Bar Mitzvah

Shmueli Goldman, 13, and his relatives celebrate after he completes his recitation of Jewish law in both Yiddish and Hebrew. His family started dancing in a circle and continued dancing around the room.

COVID-19 has stopped people from going out, but it couldn’t stop Shmueli Goldman from having his bar mitzvah.

The 13-year-old Gainesville resident celebrated his coming-of-age Thursday from the safety of his own home at the UF Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student & Community Center of Gainesville. His ceremony was streamed live on Zoom Video Communications to a few hundred friends and family who were social distancing. 

Shmueli is one of eight children in his family. Even with so many siblings, he is the first to have a virtual bar mitzvah, said Rabbi Berl Goldman, his father. 

Shmueli is used to virtual programs because he does online schooling at the Shluchim Online School, so he found using Zoom was not a problem for his bar mitzvah.

Before reciting Hebrew and feasting on a buffet of Chinese food, Berl recounted inspirational words from the Torah and acknowledged his son’s commitment to studying the Jewish laws he was now responsible for following the rest of his life. Shmueli’s mother, Chanie, praised his positive attitude and constant smile.

Shmueli’s other present relatives took turns greeting spectators and congratulating him — all with similar sentiments of compassion and bright hopes for his future.

Online attendees celebrated in the Zoom chat as Shmueli danced and was paraded around the room on the shoulders of his family members after he spent about eight minutes reciting the Jewish laws he studied from memory, in both Hebrew and Yiddish. 

“Now that I’ve actually done it, it’s such a relief,” Shmueli said.

Those viewing remotely answered trivia questions about Shmueli, like what his favorite sport and favorite subject in school were. The invested viewers — from Gainesville locals to relatives far off in New York, Illinois and California — correctly answered baseball and Halakha, or Jewish law, almost instantly.

Many messaged “mazal tov” in good faith using Zoom’s chat feature and in anticipation of Shmueli’s final remarks, where he recalled the hardships of Jewish history while encouraging his loved ones to remain calm in chaotic times. He expressed his faith and thanked everyone for showing up virtually, blessing people around the world with health, prosperity, peace and strength.

Even though he couldn’t complete the ceremony in-person with friends, he said he felt accomplished and happy that they were able to tune in.

“It lifted my spirits when I heard that you guys all would come,” he said.

The stream ended at 8:30 p.m. and his father’s final request was that viewers stand up and dance. Realizing he forgot one final detail, Shmueli signed off with a hearty “Go Gators!”

They decided to postpone in-person celebrations because of global health concerns from COVID-19, Berl said, but he did not want to keep his son from experiencing the full celebration aspect of his bar mitzvah. He said they are looking to reschedule it as soon as possible, possibly in the summer.

“The need for love, connection and inspiration is ever more present and necessary,” he said.

Contact AJ Bafer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ajbafer.