Henry Rosenzweig admits that last week, when plans for his March 14 bar mitzvah at Central Reform Congregation began to unravel, he was plenty disappointed.
But in the end, the 13-year-old’s empathy for others helped him refocus his energy and taught him a life lesson he isn’t likely to forget.
Let’s rewind to the events leading up to last Saturday. On Tuesday night, when Henry rehearsed his Torah portion on the bimah with Rabbi Susan Talve, all systems were a-go.
But amid growing concerns about the spread of coronavirus, his paternal grandparents, who live in Los Angeles and are in their 70s, canceled their flights to St. Louis. Ditto his aunt, who is a teacher in L.A. and was advised to refrain from non-essential travel.
His maternal grandparents, who had planned to fly here from Texas, instead decided to drive. An aunt and cousin from Arizona did fly in but by Thursday, heeding
he firm warnings of medical experts who advise limiting personal exposure, Henry’s parents decided to cancel the afternoon bar mitzvah party at the Garage, an events space downtown with arcade games, skee-ball, pinball machines, a jukebox and more.
“I sent out a mass email that said the party is postponed but we plan on the service and hope you will come or live stream it,” said Andrea Denny, Henry’s mother, explaining that 75 to 100 people were scheduled to attend. CRC, like many St. Louis area congregations, regularly live streams its services.
Then Friday, the family received word that the leadership at CRC had decided to shut down the building through April 17 to help minimize the spread of the virus. Still, they were given the option to either have the service with only a few people in attendance, or to postpone or cancel it. While b’nai mitzvah dates are typically decided two to three years in advance, Talve assured the family if they chose to reschedule, she would find them a new date.
“We wanted to respect the board’s position to close the building,” said Adam Rosenzweig, Henry’s father, explaining that the family chose to postpone. “We also did have some family members who were older and didn’t want to expose them.”
Thankfully, both the folks at the Garage and an airbrush T-shirt company, which was to create party favors for Henry’s friends, agreed to a date change without financial penalties. But Protzel’s Deli had already prepared food for a kiddush luncheon.
“It couldn’t be canceled, which we understood,” said Denny. “But what were we going to do with food for 100?”
In the end, they donated most of it to Room at the Inn, an emergency shelter for homeless women and families. Some also went to a food pantry where a friend of Denny’s volunteers.
Both Henry and his parents say donating the food to people who need it was the “silver lining” to otherwise trying circumstances.
“One way I was thinking about this is that while it’s not good my bar mitzvah was canceled, if I made a big fuss, or got angry, it wouldn’t make it any better,” said Henry, who attends Wydown Middle School in Clayton. “If I look at it in a positive way, with all the food we gave to a good cause, that’s making something good out of a not-so-good situation.
“I was definitely disappointed but at the same time, I kind of expected things to scale up quickly because of the virus,” he continued. “Now I’m excited that people who weren’t able to come to my bar mitzvah because of spring break or couldn’t leave their state because of the virus, may be able to come when we reschedule.”