Parshat Shemini by Rabbi Nathan Alfred

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Dr. Philip Bliss

Apr 9, 2010, 2:26:02 AM4/9/10
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Friday, April 09, 2010 | 25 Nisan 5770
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Torah from around the world #13

Parshat Shemini by Rabbi Nathan Alfred

Parashat Shemini has special relevance for me as it was my bar mitzvah portion. Although a barmitzvah so soon after Pesach caused many headaches for my mother, who was already baking and cooking lunch for the guests several weeks in advance, I was determined that this was the portion for me. Well, when the alternatives were menstrual purity or leprosy (from the following week’s portion Tazria Metsora), perhaps the story of Nadav and Abihu’s zapping suddenly became very appealing to my teenage mind!

Many of you will be familiar with the 35’s Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry. They were one of a number of organizations who worked tirelessly in the 1970s and 1980s to help free Jews who were living in the Soviet Union.

For many years the 35’s group in my synagogue (Bromley Reform) organized the twinning of bar and bat mitzvahs with children in the Soviet Union who were unable to celebrate ceremonies of their own. In 1993, I was the last child in my shul to participate in this twinning scheme, and was paired with a boy from Leningrad.

Having a bar mitzvah twin entailed me writing letters to Leningrad, learning about life there, and being told never to expect a reply. Imagine my delight one morning when through the letterbox came a reply – written in English – from the Soviet Union, and I could learn a bit more about my “twin”!

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Jews were finally able to leave, and they moved to countries all over the world. Many went to Israel, where there are now more than one million Russian-speakers. Progressive communities all over Germany have seen a rebirth, thanks in great part to this new demographic. And there were many who moved to Canada, the United States and elsewhere. Later I heard that my bar mitzvah twin had moved with his family to California, though as typical teenagers, we soon lost touch.

Back then we were both turning 13, and now with the age of 30 fast approaching, I wondered again what my twin was doing today. Luckily Facebook brings the world together now very easily, and a quick check put us swiftly back in touch. And I was so very pleased to see my twin’s successes. He has gone on to study at the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Business School, and he now works as a senior associate at a private equity fund, specializing in investments in the Former Soviet Union.

We now plan to meet next month in London, when finally we can celebrate our bar mitzvah together!


Rabbi Nathan Alfred is the rabbi and spiritual leader of the International Jewish Center in Belgium and Or Chadash Liberal Jewish Community in Luxembourg.


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Dr. Philip Bliss
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