Jews as well as many non-Jews typically attend bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies many times throughout their lives. A few of these celebrations will stand out in your mind: your own, those of your children and grandchildren, perhaps a few others. I grow misty-eyed at this time of year on two Shabbatim because my older daughter chanted the haftorah for Lech Lecha, and my younger daughter did so for Chayei Sarah.

And I happen to remember a few other times people chanted the haftorah for Lech Lecha. Without giving away too many details, I recall a grown man who chanted it to mark a milestone anniversary in his life, the 50th anniversary of his bar mitzvah. His rendition sounded awful and embarrassing. It seemed as if he had not prepared, making so many mistakes in pronouncing words as well as the trup, the notes. If you could hear audience members cringe, then this was one such occasion.

My own daughter recited it quite nicely. She has a good but not amazing singing voice, and she sounded comfortable as she sang. She only made a few minor errors and paced it well. And we convinced her to read it the next year as well (and we also gave her a gift for her effort).

This year for Lech Lecha I heard a most remarkable rendering of the haftorah and brachot. What made it special was that the bar mitzvah teen boy, J, is on the autism spectrum. He read the haftorah quite well, although you could tell that his singing was not operatic. However, he pronounced the words correctly and what impressed everyone so much was that this boy, who faces many academic and emotional challenges, did such a strong job. It was obvious that he practiced a great deal, and in a rather poignant touch, at the end he turned to his teacher and said "I think I did the best job I've ever done so far." He said so because this is his personality, not boastful but without what you might call a "screener."

His family members were of course so very proud of him, but I was as well. Not out of a sense of pity, and believe me, I have sat through services featuring teens who chanted their haftorah portions in an awkward, atonal, or unpracticed fashion that was not enjoyable, but rather an endurance test. (But one should strive to be polite and I have been.) I have also sat through a few services featuring teens who read rather well. But I do not think I ever sat through a bat mitzvah haftorah reading that was quite as unusual and remarkable as J's. You really have to pull for a kid like this.

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