On the Jewish holiday of Purim, which took place 3 weeks ago, there is a custom to give mishloach manot, gifts of ready to eat food, to friends. While most people give “eat now” food—things which can be consumed right away, some have the custom of giving Kosher for Passover foods which can be eaten exactly one month later on Passover. I am happy that the Chessler Family is in the first category!
Noah Chessler celebrated his bar mitzvah February 25th on Purim evening. It was not the Purim bar mitzvah Noah or his family had envisioned. For years, the Chesslers were anticipating a Purim bar mitzvah and party with an in person megillah reading and costumes, accompanied by hot dogs, cotton candy, games, booths and other festivities for all guests to enjoy. Instead, the bar mitzvah took place in their apartment, on Zoom. In the age of Covid, Zoom bar mitzvahs have become the norm. And it is up to families to make these events meaningful and fun.
I recently wrote an article about the Moving Traditions organization, and their guide booklet for Zoom bar and mitzvahs. One key takeaway from Moving Traditions, rabbis and families interviewed is that these do-it-yourself b’mitzvahs have offered an unprecedented opportunity for a return to meaning and basics—with less emphasis on dress, invitations and the party. And they are empowering to families.
The Chesslers hired a skeleton crew to make sure the Zoom and the videos ran smoothly, they borrowed a megillah (Scroll of Esther) from Noah’s grandfather, and purchased cute and simple costumes (Ramen Noodle, potato chips and Heinz Ketchup t-shirts) for the family. Noah read several megillah chapters “live,” from his home, while family and friends read megillah chapters from locations from New York to Massachusetts, California and even Israel! The Chesslers made a truly inclusive and festive celebration out of a pretty straightforward 10-chapter story. They essentially embellished the 10-chapter story by telling it in 20 acts with friends and sharing pre-recorded videos, tributes to Noah and more.
I was one of Noah’s teachers and was lucky enough to be on-site to help Noah lead maariv, the evening prayer, “spot him” as he read from the scroll, address him and present him with a bar mitzvah gift. I was also able to quickly change out of my dress clothes to sport an Israeli basketball uniform for most of the megillah reading. It was a really fun evening!
Noah's mom liked being able to personalize the experience and bring in and engage guests and participants. “It really made the event feel lively and warm!” In addition, she notes a silver lining of Zoom–“active” participation from Israel, Canada, the UK, Belize, and across the US including Oregon and New Hampshire!
I was impressed by nearly every decision the Chessler Family made in order to make the bar mitzvah fun and meaningful. One decision which was particularly close to my heart was Noah and the family’s support of three disability owned businesses as they planned their mishloach manot/guest bags. They provided gift bags and t-shirts printed by Spectrum Designs (https://www.spectrumdesigns.org/), flavored popcorn by Popcorn for the People (https://www.popcornforthepeople.com/), and chocolate covered treats by Truly Scrumptious by Alexa (https://www.trulyscrumptiousbyalexa.com/). Please read about Jewish organizations and individuals who have found ways to support disability owned businesses—and please consider ways to do the same!
Noah’s very special bar mitzvah is a recent memory, and Pesach is almost here. We are all feeling hopeful that we will soon be able to return to in person prayer services and bar and bat mitzvahs. May we continue to offer Zoom options as needed and appropriate, and may we continue to search for meaning—supporting disability owned businesses in the process is one great way!