Jewish Journal

‘Boy’ Puts a New Twist on an Old Rite

by Carla Zeitlin

Posted on Nov. 14, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Most bar mitzvah boys expect presents -- jewelry, vacations or money. So it's no surprise that Herb Citrin, a recent bar mitzvah, asked for money -- and lots of it -- but he asked that it be contributed to the Guardians of the Jewish Home for the Aging.

Citrin isn't your typical bar mitzvah boy. He celebrated his rite of passage at the age of 80. But the ceremony was unusual for other reasons, too. The rabbi who called him up to the bimah at Stephen S. Wise Temple was his son, Rabbi Paul Citrin, who is the rabbi at Temple Sinai in Palm Desert. His bar mitzvah tutor? Citrin's grandson, Micah, who sang and accompanied him on the guitar.

Why did Citrin wait so long for his bar mitzvah? He grew up in Boyle Heights and also in Glassel Park, where it was "99 percent gentile," Citrin said, and had no synagogue. As a youngster, it was difficult for him to get a formal Jewish education. The school was miles from his house, and his mother, who kept a traditional Jewish home, didn't drive; his father worked nights and slept during the day. So his 13th birthday passed without a bar mitzvah.

But to see that his children could have the Jewish education Citrin never had, his first wife, Harriett Jane Rosenmeyer, "was the guiding light" in ensuring that the family joined a temple. In 1963, Citrin and his family left Temple Emanuel with Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin to found Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Citrin's son, Paul, was bar mitzvahed there, and his daughter, Laurie, was confirmed there. Paul became a rabbi and one of his two grandsons, Micah, is now a third-year student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. "I couldn't be more proud of my son and grandson," Herb told The Journal.

Like most bar mitzvah boys, the octogenarian delivered a speech, thanking God for all his blessings: a loving family, close friends and colleagues, health and, most importantly, his second wife, Ione, a professional artist. Citrin also gave thanks for being "blessed to be able to give time and money to The Jewish Federation, the Jewish Home for the Aging and Gateways Hospital."

After the bar mitzvah, everyone shuffled next door to enjoy a salmon-and-salad reception and a live band playing Jewish songs. Flower arrangements in vibrant fall colors adorned the tables, and in the front of the room was a full-sized laminated photo of Citrin in a bikini bathing suit -- showing off his body and toned muscles.

Guest also watched a slide show of scenes from Citrin's life, from boyhood up until his bar mitzvah. The scenes showed a slender, handsome man playing tennis and dancing. Guests laughed when the slides showed Citrin and Ione in costumes, like the couple in Grand Wood's "American Gothic."

Unlike most young bar mitzvah boys, Citrin has led a full life. After his discharge from the Navy in 1945, when he was "a radio and sonar man on submarines," Citrin parked cars at Lawry's restaurant, he said, "when prime rib dinners cost $1.25."

The budding entrepreneur decided to make the parking concession his own. "I was making more money parking cars than many doctors and lawyers."

He began running the parking concessions at other dining establishments on La Cienega Boulevard's Restaurant Row and soon established Valet Parking Services (VPS) -- the first of its kind in the city. Today, VPS contracts with hotels, airports and the entertainment industry. Citrin is still chairman and "chief nudzh" of his company. When not working, Citrin plays tennis, lifts weights and walks daily.

During the bar mitzvah, each guest received a large chocolate key saying, "Herb's Key to Youth: Growing Old is Not for Sissies."

Carla Zeitlin is a personal fitness trainer, who specializes in training seniors, and a health and fitness writer.

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