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Jewish Journal

More Than Just a Bar Mitzvah

by Judy Lash Balint

November 9, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Bar mitzvah Evan Goldenberg is carried on a well-wisher's shoulders after his ceremony in Jerusalem.

Bar mitzvah Evan Goldenberg is carried on a well-wisher's shoulders after his ceremony in Jerusalem.

It was a day that no one in the Goldenberg family will ever forget. It started out as the celebration of the Bar Mitzvah of their only son, Evan, but it turned out to be a day marked by the emotional highs and lows of life in Jerusalem in violent times.

In the morning, Mark and Deborah Goldenberg of Beverly Hills and their family and friends basked in the joy of their simcha; dancing, singing and bursting with pride at the entry of their son into Jewish manhood. By the afternoon they were grieving together with all Israelis over the Machane Yehudah terror attack which claimed two young lives.

What began as a fairly routine affair experienced by many U.S. teens became a far more nuanced event, part solidarity mission, part affirmation of post-Holocaust Jewish continuity and part sharing in both the joys and tragedies of life in the Jewish state.

The Goldenbergs, longtime members of Young Israel of Century City, were determined to hold their simcha in Jerusalem as planned, despite the violence of the past month. As the date neared, several of their friends decided not to make the trip, but their rabbi, Elazar Muskin; some 20 families from the Los Angeles area; former L.A. residents living in Israel and a large group of high school graduates studying here for the year made up more than 150 people who gathered in the early-morning sunshine to take part in Evan's Bar Mitzvah overlooking the Western Wall.

Mark and Debbie had long cherished the dream of celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of their son in Jerusalem. Coming from a strongly Zionist family of Holocaust survivors, Mark recalls his own Bar Mitzvah just two months after the Six Day War in 1967. "I remember expressing the hope that I would come to Israel," he says. In fact, Mark spent two years studying at the Netiv Meir Yeshiva before college and has been coming back regularly ever since.

The Goldenbergs wanted to inculcate the same love of Israel into their children. Their oldest daughter, Stephanie, is spending the year at a Zionist girls' seminary, and their two younger daughters, Alyson and Melissa, have already visited the country many times. "All my kids feel at home here," says Mark, who is vice president of the Bureau of jewish Education.

"It's because we feel so much a part of am Yisrael [the people of Israel] that we can't just be here when things are great," Mark declares. "We have to stand together when things get tough. It's now that Israel needs our support...that's why we were determined to be here now," he adds.

Many of those who had traveled from Los Angeles expressed similar sentiments. Dr. Larry Platt, one of Mark Goldenberg's closest friends since their childhood in Detroit and a prominent Los Angeles Jewish community leader, said he would tell fellow Angelenos that more groups should be coming to Israel to show support. "We need to be strong, to show people we care. Our presence is more important than ever," Platt remarked, noting that between his professional and personal interests in the country, he has visited Israel several times during the past year.

Platt's daughter is also attending a Jewish studies program here this year, but there are no plans to bring her home. Felice Greenbaum, another L.A. parent of a student spending the year, said she decided to come to the Bar Mitzvah because she wanted to send the message that "if it's safe enough for our kids, then we're here too."

The Goldenbergs thought about marking Evan's Bar Mitzvah day with something permanent, "something which would outlive all of us, just like the state of Israel," as Mark put it. They chose to commission the writing of a Torah scroll and to save the inscribing of the final letters for the day of the Bar Mitzvah. The Torah, dedicated to Evan's grandparents, will find its permanent home at the Young Israel of Century City. Joyous singing, hugs and faces shining with tears accompanied the ceremony right before the Bar Mitzvah, as scribe Shmuel Rosenfeld put the finishing touches to his year-long project.

Evan, the blond, blue-eyed bar mitzvah, draped in a prayer shawl adorned with silver, read his portion from the new Torah scroll with confidence. Several of the men were clearly distracted by the stunning view from the rooftop outdoor synagogue overlooking the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

When the time came to carry the Torah down from the celebration on the first leg of its long journey to its new home, these Los Angeles doctors, dentists and lawyers made their own impromptu solidarity mission with old Sephardic men, lively yeshiva students and secular tourists. Watched by their delighted wives who clapped and sang along, the Los Angelenos drew the others into their circle as they danced joyously with their Torah underneath a tallit canopy in front of the Wall.

As Evan was hoisted onto the shoulders of a dark, bearded new friend, it was clear that those who had come from L.A. to witness his Jewish coming of age here at the heart of the Jewish nation were swept up in the moment. With joy and pride in his eyes, Mark Goldenberg announced to nobody in particular, "If we'd have canceled this, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life."

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