Same bar mitzva, same synagogue, 70 years later

Same bar mitzva, same synagogue, 70 years later

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

On March 3, 2012, Alan Moscowitz of West Orange will share the bima with another bar mitzva boy as he celebrates the milestone of Jewish adulthood.

It’s a ritual he observed once before at the same synagogue — but that time, he was 13, the rabbi was Joachim Prinz, and the location, though still Temple B’nai Abraham, was Newark. It was March 14, 1942.

Plenty of people have celebrated the 70th anniversary of becoming a bar mitzva, a tradition based in the Book of Psalms. But few get to do it in the same congregation in which they grew up. As Moscowitz pointed out, “In my whole life I’ve had only three rabbis: Rabbi Prinz, Rabbi Friedman, and Rabbi Kulwin. I’ve always belonged to B’nai Abraham!”

Prinz, a German refugee, led the synagogue from 1939 until 1976, three years after it moved from Newark to Livingston. Rabbi Clifford Kulwin succeeded Rabbi Barry Friedman in 1999.

Moscowitz recalled in a telephone interview that during his 1942 bar mitzva, he gave the aliya blessing for the Torah, chanted the haftara, and made a speech. He also fulfilled another time-honored custom: “I think I did receive a fountain pen,” he said.

And he remembered the party that followed. “There was a big celebration. The temple in Newark had a very large social hall, the Gertrude Aaronson Hall. I remember the cocktail party in the gymnasium, and the floral arrangements were spectacular. It was a black-tie affair.”

But it differed in one important way from today’s fancy bar mitzva parties: “In those days, it was mostly adults and just a few cousins. Ninety percent of the guests were adults.”

This time around, the ceremony had more meaning for him.

“I have to confess, at that time, it was something my parents said I was going to do, and I did it.” Although he had to relearn some skills for the upcoming service, he said, “It means a lot to me because I have a feeling toward Judaism that I didn’t have in Hebrew school, but that came later on.”

It was during the Korean War, while he was in Kobe, Japan, that that feeling blossomed.

“I went to synagogue there for the High Holy Days in 1951 with a bunch of other GIs. It was a moment in my life. I reconnected to Judaism.” It was finding the synagogue so far from home, he said, that did it. “We Jews have been spread out all over the world, and we really have one thing in common that has kept us together: the synagogue.”

He added, “Rabbi Prinz once said about the Sh’ma that the word ‘one’ refers to the oneness of the people. It’s a peoplehood. That’s what I believe.”

Although there won’t be a black-tie affair this time around, Moscowitz is looking forward to a special kiddush luncheon, with his wife Marlene, two sons, daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters, as well as close friends.

And he is also looking forward to sharing the bima with 13-year-old Coby Weiss, who will celebrate becoming bar mitzva for the first time.

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