This past year has changed the landscape of reality, of normalcy, for so many of us. Faced with unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, Gateways pivoted to continue serving our students and families through it all. As schools were closing their doors, we bolstered our online programs and provided therapy services remotely. As educators worked to meet new student needs, our therapists and coaches developed new strategies to help them. And as countless celebrations were postponed, the Gateways B’nei Mitzvah program held its 89th simchah—celebration—with our virtual community.
The story of our 89th bar Mitzvah is a truly special one. For so many of us, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a significant milestone that brings our family and community together. We come together to recognize this young adult coming of age in the tradition of our Jewish heritage. With such an important moment on the horizon, you can imagine the excitement—and subsequent disappointment—of many families who prepared for such an occasion for months or even years, only to be forced to drastically revise their plans due to the pandemic.
Now we come to Yair*, our 89th B’nei Mitzvah celebration. Yair worked painstakingly in our B’nei Mitzvah program to prepare for his precious milestone. His family has all said the same thing: between the pandemic and Yair’s personal struggles, they truly thought that their family would never be able to take part in a meaningful Bar Mitzvah experience.
How did we make this possible? Gateways educators and a professional tutor worked individually with Yair to learn the prayers and the parshah—the weekly Torah portion—for his Bar Mitzvah. Not only did they work with him on these recitations, but they worked together with Yair to compose and revise his d’var Torah—a personal story connected to the parshah. Our staff also collaborated with his synagogue to help plan the structure of the service and helped them prepare Yair for his celebration.
Through the relationships our educators had built with Yair, they tailored this virtual gathering with an entire community to embrace Yair as he entered the realm of Jewish adulthood. To shape the service to his interests and needs, he accompanied the rabbi during much of the morning service on the piano. Yair even wrote a new song for his Bar Mitzvah: a jazzy composition inspired by the words of Yotzeir Or (Creator of Light). Everyone was glued to their computer screens, dancing and rejoicing over the wide smile on Yair’s face as he achieved this new milestone in his life.
As we make our way through these tumultuous times, there is one constant that our families can count on. Gateways will always adapt and create ways to ensure no child is left out of our Jewish tradition. On behalf of the hundreds of families and children who are able to learn and grow in our life-changing programs, thank you for your ongoing generosity.
*name has been changed to preserve privacy