Last Shabbat, Ari Meyerowitz became a Bar Mitzvah at Ramat Shalom, my congregation in South Florida. As his parents, Aimee and Brian, came up on the bimah to present him with his great-grandfather’s tallit, Brian shared a beautiful story with his son. He explained that Ari’s great-grandfather became a Bar Mitzvah 90 years ago in Chicago. His family couldn’t afford to pay for the tutoring that was necessary for him to become a Bar Mitzvah, but Ari’s great-grandfather was determined to experience this major Jewish milestone. So, he approached the folks at the local synagogue. Winter was beginning and, if you know Chicago, winters in the Windy City are no joke. Ari’s great-grandfather told the synagogue leadership that he would personally put the coal in the synagogue’s furnace to ensure that the building remained warm. He asked that instead of being paid for this work, he simply be given the tutoring necessary to become a Bar Mitzvah. The leaders agreed. The synagogue remained comfortable and Ari’s great-grandfather got to become a Bar Mitzvah and experience this important Jewish transition into adulthood.

Once Brian was done telling the story, he and Aimee wrapped Ari in this very special tallit. As they did so, I realized that while Ari’s great-grandfather is no longer physically here with us, the light and heat that he created in the basement of that synagogue in Chicago, are still going strong – evidenced by his great-grandson’s passion to become Bar Mitzvah himself. While we don’t have or need a coal burning furnace here at Ramat Shalom, Ari’s dedication to learning, coupled with his tremendous skills on the bimah, had the same effect on our congregation that his great-grandfather’s willingness to maintain the furnace had on his synagogue in Chicago. Both of them made their community stronger.

Ari was and remains an inspiration. He touched us all last Shabbat – so much so that his mom, Aimee, decided that after watching all three of her children become Bar/Bat Mitzvah – two of them right here at Ramat Shalom – it’s now time for her to follow in their footsteps. And so, Aimee will be joining our Adult B’nai Mitzvah Class this summer and doing her part to keep the light of Judaism strong!

Many of you reading this are proudly affiliated with a congregation and/or connected in some other meaningful way to the Jewish community. Your affiliation, your connection is your way of kindling the light that is our tradition. By actively belonging to the Jewish people, you’re doing your part to ensure that the next generation has a place to discover their faith, that adults of all ages have a place to call their spiritual home and that Judaism remains an inspirational light to anyone seeking meaning and purpose today.

Ari’s great-grandfather’s commitment to his synagogue and his faith made such a difference. Please know that your commitment to our Jewish community does the same thing – making us stronger and brighter. And remember, it’s never too late to connect, to be part of the Jewish people. As always, I’m available to help you find your place in the Jewish world – it’s there and it’s waiting for you.

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