A warm Independence Day embrace

The miracle was that all types of Jews, from all different countries, with all different philosophies and attitudes came together to celebrate a righteous convert in his new homeland.

May 16, 2016 20:26
3 minute read.
3D printed kippa

A Jewish youth wears a 3D printed kippa made by computer science Prof. Craig Kaplan of University of Waterloo in Ontario. (photo credit: CRAIG KAPLAN)

Do you know Isaiah? Not the prophet, but the 19-year-old from Atlanta who celebrated his bar mitzva this week with his yeshiva, Chief Rabbi David Lau, the City of Modi’in and his parents, all looking on with pride? If you don’t know Isaiah or his story, you’ve missed another modern-day miracle of Israel that you’re going to want to know about.

Isaiah’s story begins in Connecticut, continues in Atlanta, Georgia, but really takes off this year in Modi’in. While all of Israel celebrated a 68-year-old miracle this past Thursday, Modi’in celebrated a more modern one. One of Israel’s first planned cities, Modi’in’s cornerstone was laid in 1993, but the city dates back to the Maccabees of the well-known Hanukka miracle. The city boasts a population of close to 100,000, but will soon hold over 200,000 Israelis. To drive through Modi’in’s modern and spacious streets, with its parks, malls and shops is to witness the miracle of the State of Israel in action.

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The latest Modi’in miracle took place this past Thursday.

Modi’in is host to a wonderful yeshiva, Migdal Hatorah. Yeshivat Migdal Hatorah caters to American gap-year students, but although it’s a gap-year program over 90 percent of the students stay for two years. Isaiah chose to spend his gap year in Migdal Hatorah because of its focus on analytical skills, love of Israel and individual focus on each student’s unique abilities.

Isaiah has many unique qualities, but one that stands out is his and his families’ decision to convert to Judaism three years ago. It isn’t easy to change course at 16, but Isaiah has gone from zero to budding scholar.

While visiting his rabbi for Shabbat three months ago, Isaiah sat in the synagogue for a local teenager’s bar mitzva. Curious, his rabbi asked him if he had ever had a bar mitzva. Isaiah answered that as a 16-year-old convert he was never taught how to read from the Torah and had never had the classic bar mitzva experience.

The next morning in yeshiva the rabbis discussed putting together a bar mitzva for Isaiah. Knowing how special a day this would be for Isaiah, the yeshiva staff decided to go all out. They booked tickets for Isaiah’s parents to come in and surprise him, asked the synagogue that hosts the yeshiva, Tzie’ri Modi’in, to let Isaiah have his bar mitzva on Independence Day during the main service and teach Isaiah how to read from the Torah.

This past Thursday all the planning came to fruition.

In a crowded synagogue, with the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, present to help celebrate, Isaiah stepped up to the Torah and read to perfection. Singing and dancing commenced, candies were thrown, “Hallel” was said and gratitude was offered to God.

A 19-year-old convert reading from the Torah for the first time isn’t a miracle – although Isaiah might disagree. The miracle was that all types of Jews, from all different countries, with all different philosophies and attitudes came together to celebrate a righteous convert in his new homeland. Isaiah represented what we once were, strangers, and what we strive to be, vatikim, members of the establishment. Isaiah has not only came under the wings of the Divine, but he joined a nation. Last Thursday, that nation, 3,000 years old and 68 years young, welcomed Isaiah, embraced him and welcomed him home. Put all of that together and Isaiah’s bar mitzva was nothing short of a miracle. We’ve built a miraculous state in Israel, but more importantly, we’ve created a miraculously warm and embracing community.

The author is a rabbi at Yeshivat Migdal Hatorah and is privileged to teach Isaiah every day.

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