The photo above is the scene I encountered at my hotel in Greenwich, CT one hour before Shabbat this past weekend as we attempted to celebrate a several times rescheduled Covid bar mitzvah. Blackout!
As if Covid cancelling a very special bar/bat mitzvah in Israel in June of first cousins wasn’t enough, Hurricane Isaias decided to come along and knock out power to nearly two million people in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The hotel, where the rescheduled, socially distanced, bar mitzvah was scheduled to take place, did not lose power—at first. But, late Friday morning, as the electric company was working to untangle and reattach power lines and restore power to everyone, the power to the hotel was cut.
With one hour to go before Shabbat, there was no guarantee the bar mitzvah could take place in the hotel Saturday late afternoon. I was driving to the hotel and was 30 minutes away. The bar mitzvah mom was understandably nervous. “Could we do it Sunday over brunch?” She wondered if maybe I should go home and come back the next day. I didn’t have the heart to say we don’t generally read torah on Sundays. But then again, some compassionate rabbis are allowing students to read the torah portion from their “cancelled” b’nai mitzvah, even months later. “We will make it work—I will come up with a backup plan!”
Like most people in the world, I haven’t spent the night anywhere but my own home for more than 5 months. I had reviewed the hotel website and saw all of the new procedures and precautions they had in place—cleaning, distancing, special pack out breakfasts, hand sanitizer, etc. I was still nervous. I was lucky enough to get a room with a huge window which opened when I opened the two big doors. At least I would have great ventilation—if only I could find the room!
On this particular erev Shabbat (Friday before the Sabbath), every guest had to be let in to their rooms in the same way Sabbath observers are let in on the Sabbath—escorted by a hotel clerk with a master key. In this case, they also had a flashlight!
I dropped my stuff on the bed and took off for a quick walking tour/explore of the Greenwich waterfront. Where could we have a bar mitzvah IF the hotel and their restaurant (with outdoor dining) didn’t allow it to take place? Luckily, the hotel was located next to the water where yachts anchor. And there was a nice promenade and a city park (with a skate park!). As the bar mitzvah family, grandparents and out of town guests dined at a restaurant in town (which still has power), I sent photos of 4 or 5 possible places where we could hold the bar mitzvah. We’d walk the torah to the park picnic table (which we’d sanitize and cover); or, we’d sit on the steps near the marina.
I got back to the hotel 5 minutes before candle lighting and saw lights in the lobby. Was the power restored? No such luck. A yacht with a generator was kind enough to let the hotel bring a long orange cord from the yacht to the lobby.
I prayed, made Kiddush and hamotzi, ate dinner, read until it was pitch black (in 15 minutes) and went to bed. At 6, I woke up—to light in the bathroom! It seems the power was restored at 5:45 am!
The bar mitzvah proceeded as planned! Chairs were spaced out in a reception room for the 30 guests. Everyone received a prayer book, kipah and face mask. We celebrated the bar mitzvah on Harlan’s actual birthday with Harlan reading torah, leading prayers, and delivering a very thoughtful d’var torah–and we celebrated outdoors with a lovely sit down dinner. What a special day! All we need to do is reschedule the Israel part of the bar mitzvah. It will happen!