My special family’s b’nei mitzvah, by Josie Dawson

Being one of triplets presents a challenge in having an individual bar or bat mitzvah regardless of the circumstances. However, our b’nei mitzvah was quite different to that of the norm … My brother has severe cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia and other learning difficulties. Consequently, this presented a challenge to my family – how was Ben (my brother) going to mark this rite of passage in his own unique way? Being members of Finchley Reform Synagogue, my sister and I were going to have the mitzvah of being called up to read from the Torah. However, this was not going to be possible for Ben. So, we got together as a family, with our rabbi (Rabbi Miriam Berger) and we began to think of ideas for what Ben could do in the service.

We all knew that Ben loved music and therefore, that should be a large part of his bar mitzvah. Rabbi Miriam Berger came up with idea to use Psalm 150, Hallelujah. Within the psalm it talks about praising G-d through musical instruments such as the ‘lute’ and ‘pipe’. Therefore, we all thought that this would be a brilliant basis for Ben as he loves music, especially live music. We decided that we would incorporate the actual instruments from the psalm into Ben’s piece in some way. We had family friends and people we knew that played similar instruments to those mentioned in the psalm (such as flute instead of a pipe and a guitar instead of a lute). We thought it would be nice if we used them in some way playing the instruments at the certain parts in the song where the instrument is mentioned. My parents received a recording device from Ben’s school with which they recorded our friends playing the instruments. After a lot of practise (like Rachel and I were with our bat mitzvah portions) Ben learnt when to press the device to the right instrument at the right time during the song with support and help from one of Ben’s old school teachers.

The actual day on 3rd May 2008, Rachel, Ben and I had our b’nei mitzvah. Ben’s part of the service surprised, inspired and moved everyone that witnessed his accomplishment that day with the help of many special people along the way.

With thanks to Josie and her family, for sharing their experiences.