“A NEVER ENDING SIMCHA – THE TWO BAR MITZVAHS FOR BARUCH SHLOMO” by Fern Sidman

As reported in the last issue of The Jewish Connection, a special Bar Mitzvah celebration was held on Rosh Chodesh Adar, Sunday February 14th, for a very special boy named Baruch Shlomo HaLevi Gershbein, but is appears that yet another Bar Mitzvah was held for this much loved boy on Sunday, March 7th and was organized in conjunction with the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services and Mishkan. As previously reported, Baruch Shlomo was diagnosed with autism and PDD-NOS as a toddler and while his severely limited verbal and comprehensive skills may militate against his pronunciations of the appropriate blessings, his family was determined to afford him the same opportunity as other Jewish boys of his age.

On Sunday morning, February 14th, 50 plus guests including family and friends gathered at Congregation Khal Bnei Yisroel located in the Midwood section of Brooklyn to partake in the glorious celebration. As Baruch Shlomo completed his stalwart attempt to recite the blessings, a palpable joy filled the synagogue as the congregation burst forth with strains of “Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov” the traditional words sung at a simcha (joyous occasion). “I have known Baruch Shlomo since the day he was born and I can sincerely say that he is a simply adorable boy who radiates a certain “Chein” (charm and love) and his infectious smile lights up the world” said Frimet Tzirel Rosenblatt, a close family friend. Among those thanking the assemblage for their unwavering support and encouragement were Baruch Shlomo’s parents, Rabbi Steven Gershbein, Baruch’s mother Chaviva Gershbein, his paternal grandparents, Stanley and Carol Gershbein of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and his great Aunt Lila of Oceanside, New York.

During his speech, the boy’s father, Rabbi Steven (Shmuel) Gershbein (a noted Brooklyn attorney specializing in representing the civil rights of the handicapped community as well as a rabbi dedicated to opening up the riches of Judaism to special needs individuals) spoke of the joys and challenges of raising a special needs child. “Baruch Shlomo have never given me a moment of sorrow. He gives me no pain. He has only given me joy. Raising a special needs child is hard. It is challenging and anyone who tells you that it is not an arduous, back breaking and soul crushing task is not telling the truth. While the challenges are indeed far greater than in raising a non-special needs child, so too are those moments of intensified sweetness when your autistic child permits you to make eye contact and your heart swells with love”, he said.

The synagogue event was made even more lively by the musical stylings of Rabbi Hazan and Yankel Glazerson.

On Sunday, March 7th, those sentiments were repeated as Baruch Shlomo was treated to yet another joyous Bar Mitzvah celebration organized in conjunction with The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services and Mishkan. Nearly 100 people including more than three dozen profoundly handicapped and special needs individuals assembled to declare a hearty “Mazel Tov” to Baruch Shlomo and his family. Special dignitaries were also present including Vic and Paula Zorros, Rabbi Chaim Prussman of Beth Shifra, Rabbi Alexander Guth (luthier to the Gedolim) and Professor Morris Wurm. Performing during the gourmet meal served on that day was the incomparable group, Ta Shma. Their presence made that occasion even more memorable for all involved.

During his speech entitled, “The Handicapped and The Strong”, Rabbi Gershbein described the truly handicapped as “those who do not understand how to relate to the special needs community”. He said that “the strong are the autistic and the retarded who try so hard despite their perceived limitations”. He also heaped praise and accolades on the parents, siblings and caregivers of special needs individuals.

Rabbi Chaim Prussman of Beth Shifra, who is renowned for organizing free sedorim and meals for the poor on Passover and throughout the year, is also a Cohen and as such delivered a special benediction and invoked Hashem’s compassion for Baruch Shlomo, his family and all of the guests.

One of the representatives of the JBFCS and Mishkan said, “This was a very interesting experience for us. By working with Rabbis Gershbein and Prussman, we were able to put together an event which was actually inclusive of the families of these (individuals with special needs) young men and women as well as sensitive to the traditions of Judaism. We hope to take what we learned today and be able to hold future gatherings which comply with Orthodox law and lore.”

In honor of this most auspicious Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Prussman of Beth Shifra along with The Law Offices of Steven L. Gershbein, Esq. and Ohel Chaya (an organization founded to promote autism awareness) donated more than one hundred stuffed animals and puppets based on the themes of the upcoming Passover holiday. Every attendee was able to take several for himself and/or family members and each person present received a cupcake with a “B” for Baruch written in icing after partaking in an exquisite gourmet meal.

Members of the clergy representing various denominations were also in attendance and expressed just how impressed they were by the “love in the room” and each committed himself to be of service to the handicapped communities of Borough Park and Flatbush in the months and years to come. “This is the first traditional Jewish event that I’ve ever attended and I am so incredibly inspired by this holy community of wonderful people”, said a well known minister of the Crown Heights community. “Because of what I’ve witnessed here today, I will be involving my congregation in volunteer efforts to aid people in wheelchairs starting this Sunday”, he continued.

Spearheaded by Rabbi Gershbein, a new group is in formation that will encourage the clergy at large to be more inclusive of the blind, deaf and otherwise special needs community in religious life. Several prominent clergy members have already volunteered to sit on the organizing and steering committees “The group will not address religious issues directly”, declared Rabbi Gershbein, “but will advise men of the cloth, so it will not violate the edict of Rav Soloveitchik ZT’L”, he continued. “We are thrilled at the fact that my son’s bar mitzvah could inspire so many people of so many different backgrounds and faiths to become active in our very special community. May Hashem continue to give us all the strength and courage to do His will and may we spread genuine compassion and kindness to all humanity, and, by doing so, bring The True and Complete Redemption”.

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Fern Sidman holds a B.A, in political science from Brooklyn College. She was the educational coordinator for the Betar Youth Movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She was national director of the Jewish Defense League from 1983-1985. She was a researcher for several books written by Rabbi Meir Kahane, ZTK”L. She was the managing editor of the publication entitled, The Voice of Judea, and is a regular contributor to its web site. She is currently a writer and journalist living in New York City. Her articles have appeared in The Jewish Press, The Jewish Advocate, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, and numerous Jewish and general web sites including, Front Page Magazine, Daniel Pipes and Michael Freund.
We are delighted to have Ms. Sidman as a regular contributor to the Jesus is Lord, A Worshipping Christian’s Blog.

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