for the boys in less than an hour at a friend’s store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We had no problems arranging for the ceremony, which took place at a Conservative temple in Flushing, N.Y. – or the party which was held in the recreation room of the apartment building where we lived. Steve read his haftorah perfectly, the food was delicious, the two younger boys behaved themselves, and all of the aunts, uncles and cousins were happy to see each other.

By the time Ronnie became became bar mitzvah, we had moved to Iselin, New Jersey, where Alan was born. Ronnie, our lovable "black sheep," was a wonderful bar mitzvah boy. He recited his haftorah to perfection, and was a perfect host at the reception which was held the next day at Congregation Beth Sholom. Ronnie is almost five years younger than Steve, and in those five years several of the guests seemed to have altered their feelings for each other. Some close relatives had temporarily become bitter enemies, and had to be seated accordingly – across the room from each other.

Everyone had made friends by the time Bruce was bar mitzvah six years later, but there were other complications. Always an industrious child, Bruce had to be convinced a few months before his bar mitzvah to quit his job as distributor of Holiday Magic Cosmetics. He was spending so much time working after school that he neglected his bar mitzvah lessons. Bruce finally quit the job, pursued his studies, and memorized his haftorah. Preparations went smoothly for the bar mitzvah, which was to be held again at Congregation Beth Sholom. All was well until two days before the event, when I noticed some spots on Bruce’s face. Since I’m also a veteran of childhood diseases, I knew what was wrong even before the doctor reaffirmed the fact that the bar mitzvah boy had the chicken pox. Despite his spotted complexion, Bruce was feeling good and looked forward to his big day. In the meantime, I spent a lot of precious time calling everyone on the list to make sure they didn’t mind being exposed to chicken pox. Surprisingly no one cancelled and, following the tradition of his brothers, the spotted kid did an admirable job.

Alan, a brilliant child, memorized his haftorah in no time at all. But he had a slight problem getting into his bar mitzvah suit because of the cast on his arm. Alan had broken his arm a few weeks before the big day. But my baby was a real trooper, dancing with all the guests including his grandmother, Celia Pollack – another trooper who had been mugged in the elevator of her apartment house a few days before the affair. Mama showed up wearing dark glasses to cover her black eye; however, everyone applauded when she danced – and as usual, she was the belle of the ball. The party was held at a country club in Edison. Some relatives avoided each other, and others complained because gefilte fish was served in place of baked fish, but everyone seemed to have a good time.

Nine years have gone by since Alan’s bar mitzvah, and all the boys are well and happy. Still, I feel sad when I look at bar mitzvah photographs because many of the people who attended have since passed away. Whenever they get together, my sons talk about "The old days," including their "special day," when each of them had the opportunity to say, "Today I am a man."

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