by Ettie Kryksman
A short while ago my husband and I had the great privilege of attending our first grandson Benny’s bar mitzvah. We felt truly blessed to have been able to celebrate this momentous occasion. A boy’s bar mitzvah, that long-awaited date, is anticipated by parents from practically the moment of their son’s birth. Arrangements for the big event are planned almost from that time as well! Even when Benny (Binyamin Ephraim) was a toddler, and his bar mitzvah seemed a long way off, the anticipated nachas of our little grandson’s bar mitzvah was always in our prayers.
Little did we realize back then, that Benny would choose to celebrate his bar mitzvah, in Jerusalem, at the Kosel. It was a choice between laining in shul followed by a party with family and friends, or a small family gathering in Jerusalem where he would lain at the Kosel. For Benny, the choice was clear. He would forgo the party for the trip to Israel. And so, it came to pass, that we did just that!
Of course, since the actual bar mitzvah laining is time sensitive, some family members were regrettably, not able to attend. That was the downside. Nevertheless, we were not going to miss this once in a lifetime event of our first grandson’s bar mitzvah, and so we made arrangements to be there.
Having never seen a bar mitzvah at the Kosel, I had no idea what to expect. We arrived in Israel on the Monday before the bar mitzvah, which was scheduled to take place the following Thursday morning.
We met at the Shaar Ashpa Gate outside of the Kosel, where were joined by my daughter-in-law’s family who live in Israel, and even by some friends who surprised us by attending. A small group of three musicians, playing the drums, the clarinet and the shofar, were there to lead the procession from the Shaar Ashpa Gate to the Kosel. Surrounded by our family, Benny stood like a chosson, under a chuppah. Four family members had the honor of holding the four poles of the chuppah. The musical procession of family and friends, accompanied Benny to the Kosel, waving balloons to add to the festivities.
About half way to the Kosel entrance everyone stopped to dance with the bar mitzvah boy. The joy of the occasion seemed to permeate our surroundings as well, radiating all around us, as delighted spectators stopped to take pictures, and seemed to share in our simchah!
One of the musicians leading the procession instructed us to count down in unison from 10 to 1, and then to let go of our balloons, all at once. As we watched the blue and white balloons ascend higher and higher, blending magically into a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds, many thoughts ran through my mind. As I looked up at the bright blue skies and followed the balloons’ ascent, I thought of my parents who were not there physically to help us celebrate our simchah.
Though all grandparents love their children and grandchildren, some grandparents are more involved than others in the lives of their grandchildren, whether it be due to distance separating them, or due to the various obligations and responsibilities of everyday life. My parents were Holocaust survivors. Having lost their own families, their children and grandchildren were always their main priority. Consequently, the relationship my parents had with their grandchildren was very special.
My father was blessed with knowing and spending time with most of his great grandchildren. My mother, however, passed away when Benny was only a year old. I thought of the joy Benny brought to my parents, and how proud my dad was of Benny. I remembered one-year-old Benny, and the look of sheer joy his sweet little baby face brought to my mother’s face, which totally lit up when he smiled at her. I felt both my parents looking down at us and sending their love and blessings. It was a very emotional moment for me, which I will never forget. It was at that very moment when the full impact of the occasion hit home.
As we watched our balloons ascending, I felt like a precious dream, held onto for so long, was being played out before our very eyes, even as it disappeared from our vision. As we lost sight of our balloons, we let go of that moment, and were ready to proceed.
As an afterthought, as I recount my thoughts and our experience in Israel, it occurs to me now, for the first time, how ironic it is that our balloons were symbolic of a happy occasion celebrated in our holy land of Eretz Yisroel, while in another part of Israel the innocence of those balloons has been taken away and replaced with balloons of hate. But at the time, thankfully none of those far away thoughts could surface, to diminish the joy and sanctity of our special celebration.
We davened at the Kosel. Benny read from his Torah portion beautifully. My precious baby grandson was becoming a fine young man, taking his place among the people of Israel, in Israel, at the Western Wall. My husband and I couldn’t have been prouder grandparents. We realized what a blessing it truly was for our family to be standing at the Western Wall, free to joyously pray, and free to celebrate this wonderful occasion at the holiest of places, in Eretz Yisrael. We all realized how truly blessed we were to be there.
In my heart I know that though Benny’s great grandparents were not physically there with us, they surely were as proud as we were. May Binyamin Ephraim continue to bring us all great nachas!
As my parents’ yahrtzeit dates are three weeks apart, both coming up, I would like to dedicate this article to my mother, Fella Loschak (Feiga bas Aharon Hakohen) on her 11th yahrtzeit on the 14th day of Shevat, and to my father, Arthur Loschak (Asher Anschel ben Chaim Hakohen) on his fifth yahrtzeit on the sixth day of Adar. May their memories be a blessing.