Jeffrey Kucharsky won’t have to study his Torah portion when his bar mitzvah reception takes place next month at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead.
That’s because the 13-year-old already has done the hard part.
Because of the pandemic and to keep people safe, the eighth-grader at Marblehead Veterans Middle School is having a split bar mitzvah.
In a ceremony that included about 20 people in June, he read from the Torah, recited a lengthy haftarah, and gave a speech on how the pandemic relates to the death of Miriam as the Israelites approached the Promised Land.
But the family decided to postpone the celebration until Nov. 6, when they’ll be able to celebrate with about 60 friends and family in the temple’s social hall.
“It was such a delight to share with Jeffrey and his family in such a special simcha,” said Temple Emanu-El Senior Rabbi David Meyer. “And being forced to delay their reception by several weeks brought the happy benefit of allowing everyone to focus directly on the core aspect of becoming bar mitzvah, which is, of course, the Shabbat service and Temple community.”
Jeffrey said he was somewhat nervous to read from the Parshat Chukat section of the Torah.
“Miriam has passed away and the Israelites have no source of water, so it’s about how they are very demanding,” he said of the days of the journey. The message, as then and as now, is “You just have to be hopeful that things will get better, and they obviously have, which is a great thing.”
“So Moses and Aaron ask God for help, and Moses doesn’t listen correctly so he isn’t allowed to be entered into the land of Israel,” Jeffrey said. His speech tied back to how we have to support our leaders even when they have a hard job to do.
Jeffrey’s bar mitzvah was originally scheduled for June 19 (which is close to his birthday of June 13), a date the family had scheduled three years in advance. The plan was to have the service in the temple with the reception to follow in the social hall.
And then the pandemic hit.
“Obviously, we were planning for this day for quite some time,” said his father, David Kucharsky. “And we were looking forward to it because we wanted to be able to celebrate Jeffrey’s accomplishment with friends and family, but unfortunately, the pandemic was something we all had to deal with.”
Watching the news and following the science and based on what was going on, the Kucharskys felt they could still have the ceremony and push out the reception a few months so they could better celebrate with friends and family, he said.
“It’s nice for us, too,” said Jeffrey’s mother, Mira Kucharsky, “because our family is still able to be here and we did have our immediate family come when we celebrated Jeffrey and everyone has been just so amazing, I mean the rabbi could not be more helpful, accommodating and understanding of all of the circumstances.”
As spring 2021 was drawing near, the family was faced with uncertainties around large indoor gatherings.
Mira Kucharsky, who serves as one of the vice presidents on the temple’s board, said months before the big day “We just started to get nervous.”
“It may not be safe to have the reception with the service,” Mira Kucharsky said at the time. The Kucharskys also didn’t want to leave the vendors in the lurch, while trying to plan for her husband’s family who were coming from out of state.
By November 2020, they decided to stick with the original June date for the bar mitzvah ceremony, and rebook the reception for November 2021, since at that time no one was vaccinated, including kids.
“We wanted to try and play it safe,” Mira Kucharsky said.
The hope was that by November, “Things will be better in the world,” she said.
The family also watched what Jeffrey’s friends were doing around them when it came to planning their own bar/bat mitzvot. They found some were in-person, some were held on Zoom; some parties were canceled.
“They were really kind to us and offered us advice,” David Kucharsky said of other families who had bar and bat mitzvah celebrations that preceded theirs.
In deciding to hold the reception in the fall, they opted to scale back the party. They originally planned to have 150 people attend, but instead it will be mostly Jeffrey’s friends – about 60 people in all.
Mira Kucharsky said at the time her son became a bar mitzvah, things had begun to open up before the arrival of the Delta variant. At that time, the temple had not begun holding in-person parties again.
Jeffrey’s bar mitzvah included immediate family and a couple of his best friends, something Kucharsky said was “intimate and special.”
They got help for the service from the temple’s Engagement and Program Coordinator Shelby Chapper-Pierce and Jeffrey’s tutor Stefanie Gladstone. Music Director Jon Nelson provided music and Rabbi Meyer officiated.
“The rabbi became our tech support and spiritual adviser,” Mira Kucharsky said of the service, which was a hybrid of in-person attendance and those who couldn’t come who were on Zoom.
Not having to hold the reception after the bar mitzvah took some pressure off the Kucharskys as they didn’t have to coordinate with the vendors after the service.
“He gets to have the party and he’s already done the hard part,” Mira Kurcharsky said.
The reception on Nov. 6 will include photographer Jared Charney, who also photographed the service; Off the Vine Catering and Toby Karlyn; Party Excitement in Newburyport with DJ Adam Averback; and the florist, Lumiere Lauren of Marblehead, who decorated the bima for the June service.
“Everyone has been so accommodating and understanding of the situation,” Mira Kucharsky said.
Mira, who had her own bat mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El, is glad her son won’t miss out on his big party. The family is looking forward to dancing the hora and lifting him in the chair.
“The day itself felt really special and a little bit more intimate,” Mira Kucharsky said, “and now to be able to be back inside the temple and do the hora together and, granted it’s a little bit of a smaller group and we are going to keep it safe, but we are looking forward to it.”