My saba is essentially a boy in an old man’s body. (Instead of “13 Going on 30,” try 83 going on 13!) He is the goofiest, sweetest and kindest man on the planet. He loves learning, building things and playing guitar. If there’s an ice cream truck nearby, like every kid you know, he’ll go running (or rather, speed-walking — saba is pretty spry). So it was fitting that he would choose to celebrate “becoming a man” all over again in the presence of his adoring family.
This past March, my family was lucky enough to celebrate my grandfather’s second bar mitzvah. With a beautiful Shabbat dinner, heartwarming service and Purim-themed party of the century, this event wasn’t one to miss. And before you ask: Yes, having a second bar mitzvah is totally a thing.
Although I didn’t know this practice existed before, my saba isn’t the first man to have a second bar mitzvah at 83, nor will he be the last. According to My Jewish Learning, one of the reasons for this can be attributed to the significance of the number 70 in Judaism. Psalm 90 states that “the span of our life is 70 years.” The second bar mitzvah ceremony is a celebration of a second life, a way of saying l’chaim to a long and healthy existence. This rings true for my saba, who wanted to have his second bar mitzvah as an opportunity to reaffirm his love for and faith in Judaism.
On the day of my saba’s second bar mitzvah, my family all gathered at Adas Israel in Washington D.C. for a service that was nothing short of spectacular. The synagogue is made up of a strong Jewish community, known for including famous D.C. Jewish activists such as the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and disability rights activist Judy Heumann. Although I hadn’t visited before, throughout the service it became clear how welcoming and tight-knit the community is, and how much they adore my saba and his wife, Jane. (He remarried after my Safta Ruth passed away in 2006.)
With the sun shining through the stained-glass windows and a full band playing, I couldn’t help but feel pure joy in the room, watching my saba take his place at the bimah, smiling from ear to ear. In between effortlessly reciting the standard bar mitzvah prayers and reading the haftarah, Saba gave his d’var Torah. He spoke about his experience growing up in Israel and starting a family in the U.S. in the 1960s, and about his first bar mitzvah. In a far cry from the grand celebration we had planned later that day, my saba’s original bar mitzvah was modest. He was accompanied only by his parents, sister and a few other close relatives for a ceremony in a small synagogue in Tel Aviv. (By his own confession, Saba was well-prepared but nervous and mostly glad when the ceremony was over, which is hugely relatable.) Seventy years later, he had the entire congregation in awe, listening raptly to his story of perseverance, faith, love and family. At the end of the service, channeling his inner 13-year-old, my saba snuck some candies from the bimah into his pockets.
Later that night, my grandparents threw an epic Purim-themed party in which everyone was encouraged to dress up (Alexa, play “Party Rock”). There was a range of costumes — store-bought to homemade, biblical-themed to Prince — and the creativity was impressive (Saba dressed up as Pharaoh, his blue, white, and gold “dress” as he called it complete with a gold jester-like headpiece). After some speeches made by Jane, my uncle and my mom, my saba and I ended the night with a surprise duet performance of “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler On the Roof.” Ever the comedian, Saba committed to his part, singing alongside me as I accompanied with guitar.
Overall, the weekend was a blast. Filled with hilarity and nostalgia, it was a great opportunity to bond with my saba and make new memories. And, most importantly, Saba had the time of his life, claiming it was one of his favorite experiences to date. Although he cited nerves beforehand, he was especially proud of his d’var Torah and thought he aced his haftarah (I can confirm, he did). During their speeches, my mom and uncle highlighted how thankful they are for the opportunities my grandfather provided, the values he has passed on, and the love he has always shown us.
Watching my saba take all of this love in was heartwarming but at the same time, a bit bittersweet. This past January, I lost my beloved paternal grandfather, Babajoon.
My babajoon was one of the best people I’ve had the honor of knowing. Like my saba, he spoke Hebrew and spent time in Israel during his youth, living on a kibbutz. He was a myriad of wonderful contradictions: a man who loved “Fiddler On the Roof” and “The Sound of Music,” but was also a whiz when it came to the stock market and real estate. With a wicked sense of humor and a brilliant drive, he loved playing backgammon, traveling the world and spending time with his family. My babajoon was one of the most loving and generous people I have ever known. He left quite an amazing legacy, including his love for Judaism, and I only wish that he had had a second bar mitzvah so that we could honor him while he was still with us.
So, take my advice and don’t take your time with your grandparents for granted. Whether it be at a second bar or bat mitzvah service (which I can’t recommend enough) or a birthday dinner, laugh with them, love them and celebrate with them. They deserve to be cherished.