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Nicholas with his brother Zachary at their home for the bar mitzvah.
Nicholas with his brother Zachary at their home for the bar mitzvah.

A loving big brother

Nicholas G., who has autism, did not have access to the Jewish education he needed for a bar mitzvah ceremony. As a high school senior, his older brother, Zachary, chose to help Nicholas prepare for his bar mitzvah. Zachary did the research to find out the requirements to be considered a bar mitzvah under reformed Jewish law. He learned that the essentials of the ceremony were simpler than he thought. These include a minyan (gathering of ten witnesses), the recitation of the blessings before and after the Torah reading, and the reading of the proper Torah portion. Further, Zachary’s research revealed that the ceremony does not have to take place in an “official” synagogue. A synagogue is any room that contains a Torah. Knowing that, Zachary reached out to a cantor through Jewish Family Services. The cantor loaned a Torah to the family so that Nicholas could more comfortably have his bar mitzvah at home.

Zachary spent four months teaching Nicholas the prayers using a transliteration of the Hebrew text. Zachary’s understanding of his brother included knowing that Nicholas would enjoy the Jewish rituals and customs. Zachary saw and understood his brother’s need for the rite of passage into adult Jewish life. Nicholas’s excitement grew as he came to understand the significance of a bar mitzvah. Nicholas’s bar mitzvah took place at home surrounded by family. Nicholas continues to find joy in his Jewish identity such as observing the Shabbat rituals on Friday nights. With a bit of determination and flexibility, we can all do what Zachary did as a loving brother.

“Nicholas was very proud of himself. Through learning what he needed to know to have the ceremony, he grew fond of Jewish culture which was an unforeseen bonus. I think it’s very important for Jewish children to have this ceremony because it allows them to be part of a great community.”
— Zachary G.

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