In March, Andrew Wittenbaum, son of Melissa and Brad Wittenbaum, became a bar mitzvah at Adath Israel Synagogue.
He is the youngest grandson and the youngest of the eight grandchildren of Jay and Barbara Wittenbaum to become b’nai and b’not mitzvahs at Adath Israel. Brad and Melissa’s son Alex was the oldest of the grandchildren. Alex and Andrew have twin siblings Jacob and Sarah who also became bar and bat mitvahs, splitting their torah portion between them. Melissa’s parents are Deborah and Per Anders Nilhagen and Fred and Sharon Dorman of Indianapolis.
Jay and Barbara Wittenbaum’s eldest son and daughter-in-law Fred and Eve’s children also became b’nei and b’not mitzvahs at Adath Israel. Their daughter Lucy was the first bat mitzvah in the family and their daughter Tessa became a bat mitzvah last year. Their sons Jeremy and Oliver also became bar mitzvahs there. Eve’s parents are Howard and Shirley Falk of New Jersey.
This had special emotional significance to grandfather Jay Wittenbaum because he became a bar mitzvah at Adath Israel in 1947. Rabbi Louis Feinberg was the rabbi. Jay prepared for his big day with Mr. Fish. The cantor was Emil Rosen. At that time, he was the last Wittenbaum in his family’s lineage.
“Adath Israel was on the corner of Reading Road and Lexington Avenue,” said Jay. “Everybody lived within a mile and everybody walked. After the kiddush, I remember a lot of wine drinking. There was no party after bar mitzvahs except for a reception with cookies, and there was very little gift giving.”
Both sons, Fred and Brad, became bar mitzvahs at Adath Israel as Barbara and Jay looked on with pride. All their children and grandchildren became b’nei and b’not mitzvahs with Rabbi Irvin Wise.
“In Fred’s speech to our children, he shared with them that their bar and bat mitzvahs had special significance to him because he had also become a bar mitzvah at Adath Israel,” said Eve Wittenbaum.
“My children and grandchildren had a very positive experience,” said Barbara Wittenbaum. “They learned more than the call of duty. The kids are required to do pretty much the whole Torah portion. Mitch Cohen and Alan Weiner did a tremendous job acclimatizing them and making them feel comfortable.”
“As the oldest, Alex served as a role model to his younger siblings and cousins,” reflected Melissa. “The services were all in Hebrew, which to me represents what Conservative Judaism is all about.”
At Adath Israel, the b’nei mitzvah experience includes the Havdalah service the Saturday before and morning minyans on Monday and Thursday.
“I think it’s the best part of the whole experience,” said Melissa. “It’s all very personal. People shook Andrew’s hand and told him what a good job he did.”
Four of the grandchildren, Alex, Sarah, Jacob, and Andrew, who are tennis players, volunteered as their service project to teach tennis with Buddy Up, a program at The Club at Harper’s Point as well as other locations around the country. The program is designed to help people with Down syndrome grow physically, emotionally, and socially.
“It was important to us that they actually do something meaningful to them,” said Melissa Wittenbaum.
Melissa found Kathy Haas, assistant synagogue director, very accommodating, making everything easy. For Andrew’s bar mitzvah, Mikey Frank, who used to be employed with the synagogue, catered the lunch. The evening event was at the Centre Park of West Chester with a tennis theme.
Eve reflected that what Lucy and Tessa learned at Rockwern Academy, which was also helpful in preparing them for their bat mitzvahs.
“It was the best day of my life,” said Andrew Wittenbaum, the last of that generation of Wittenbaum bar mitzvahs. “I don’t want today to end. We know how fast it goes.”
For Barbara and Jay Wittenbaum, it was “a dream come true to see all of these children reach the magical age of thirteen and see all these mitzvahs take place.”
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