At the beginning of March, 13-year-old Sam Kaplan and his family watched as events everywhere were canceled because of the coronavirus crisis.
Sam, a student at The Rashi School in Dedham, had planned to have his bar mitzvah at Temple Aliyah in Needham on March 28. When the synagogue closed, his parents decided nothing would stop them from celebrating their son’s special day.
“This is a big moment in a seventh-grader’s life, especially at a Jewish day school,” said Elissa Kaplan, Sam’s mom. “When it became obvious that it wasn’t going to be at the synagogue, we started to explain that we were willing to do it wherever, whenever, however. That we were willing to think outside the box.”
The planning required many Zoom sessions to review readings for the ceremony as well as for members of the synagogue and attendees to practice the new technology.
With help from Rabbi Carl Perkins and Cantor Jamie Gloth, Sam celebrated his bar mitzvah virtually from his dining room table in Needham with 177 eager online guests.
“I’d rather someone be safe and not worried about getting sick than coming and being worried about getting sick and possibly getting sick. It was just a blessing to be able to do it with everybody that I love and that I know," Sam said. "I’m grateful for Rashi and Temple Aliyah for making it work.”
Attendees ranged from the Kaplans’ friends and family to members of their synagogue and the town of Needham. Those invited from as far away as Israel and Turkey also were sure to tune in.
“To be able to see everybody at once was just incredible and it’s something I will never forget,” said Sam.
Virtual classes were paused at Rashi so that members of the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades could go on Zoom with their families to cheer on Sam. Rabbi Sharon Clevenger of Rashi offered the bar mitzvah boy a blessing.
“Jewish life goes on and it’s incredibly important to celebrate as Jewish girls and boys come of age even in this time of social distancing,” Rabbi Perkins said.
Sam said his favorite part of his bar mitzvah was being able to hear the words of encouragement and support from each of the attendees, all of whom spoke to him afterward.
“It was a great experience, especially because some of the people who wouldn’t have necessarily been able to come were able to be there virtually,” said Sam. “It felt good to know that people were supporting me even through these hard times.”
To other kids who are upset about their ceremonies and important events being delayed or canceled, Sam reminds them that “There is always a way.”
“COVID-19 is having a very big impact on life itself but I think people are doing a really good job finding a way around it and helping other people,” he said. “Obviously it wasn’t something that I was expecting, but it is something I will never forget and I’ll have a story to tell when I grow up.”