February 15, 2012
The double Bar Mitzvah — partners in time
Forty-five years after his bar mitzvah, Edward L. Moskowitz could not find the photos. They were lost in his garage, in a box, among shelves of such boxes, and were his only remaining evidence of a Shabbat he had shared in the mid-1960s with Marty November, his bar mitzvah partner.
“Any luck finding that photo of you and Marty?” I asked.
I had met Edward and Marty while studying for my own bar mitzvah (we remain friends), and after all these years, I wondered how sharing such a personal event had affected them.
“I know it’s there, I just have to find it,” Moskowitz said, responding to my photo request without a hint of uncertainty.
His search would take him back to more than the boxes of personal memorabilia and mementos stored in his Valley garage. Eventually, his search would return him to 1966, to Anaheim, where, at Temple Beth Emet, a Conservative synagogue a few blocks from Disneyland, he and Marty shared much more than the “top billing” and haftarah blessings.
For many of us who came of age in the 1960s, double b’nai mitzvah were unavoidable; the Jewish demography of the times dictated them. There are just so many Shabbats in a year, and suburban synagogues, whose stuccoed sanctuaries dotted the Southern California landscape like sesame seeds on a challah, did not have enough dates for the oncoming wave of baby boomer b’nai mitzvah.
Moskowitz and his parents originally wanted his bar mitzvah to be alone. “But someone else had a lot more pull with the temple office and got the date,” he recalled. So, with his birthday falling on March 5, and his prospective partner’s on March 1, the two were joined through calendaring, bonded by the portion Terumah.
November remembered it differently. “I liked the idea of having a partner — I only had to do half as much,” November said. “I wanted to do it with Ed.”
What they both shared a memory of was that the bar mitzvah class, held on Saturday mornings, was especially large.
“Everything was divided equally,” remembered Moskowitz, who, after seeing how the haftarah and blessings were shared, thought that a partner might have its advantages after all.
“Everything was divided but the speeches,” November remembered. “That, we couldn’t share.”
To this day, how to match b’nai mitzvah partners remains a tricky task. Rabbi Steven L. Silver of Temple Menorah in Redondo Beach, who also had his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Emet with a partner in 1966, has found that, generations later, “I have some of the same issues at my synagogue,” he said.
“You want both children to be equal in abilities. You don’t want a situation where one child outshines the other. You need to match up Hebrew, singing and their speaking abilities,” he said.
“For my bar mitzvah, I didn’t know the kid at all,” he remembered. The cantor [Philip Moddel] tried to pair me with someone who could sing better than I could, except my partner couldn’t,” he recalled. “I accepted it because that’s what everybody did,” he added.
“It was the baby boomer generation and there weren’t enough Saturdays,” he said.
Scheduling b’nai mitzvah, he noted, is “particularly challenging at a synagogue where there is only one rabbi and one cantor. It’s customary that clergy take four weeks vacation, and the congregation doesn’t want them both to be gone at the same time. So that means each year there are eight Saturdays that are not available, even more when you add in holidays,” he continued.
Rabbi Silver also has observed the sudden interdependence that the pairing can create. “If one kid falls behind it’s not just [his or her] problem; it’s the problem of the other family, too,” he said.
Beyond “half the work,” Rabbi Silver feels there are other advantages to dual b’nai mitzvah.
“Partners feel safer and less anxious. In the best situations, the partners work with each other and keep each other on track,” he said.
According to Rabbi Silver, at his synagogue, where there are 20 to 30 b’nai mitzvahs — two to three doubles — each year, the division of labor for b’nai mitzvah families can also extend to shared expenses for receptions, jointly creating bar mitzvah booklets and decorating the social hall.
“Sharing is particularly advantageous for single-parent families,” he added.
Silver, cautions, however, that double b’nai mitzvahs are not for everyone.
“I had one parent tell me, ‘I do not want my child paired up. This is my child’s [Mount] Everest,’ ” he said.
As to Everest, Moskowitz and November have good memories of their joint climb and have remained in contact through the years. November attended both of Moskowitz’s weddings, and, just this year, Moskowitz attended November’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.
“Marty also comes to my annual Chanukah parties,” Moskowitz said.
As adults, both have had careers in show business, though they have never worked together.
“We’re both very technical,” November said. “We both had darkrooms.”
Moskowitz is a production sound mixer and has worked on such shows as “Golden Girls,” “The West Wing,” “Will & Grace” and “Pushing Daisies. November is a film editor whose credits include “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” “Stuart Little,” “The Mist” and “Aliens in the Attic.”
Moskowitz remembered receiving an Aiwa reel-to-reel portable audio recorder as a bar mitzvah gift. “Who would have thought then that I would make my living in recording sound?” he said.
November also recalled that it was right around the time of his bar mitzvah that his interest in photography began.
Each has three children, all of whom have had an individual bar or bat mitzvah. But both feel that had more to do with their synagogue’s settings and demographics than with any negative feelings about a double b’nai mitzvah.
“When I introduced Ed at my daughter’s bat mitzvah, I introduced him as my bar mitzvah partner,” November said.
“It amazed people,” said Moskowitz, who recalled that people asked incredulously, “ ‘You still know people from your bar mitzvah?’
“There’s something quietly comforting that there are a handful of us who have known each other since childhood,” he said of his bar mitzvah and teenage years.
November sees the bar mitzvah as the beginning of a “significant relationship. I feel like it has bonded us for life,” he added.
Finally, Moskowitz, after searching through stacks of boxes for a week, found not only his bar mitzvah photo (he couldn’t find one of them together) but also his marked-up haftarah booklet, his bar mitzvah record (a recording made by Cantor Modell for him to practice from) and his actual bar mitzvah speech — one page, double-spaced. The shot he found of himself, wearing his new tallit, brought him back to that day and to an almost-overlooked aspect of their pairing.
“My grandparents bought me that tallit in New York, thinking it was the latest style and no one on the West Coast would have it,” Moskowitz remembered.
But then, on the bimah, “While both sets of parents were putting the tallisim around us, I saw that Marty had the same one.”