We had a special minyan, with a limited size, so as not to overwhelm him. The atmosphere was intimate and supportive. He read one aliyah - the sixth of parshat Shmini, which is all about animals, a favorite subject of his - with verve and gusto, and he did it perfectly! Candy was thrown, Rabbi Weiss spoke briefly and so movingly, addressing his remarks directly to Kasriel and to his talents, and dancing followed. The attendees included our friends and family, his friends from school - Jewish and non-Jewish alike, and his therapists and teachers. It was such a beautiful coming together of our two different worlds - the Jewish world, and the Special Needs world, and everyone was there to show their love and support for Kasriel.
Towards the end of the meal, Kasriel spoke briefly, and shared with everyone a booklet that he had made for the occasion - drawings of kosher and non-kosher animals, with descriptions of the signs of kashrut for all the different categories. Each table received some booklets, and they highlighted Kasriel's love of animals and his artistic talent. His younger brother Netanel gave a brief speech, and then Devorah spoke so beautifully and from the heart about how much Kasriel gives us and how much love and support he and we have received from so many people. I then shared some words about the wonderful experience of working together to prepare for the bar mitzvah and how things would be somewhat different now, but that I - and all his family and friends - would always be there for him.
It was such a joyous event and many people remarked to us that it was one of the most meaningful bar mitzvahs that they had been to. Devorah and I are still glowing.
On the following Monday - the first day back from Pesach break - we had a special minyan at the yeshiva, and Kasriel, Netanel and Devorah attended. Kasriel was given an aliyah, there was dancing, and a bagel breakfast followed. The yeshiva gave Kasriel a lovely gift - art supplies and a book of artistic illustrations on the parshat hashavua. Jennifer Geretz, my assistant, gave a dvar Torah relating to Betzalel, and contributing one's artistic talents to the Jewish people, and I spoke on what it meant to me to be able to bring the yeshiva to my family and my family to the yeshiva. It was also Yom HaShoa - according to the Israeli observance -and I spoke about how Kasriel is named after my mother's father, Rabbi Leonard -Kasriel - Mishkin, zickhrono livracha - a great educator in Chicago, who adopted my mother, Annette Mishkin, aleha ha'shalom, after she and her sister had survived the Holocaust as hidden children.
It was so meaningful to me to share this simcha with the yeshiva - the rebbeim, the administration, the staff, and of course the students, all of whom are really a second family to me. So, I thank you now for letting me share this event with you as well. I know that you share in this simcha with me and that makes it all that much more meaningful.