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Gary Turetsky

My Journey to This Moment

– Gary Turetsky, June 16, 2018

How and why did I come to make the commitment to become an adult Bnai Mitzvah? Back in March of this year, at the Shabbat service honoring Rabbi Holin’s many years of involvement with the adult Bnai Mitzvah program at Kol Ami, I was asked to respond as representative of this year’s graduates to that question. Those of you who were there that day and heard me speak, and many of you who were not there but have asked me informally about my journey to this day, know that my answer was somewhat different from the standard offering. That is because unlike most of the Kol Ami adult Bnai Mitzvah alumnae, I entered this program even though I had already become Bar Mitzvah at the regulation age of 13. I learned to read and chant from the Torah and learned the blessings as a child, and became Bar Mitzvah before my then congregation in Oxford Circle, only a few miles from this sanctuary, on April 10, 1965. I proudly wear today the tallit I wore for the first time that day, a gift from my parents.

So why do this journey again, starting in 2016? Was it just so my father could brag, in jest, to his many friends in the congregation that he is that rare parent who gets to see his son bar mitzvahed twice? No, that was not the reason. As I related to the congregation last March, I started this journey simply as a way of keeping my mind occupied after retirement from my career as a school teacher. I had already attended some adult education classes here which I found to be stimulating, one Friday night service Rabbi Holin mentioned that the next adult Bnai Mitzvah class was starting, I approached him during the Oneg and asked if I could do it even though I was already Bar Mitzvah, he said sure, and so I did.

Thus began my journey to this day of celebration and of feelings which I did not anticipate I would be experiencing when I signed up, almost by accident, for the program two years ago. The rewards of taking this second journey into Jewish learning have been great for me and far surpassed my original expectations. In the process of learning and relearning Hebrew and chanting with Roz and Rebecca, and in the process of engaging with Rabbi Holin and my fellow students in dialogues about Torah, the prayers, the history and philosophy of Reform Judaism, and the importance of Israel in our lives, I have a better understanding of the positive role that Judaism can play in my life, in the life of my family, and in society, and I now feel a deeper connection to prayer and our congregation which I hope will inspire my work as a newly elected member of the Board. And thanks to this course my community of good friends at Kol Ami has grown to include the wonderful people graduating with me today.

I want to finish by again quoting the words of Rabbi Harold Kushner, famous especially for his book “When Bad Things Happen to GoodPeople”, words which I cited in my March bnai mitzvah alumnae service remarks, and which have special meaning to me as a two-time Bar Mitzvah. Rabbi Kushner writes: “Becoming Bar Mitzvah at age thirteen was meant to begin, not to conclude, the process of learning what it means to be a Jew….If our perception of Judaism is still based on what we were told as children, we may well think in terms of doing things – going to services, keeping kosher, telling the truth – in order to please God. If we can outgrow that childhood notion we will come to understand that living a seriously Jewish life is not a matter of winning God’s favor but of growing as a human being.”

The journey to today for me has, indeed, been a fulfilling opportunity for continuing Jewish learning and growth, a process, as Rabbi Kushner, wisely teaches, which is ongoing and life long, and not something that stops when you are first called to the Torah as a bar or bat mitzvah. And for giving me this opportunity I want to again thank Rabbi Holin, Roz, Rebecca, and my fellow Bnai Mitzvah.