Giving Isaac a Jewish Life By Nancy Marin (Isaac’s Mom)

 I feel like every person in this world deserves to have a special day that is just about them. Whether it’s a first communion, a special birthday, or a wedding – every person deserves that special day.

For my 13-year old son Isaac, who was diagnosed with autism in 2005, that special day was his Bar Mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age celebration that took place at May Institute in Randolph, Mass.

Isaac is a sweet boy who likes stacking things and knocking them down, playing with toys that have wheels that spin, taking swimming lessons, and being tickled. And he loves bubbles.

Isaac has been attending the May Center School For Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Randolph for the past three years and lives in a nearby group home. He has many staff members there who really love and care for him.

I always knew he was going to have a Bar Mitzvah, but I also knew that it wouldn’t be a traditional ceremony. I knew what it wasn’t going to look like; I just didn’t know what it was going to look like.

One day I asked myself, “What if we make this about figuring out the things he can do?” Then I came up with the idea of identifying 13 different good deeds and ritual observances (Mitzvot) Isaac could do – not only for his Bar Mitzvah, but also for the rest of his life. I felt that by doing that, his father Ken and I would be committing ourselves to giving him a Jewish life on a level that would work for him.

Throughout the year, I videotaped Isaac performing Mitzvot that included lighting the Chanukiah (Chanukah Menorah), giving to charity, and participating in a Passover Seder (a special meal that includes traditional foods, special holiday blessings, songs, and the Exodus story). The 13th and final Mitzvah was helping to raise money for a splash pad for the May Center School.

Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath, the spiritual leader of our synagogue, officiated at Isaac’s Bar Mitzvah. She and I worked together to come up with the plans for the prayers and coordinate other details of the service.

About 30 people attended the ceremony, including Isaac’s teachers and fellow students, family members, and friends.

While school staff helped him put on his new suit, our guests watched Isaac’s Mitzvot video and practiced blowing bubbles from the little containers we placed on every chair. The bubbles were a big hit with Isaac and his guests!

During the ceremony, he was under a very large tallit (a fringed prayer shawl) held by his aunts and uncles. Ken recited blessings, and Isaac was surrounded by people who loved and cared about him. He was so excited – he couldn’t stop smiling the whole day.

Isaac’s Bar Mitzvah was a transformative event. For my family and friends, it was an incredibly meaningful day.

Looking to the future, Ken and I will continue to make sure we are giving him a Jewish life. We will work as a team with family members and teachers at May Institute to bring out the best in Isaac.

When a child’s life path is a difficult one, and you aren’t sure what will be possible, there is an additional sweetness to these kinds of celebrations. The sense of the ceremony being a moving experience was contagious. Birthday parties are lovely, but this was so much more than that. It was a wonderful day for Isaac and his family, and I really feel privileged to have been part of it.
~Rabbi Anne Heath

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