On February 24, 2018, Rabbi Andrew Paley celebrated his Bar Mitzvah year at Temple Shalom with a special Shabbat service honoring the 37th anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah where Rabbi Paley read those same verses as he did so many years ago. As was the case the first time, Rabbi Paley’s mom was there watching with pride.
Of course, with the passage of time, there were a few changes! Instead of the traditional parent speech, Rabbi Paley’s wife, Debbie Niederman, spoke instead. “As some of you have heard before, Andrew’s favorite passage from the Torah is Exodus 25:8 ‘Let them build me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.’ This passage actually comes from last week’s parasha. Perhaps you have heard that the most compelling and challenging part of this verse is that the commandment says that God will dwell in us, not in the sanctuary that we build. The portion begins with the command: ‘Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts…from every person whose heart is so moved.’ And with these gifts we are to build the sanctuary. And so today, we give thanks to you, Andrew, for all that you have given us. For the way you lead us from your heart, the gracious way you give thanks for what you receive every day from this community, the way you teach from you heart and the way you boldly stand in front of us in all your vulnerability, acknowledging that you are human and imperfect and modeling for us what it means to be a person who can grow and change,” exclaimed Debbie.
Most unusual was that a prayer book that Rabbi Paley wrote in 2001, N’siyat HaNefesh - A Journey of the Soul, was used in the service! And, because it was Saturday morning, instead of the usual family photo shoot before most Bar Mitzvah services, Rabbi Paley taught Torah Study to a packed house! Once that finished, he shrugged into his suit jacket, greeted family and friends, posed for a few quick photos and began the service. No pomp or circumstance, just a special Shabbat morning service for a beloved Rabbi.
Even the weather seemed to give a blessing over this day. Although rainstorms began the day, during the V’Ahavta, the rain stopped and the sun peeked out for a minute, a glorious sight through the glass walls of the Epstein Chapel.
Perhaps the most symbolic difference between the two ceremonies was that unlike 37 years ago when someone wrote his Bar Mitzvah speech for him to read, this time, Rabbi wrote his own speech appreciating the significance celebrating his 13th year as senior rabbi at a congregation that has become a second home to his family. “Being a part of a wonderful, holy family like Temple Shalom, is exactly what the Torah speaks of in Exodus, ‘ Let them make for me a Sanctuary that I may dwell among them.’ Being a part of that effort is a blessing like no other.”
To highlight the importance of the congregation on this momentous day, all Past Presidents were called up for the first Aliyah, and the entire congregation stood for the second Aliyah. Cantor Devorah Avery and Rabbi Ariel Boxman joined together to lead the service and create a memorable morning. To celebrate the sweetness of the occasion, the event concluded with birthday cupcakes to celebrate Rabbi Paley becoming a Bar Mitzvah and his 50th birthday.