Northern or southern hemisphere?

The makings of a meaningful simha become more complex when families are stretched around the globe.

People release balloons as they celebrate a bar mitzva near the Western Wall (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
People release balloons as they celebrate a bar mitzva near the Western Wall
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
A FEW months before we made aliya, I received a phone call from one of the fabulous organizers at our Jewish school in Johannesburg, South Africa. Effervescent and full of joy as always, Cheryl’s smiley voice rang through the receiver, “Benita-la, I just want to confirm the date for Lirani’s bar mitzva.”
I started to laugh, not because of the affectionate way Cheryl always changed every person’s name into something diminutive and cute, but because our son was only 10 years old at the time! Before I could articulate the fact that I hadn’t quite got down to dates, venues and seating arrangements, Cheryl continued in her inimitable, maternal way, “And I know you’re making aliya, my love, but trust me, it’s better to have a date booked in South Africa anyway. You simply never know what can happen in three years – it might be difficult for older relatives to travel… you might want to all be together in South Africa – you just never know, Benit-sie.”
Fast forward to today, 10 months into my family’s aliya, and Cheryl’s words are echoing in my mind. Where do new immigrants have their simhas? The options are many: The shul your family has been going to for the last 10 months, since you made aliya, with an active, warm community, filled with friends who have welcomed you into their homes like family? The Kotel? No explanations needed.
Masada – including a breathtaking sunrise or sunset? Near the beach in Tel Aviv or Herzliya? In the South African coastal city of Durban, the childhood home of the bar mitzva boy’s parents, where all the grandparents still live? Or Johannesburg, at the same shul where the bar mitzva boy had his bris and where he often sang from the bima (synagogue platform), since he was a pint-sized 8-yearold? So, an exciting range of meaningful choices lies ahead. Northern or southern hemisphere? When our family and close friends are spread across the globe, where do we choose to celebrate? The decision has been made that much easier by our son’s wish to mark this momentous milestone in his life with as many relatives as possible. He feels that if his grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, many cousins and close friends are around, he is ready to celebrate this special simha anywhere in the world.
Then there’s the hesed route, in which many bar mitzva boys and bat mitzva girls around the globe choose a charity or campaign to help, in conjunction with their simhas.
Our son’s fascination with the United Hatzalah medical rescue organization will definitely see part of his celebrations marked at their headquarters in Jerusalem.
For his younger sister and her pending bat mitzva, it will be slightly different. She wants her family and her two best friends from South Africa at her big day. With just a 16-month age difference between the two children, it would make perfect sense to celebrate the two simhas over the same period.
Or is that just the thinking of a practical parent? At this stage, the double celebration is not an enticing option for neither our future bar mitzva boy nor bat mitzva girl.
Maybe we have enough time to change their minds?