Have you ever heard the sound of two Jewish souls reuniting across the generations? Last Shabbat morning, the heavens reverberated over Parkland, FL, as Ignacio Guzman, a 14-year-old immigrant from Colombia, stood on the bimah of his synagogue, held the Torah tightly in his arms, and proudly pronounced the watchword of our faith for the first time as a bar mitzvah.
But, you see, this was no ordinary bar mitzvah. Ignacio (who goes by Iggy) had chosen Judaism. In the past year, he fulfilled the ritual requirements to be called a Jew, therefore reuniting the past with the present and future of the Jewish people. Iggy wanted to continue the faith and traditions of his maternal grandfathers, who lived full and committed Jewish lives two generations prior. Iggy felt deeply that his soul was not complete without reconnecting with his grandparents Leon (Lev) and maternal great-grandfather Isaac (Yitzhak) and maternal great-grandmother Rebecca.
The morning began auspiciously, as if a messenger from the heavens above descended just at the right time to announce the sacred encounter that was about to transpire. Just as I was about to utter the first word of private prayer with Iggy and his family, locked hand in hand in a circle of love before the start of the service, the closed door to our gathering place mysteriously, slowly opened. In walked an elderly woman with a cane, looking for something or someone, but not quite sure where she was. Iggy’s mom, Jackie, introduced her to me as Maria, the widow of Iggy’s grandfather Lev. Speaking only in Spanish, Maria was coaxed to join our circle – for now the circle was truly complete. Iggy’s grandfathers’ and great-grandmother’s Jewish souls were now represented in this prayer circle. Indeed Grandpa Lev’s and Great-Grandpa Yitzhak’s presence was felt, as Iggy’s abuelo’s neshamah, spirit, was reunited with the Jewish people after two generations in exile. As I sensed the meaning and magnitude of this moment occasioned by this unexpected visitor, tears flowed freely down my cheeks. The cantor, the family, and I stood at that moment on Holy Ground, all of us uplifted and transformed by the presence of the sacred.
The service proceeded with Iggy leading the prayers and reading from Parshat Chayei Sarah, in which read of our Patriarch Yitzhak who united in love with his bride Rebecca, even as Iggy reunited with his own great-grandfather Yitzhak and great-grandmother Rebecca on the day of his bar mitzvah. Because Iggy had no living Jewish relatives who could recite the blessings over the Torah, he invited his synagogue friends to bless the Torah – friends he has made over the last three years in our youth group. After his Haftarah, his mother and father each addressed him, his father speaking in Spanish with his sister Cynthia translating into English. In her speech, Iggy’s mother Jackie spoke of her pride in Iggy; his father, Luis, spoke of the pride he felt in Iggy’s choosing Judaism.
Then it happened again. Lightning struck a second time. As we were about to sing the final hymn, Ein Kalohenu, Iggy turned to me and asked if we could use a special Kiddush cup instead of the one provided by the temple to recite Kiddush at the end of the service. Stunned, I said, “Of course, but why is it so special?” Iggy told me that it was his grandfather Lev’s Kiddush cup, given to him by his own father Yitzhak for his bar mitzvah in Constantinople. Iggy said the cup was 120 years old, tracing it back to Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land, from where his grandfather immigrated to Turkey as a young man before moving to France, Spain, and finally Colombia.
I asked Iggy to pour the wine out of the designated Kiddush cup, into his grandfather’s bar mitzvah cup, and to hold it together with his grandmother Maria. He chanted the Kiddush and concluded the service, and all present knew that in Parkland, FL, on that very day, at Congregation Kol Tikvah, the heavens opened wide and three severed Jewish souls were reunited.
Rabbi Bradd Boxman serves Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, FL.