Noam Ragozin currently plays on two sports teams – lacrosse and basketball. The concept of how to be a good teammate influenced him as he wrote a d’var Torah for his bar mitzvah, which took place at Congregation Shirat Hayam of the North Shore in Swampscott on Jan. 7.
The Parshah was Vayechi, the last in the Book of Genesis. It ends with Joseph making a request. He wishes to be buried not in Egypt, but in the Land of Israel, similar to his father Jacob’s wishes earlier in the Parshah. Ragozin saw, in the narrative of Joseph, a call to communal
responsibility that went beyond looking out for one’s immediate connections, such as Joseph’s brothers.
As he explained, although Joseph was living with his brothers in Egypt, he wanted a connection to “the whole community of the people of Israel,” a connection that would take him “outside of Egypt, upon the whole community, not just those close to him.”
In his d’var Torah, he said, “While the Torah talks about stories from 3,500 years ago, these mitzvot of communal responsibility are still in our daily lives. For example, it is on the community to donate to people in need, make a minyan, or bring food to the sick. These mitzvot are not just upon the people who are friends with the mourners or sick ones, but upon the community as a whole.”
In this, he also saw a link to sports, including playing man-to-man defense in basketball.
“On a sports team, you’re not just responsible for whoever you’re guarding or who’s guarding you, you’re responsible to help out your teammates,” Ragozin, a student at Swampscott Middle School, told the Jewish Journal.
Ragozin’s preparation impressed his parents, Shirat Hayam Rabbi Michael Ragozin and Sarah Plymate.
“I enjoyed working with him on his d’var Torah,” Rabbi Ragozin said, congratulating his son on a “unique” perspective that incorporated “the idea of communal responsibility … The day itself was one of incredible joy.”
“We’re obviously very proud of him,” Plymate said.
On the bimah, she recalled, “I spoke about how he is kind of a quiet leader who has a lot of friends and is very kind.” She noted that he is the middle child, “between two girls who are very bouncy and lively.”
The guests included “all of our family, all over the US,” as well as “the local community,” Plymate said, noting that they were there to “celebrate Noam, be together. It was really something unique, something we will remember for a long time.”
Rabbi Ragozin worked with his son on chanting from the Torah and learning to read Hebrew without any vowels shown on the Torah scroll.
“Reading Hebrew without vowels is kind of hard, but I’m pretty good at memorizing things,” Noam said.
Shirat Hayam cantor Sarah Freudenberger also helped him prepare. In addition to the Parshah, he also chanted the Haftarah, which was from the Book of Kings and focused on King David’s last words to his son, the future King Solomon.
Hebrew is not the only language that Noam has been learning. His favorite subject in school is Spanish. In addition to his studies, he plays defense in lacrosse and is a center in basketball, both on town teams.
It was a full day at the synagogue for his bar mitzvah.
“Noam is capable of a lot,” Rabbi Ragozin said. “He led most of the service, chanted a lot of the Torah, the Haftarah, the drosh [interpretation of text].
“Noam made me look really good,” the rabbi said. “We were beaming the whole time.”
Afterward, it was time to celebrate in the synagogue social hall with a DJ and emcee, with catering – pizza, nachos, and sundaes for the kids – from Peter Freudenberger, the cantor’s husband and the baker of Dad Bod Breads. Grandparents and kids alike got on the dance floor.
“Everyone was dancing,” Plymate said. “I think it was a success.”
Reflecting on the day, she said, “Your child can be amazing. Anything you do, everything you do, will be worthwhile, any kind of celebration that you choose to have, it’s all worth it, because it’s such a special day.”
“A bar mitzvah is a really special opportunity to celebrate a young person becoming an adult who has accomplished something significant, taking their place within the Jewish tradition,” Rabbi Ragozin said, “The day also has a place in Ragozin family history.”
“He’s the first male Ragozin in over 100 years to have a bar mitzvah when he turned 13,” the rabbi noted. “My father and I did not celebrate b’nei mitzvot at 13. My father never did, and I was older.” Θ