Recently my friend Bob was bar mitzvahed for the second time at age 59, and what he would say is for the real time. Bob’s bar mitzvah was the culmination of thirteen years of wandering and surviving divorce, loss of parents and sibling, career loss, and major open heart surgery. Below is his speech that he gave on the day of his Bar Mitzvah about second chances, rediscovering himself and finding his spiritual home and purpose.
The Torah speaks of second chances. Do you deserve a second chance? Did I?
Do you take the opportunity to create those second chances?
Do we have to believe we are worthy of a second chance in order to take them?
Beit T’shuvah (editor’s note; Beit Tschuvah is Bob’s temple) is all about second chances and that is why God brought me here on June 7 2002 to begin my Jewish journey – and now on June 6th 2015 to celebrate my 13th birthday as a Beit T’shuvah Jew.
In this weeks torah portion, God spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert – “The Israelites shall prepare the Passover feast at it’s proper time.” There were some who were unclean and couldn’t prepare the Passover. They approached Moses and Aaron and asked them to ask God for a second chance to offer the Passover Sacrifice.
The Lord said – ““If any person is ritually unclean from contact with the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you [now] or in future generations, he shall still have the opportunity to prepare God’s Passover offering”
Why? Why a second chance for Passover?
What is the meaning of Passover?
Why is it so special that we couldn’t just skip it and move forward?
Passover is the story of the Jews. It is our story, my story.
It is our defining journey that begins with enslavement to a false god, in my case, a false marriage, a leap of faith, a time of wondering and then finding the promised land.
God gives us a second chance to live our journey.
Passover was always special to me.
When I was a child, the only Jewish holiday we would celebrate, was Passover. We would get together with our family and remind ourselves that we were Jews.
I went to an Orthodox temple because it was a few blocks from our apartment but I dropped out when I was 12 because i didn’t know how Hebrew school could help my stickball game.
Instead, I became a “cultural Jew.” I was proud of my heritage, but Judaism was something those people with the funny “hats” did. I wondered why my ancestors a thousand years ago did all that wandering and couldn’t ask for direction? No, I was too cool to be Jewish.
I did get a bar mitzvah. It was on a Thursday morning, at the Orthodox temple. I put on tasvilian, (the Orthodox Jewish prayer shawl) I dovenned (the ritualistic method of Orthodox Jewish prayer by bowing repeatedly) but I was spiritually unclean. I had no relationship with God.
I was going through the motions. I did it for my parents and the presents.
Beit T’shuvah taught me how to be a Jew and it was time for me to read from Gods book.
Why this Bar Mitzvah now you may ask…???
13 years ago the “Cool Jew” in me met real life when my wife left me and my parents and brother died. Suddenly, I had no parents or wife to celebrate Passover with. My holiday was empty. My community was suddenly gone. My ex and I were even trying to have a child and all hopes of that died too.
Just as it seemed I had lost everything, God brought me to Beit T’shuvah and my Jewish life began. I learned that being a Jew was an action verb, not a noun. “We do Jewish” at Beit T’shuvah.
I began to show up to be a Jew…week after week..one service at a time.
Then Adam entered my life as my” little brother”. He was 5 years old and in need of a Dad. And I had always prayed for a son. Adam you have lifted my heart and you are my miracle man from god. Last Thursday, I got to see you graduate high school. You gave me a second chance to be the “dad guy.”
Suddenly, I didn’t have to be alone at Passover any more.
This year I had a heart attack and quadruple by pass surgery. Talk about a second chance. The doctor said I could have died of the heart attack, like my Mother and Brother had. But I lived. I know God kept me alive because he has a plan for me.
On my way into surgery I looked up and God said to me – “Bob..the surgery will hurt a lot more than a bar mitzvah.” I replied – “If I make it, I will get that bar mitzvah!”
My surgery was successful and now my life had new meaning. So many people had touched my heart – the surgeon, the surgical nurse, .and of course, all of you…
This day also marks the 13th year anniversary of my marriage separation that broke my heart and tomorrow 13 years ago I attended my first service at Beit T’shuvah.
It is now my time to make the sacrifice, to bless the past and embrace the future. Now, I wake up every day feeling blessed.
I started doing yoga to focus on my mind, body and spirit. I volunteer at Cedars Sinai hospital and I bring hope and laughter to patients and their families. Some say, I leave them in stitches!
I walk patients into pre op and and their families into post op and on the way share my story. You should see how their faces light up when I tell them I was being rolled down that very hallway 8 months earlier. I give them hope and they share with me their gratitude.
I get to save lives and make people laugh at comedy clubs. I have performed at the Comedy Store and the Improv ! I get to share my authentic self, my pain and experiences. I have people come up to me after my show and tell me that they are going to see their doctor because of my routine. It is my dream come true every time I get on stage.
I get to show up at temple and I have a relationship with God. I have Rabbis, a bunch of them who love me.
I get to work with my friend Lois and build my new company. I have finally taken one of my crazy ideas and run with it. I got to show up at Adams graduation.
I have my temple family. I have my yoga family, my comedy family, my friends whom I love as family, my family family. My Passover feast today is truly overflowing.
So, God, THANK YOU – for saving my life and for giving me my second chance.
I want to thank Rabbi Mark and Harriet for welcoming me to Beit T’shuvah 13 years ago, and Rabbi Paul for helping me with my Bar Mitzvah and agreeing to be my new personal Rabbi.
I am grateful to Shy who came out of retirement to give me the blessing. Shy, thank you for teaching me that I am a holy being.
I want to thank my family and friends who drove here from Northern California and Orange County.
I want to thank my parents and brother Gerry who are ‘plotzing“in their graves right now.
I want to thank Cathy for sharing the beemer with me. I was thinking how we never stand alone at Beit T’shuvah so having you read the Torah with me is a blessing. And of course Alan Lubert. Love you Alan.
Most of all I want to thank all of you. Everyone that has shared my journey. 13 years ago was the worst week of my life. I was numb. My life was all about death, loss, divorce, pain and suffering.
Then God brought me to Beit T’shuvah. He put an ad in the Jewish Journal because I had something to learn.
And in the famous words of Rabbi Mark Barovitz, “I’ve always believed in God. What I learned is that God believes in me, too.”
After graduating from college, Bob worked in Advertising in New York City, and then moved to Los Angeles where he had a 25 year career in Cable Television, Radio, Advertising and Promotions.After leaving his last corporate position as the Director of Sales for a Broadband company, Bob traveled the world and returned to Los Angeles to begin a stand up comedy career and to start his own sportswear company called the American Presidents League featuring the name and numbers of the American Presidents.Recently, Bob suffered a heart attack resulting in quadruple by pass surgery which he views as giving him a second chance in life. He now “gives back” by volunteering at Cedar Sinai hospital. He also followed his dream of becoming a stand up comedian and now performs comedy regularly at venues to include – Flappers, The Comedy Store, the Warehouse and the Improv. Bob is also a big brother and a leading member of his temple. having just been bar mitzvahed at age 59.Bob’s story is one full of loss and death in which he questioned himself and what he thought was his victimhood. Bob now lives every day with gratitude and shares his experiences and positive energy with all he encounters.