Zack’s Virtual Bar Mitzvah: A New Jersey Family Shares Their Story

Zack’s Virtual Bar Mitzvah: A New Jersey Family Shares Their Story

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, many Bar Bat Mitzvah families are sharing their child’s Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah service with family and friends virtually, via livestream, virtual meeting sites or Facebook Live.

The decision to go virtual may be bittersweet, but as one recent Bar Mitzvah family explains, the Bar Mitzvah service will still be memorable, meaningful and filled with joy. Following is a first-hand account of a virtual Bar Mitzvah from Julie Rabinowitz, co-founder of Jubilana, a full service Bar Bat Mitzvah invitation and logo company based in New Jersey.

Julie’s son, Zack, became a Bar Mitzvah on Saturday, March 21st at Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge, NJ.

(Photo above L-R: dad Dave, Zack, older brother Jake, younger brother Will, mom Julie).

Making the Decision to Go Virtual

A week and a half before Zack’s Bar Mitzvah is when everything with COVID-19 began to unfold. We were told by our Rabbi about a week before the Bar Mitzvah that the service would most likely need to be livestreamed. However, at that point, we still thought we would be allowed to have a small group of family and close friends in attendance. As the spread and severity of the virus began to unravel almost by the hour, we were told two days later that only our immediate family of five would be able to attend. We were particularly upset that Zack’s grandparents would not be able to be there – something they had been looking forward to for many years. We were given the option to either have a virtual service or to reschedule the Bar Mitzvah to a future date. We gave our son the choice, and he decided that he would prefer to stick with the date he had been anticipating for the past two years rather than to postpone it. The thought of studying and preparing for several more months (or possibly a year) was disheartening to him.

Notifying Guests

Before everything with COVID-19 really started developing in the area, we were told there was a slight chance that there could be an issue with holding the Bar Mitzvah service. We sent out an email to see who would still be comfortable attending both the service and the celebratory lunch we had planned. Literally within a half hour of sending that email, we got word that the schools would be closing beginning the following week. 

We soon realized that only a small group of family would likely be permitted to join us for the service. We sent a follow-up email to the majority of our guests explaining that regretfully they would not be able to attend the service, and that we were canceling the lunch. Ultimately we learned that, due to new state regulations restricting group gatherings, only our immediate family of five could be there so we called our extended family.

Technical Logistics 

Rabbi Jim Stoloff and Cantor Maria Dubinsky (and other members of the temple) made it possible to have the virtual service for which we were extremely grateful. Because our temple did not have the capability to livestream at that point, they originally suggested that we broadcast the service through Zoom. We were concerned about the quality of the video, so one of my son’s friends generously allowed us to borrow his video camera and equipment so we would have back-up video. On Thursday, we found out that the service would be livestreamed through Facebook Live. The Friday evening Shabbat service that Zack helped lead the night before was also streamed this way, and fortunately, it worked out very well.

Social Distancing During the Service

The service went very well – so much better than we had expected. I had anticipated it would feel like a rehearsal in an empty sanctuary. However, our Rabbi and Cantor really did an amazing job making the service feel as normal, festive and special as most other Mitzvah services. So although nobody was physically in the sanctuary with us, it almost felt as though we were sharing the Mitzvah with a crowd. We were incredibly proud of Zack; he did an amazing job, especially considering the circumstances. 

The only thing that was a little awkward was the social distancing we had to adhere to. For example, neither the Rabbi or Cantor could stand next to Zack during his Torah reading, and he had to be coached by them from afar as to how to unroll the Torah and find his portion by himself. It was also disappointing that he didn’t have the opportunity to have the Torah passed down from generation to generation or to walk around the sanctuary with it – two parts of the service that are so meaningful to me.

Amazingly, there have been over 400 views on Facebook Live, almost four times more people than the number of guests we had originally invited! We were so touched to see that many friends whom we haven’t seen in many years watched the service and commented on the video post. It really is amazing how helpful social media can be in a situation like this.

Photo Gallery From Virtual Bar Mitzvah Service

Managing Emotions

Throughout the whole process, with everything changing by the day in regards to his Bar Mitzvah service, number of guests allowed, celebratory lunch changing and re-changing and then being canceled, Zack handled everything unbelievably well. Although I know he was very disappointed, he was very accepting of the situation, and dealt with everything much better than my husband and I! At the service, he had mixed feelings – he felt more relaxed about not being in front of a physical crowd, but rather nervous knowing that he might be watched by many, many people.

It was extremely disappointing not to be able to share his Bar Mitzvah in person with any family or friends. In making our decision, we know some family members who were anxiously awaiting celebrating this milestone were very upset. Our Rabbi and Cantor have assured us that if Zack chooses to he can have a ‘redo’ of his Bar Mitzvah down the road once everything settles to which we can invite all of our family and friends.

Rescheduling the Party

As of now, we have not rescheduled the celebration. Since we don’t know when everything will be back to normal, coupled with the frustration of re-planning our original celebration at a smaller scale twice in one week, we are putting it on hold right now. It’s very disappointing, as I had designed a logo, centerpieces, favors, as well as the rest of the event design. Perhaps our younger son will choose the same theme in four years and we can re-purpose everything! I also want to mention that our venue and vendors were very understanding and fair when we decided to cancel everything.
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Mazel Tov to the Rabinowitz family and thank you for sharing your Bar Mitzvah story with us. We know many other families are in the same situation. Your story shows that the Bar or Bat Mitzvah service can go on…

Thousands of Bar and Bat Mitzvah families are sharing information and ideas about virtual Mitzvahs, re-booking their celebrations and more in Mitzvah Market’s 17 regional Facebook groups. Join here

Posted in Mitzvah Spotlight, Family, Mitzvah Spotlight