I wanted to share Matt’s D’var Torah (the lesson he presented about the Torah portion he was about to read) for three reasons:
1. I love the lesson he chose to teach.
2. He looks so handsome!
3. He was born with profound hearing loss, and there was a time when we didn’t know if he would ever speak English, let alone be standing in front of 500 people about to read from the Torah! He has used a cochlear implant since he was four, and in a wild coincidence, we realized that his implant had been activated nine years to the day before his bar mitzvah…how cool is that?!
This was an incredibly proud evening for Matt, as well as for all of us who have watched him work so hard to accomplish all his glorious achievements. I’ve included a transcript below the video.
This week’s Torah portion tells the story of Jacob and Esau. While there’s so much from this portion that I could talk about, what caught my attention was that Isaac told his son, Jacob, to marry someone from the same tribe. You see, Isaac had an obligation to pass down Abraham’s covenant through his sons, and at this point, Esau had already married two women outside the tribe.
This got me thinking a little. I wondered whether Jacob ended up marrying within the tribe just because his father told him to – or whether Jacob himself felt that he had been leading such a Jewish life that he wanted to marry someone with similar beliefs and traditions. Honestly, I don’t think it’s enough for our parents just to tell us to marry within our religion; I think our desire to pass down the covenant has to be something we feel in our soul.
And to feel it in our soul, we have to be raised Jewishly. That means more than just having a Jewish name, eating Jewish foods, and showing up at temple once a year. It means incorporating Judaism into your family and into your life.
• going to Hebrew school and learning prayers
• understanding and celebrating Jewish holidays
• singing Jewish songs
• learning about Jewish milestones
• talking about Jewish values in your family
• connecting with your relatives and ancestors through Jewish customs and traditions and…
• going to Jewish summer camp (shout-out to my Eisner peeps!)
Those are things that make me feel like I have a Jewish soul. I can’t imagine marrying someone who didn’t have a similar soul, because I want to share my life with someone who also feels that it’s important to pass down the covenant to another generation-not that I’m planning to tie the knot anytime soon!
If Jacob had chosen not to marry within the tribe, Abraham’s covenant would have been broken within two generations. That would’ve been IT. There would be no Jewish people. The same applies today. The current Jewish population is so small that if we don’t pass our Judaism to the next generation, our religion and our people are in danger of disappearing. It’s not enough for Jewish parents just to tell their children to marry within the tribe. Our parents need to raise us to want to…so we can’t even imagine our future without creating a Jewish family.
I love that I’m being raised Jewishly, and I’m proud to stand here today, where my 3 older brothers have stood, and become a bar mitzvah. I’m carrying on the tradition by reciting the same prayers that not only my brothers recited, but also my mom and my dad, my Papa, my great-grandpa Sol White, whose tallit I am honored to be wearing today, and all their ancestors. There’s an unbroken connection through all these people to Abraham’s original covenant, and that means a lot to me.
Okay. Enough teaching for today!
My mitzvah project had three different parts to it:
• First, I volunteered at an after-school Sports & Homework club at my old elementary school, where I helped kids with their homework and assisted with organizing sport games.
• Second, I co-founded with my 3 brothers an online community called Cool Teens Don’t Drink.com. We created the interactive site to connect teens who choose not to participate in underage drinking – which sadly is a lonely and isolating choice for teens to make these days. Kids who don’t drink are often mocked and thought of as “uncool” and my brothers and I are trying to build a community of like-minded teens who can provide each other with peer support.
• Finally, in lieu of receiving bar mitzvah gifts, I chose to ask family and friends to donate money to a research project at the NYU Cochlear Implant Center. You see, I was born with profound hearing loss, and I’ve used a cochlear implant since I was 4. Believe it or not, my implant was turned on exactly 9 years ago today! There was a time when no one was sure I would be able to speak, and now, thanks to my cochlear implant, I’m about to read from the Torah. The NYU research project is to help develop waterproof and more durable equipment for the cochlear implant so that adults and kids like me can hear at the beach, in the pool or shower, when we’re outside in the rain, and when we’re playing sports. And so I sincerely thank my family and friends who donated to NYU for your overwhelming generosity and kindness. Later at my celebration, I’ll be announcing how much we’ve raised.
On a final note, I’d like to thank Rabbi Mendelson, Cantor Silverman, Cantor Harris and Mrs. Eisen, who have all helped me so much in preparing to become a bar mitzvah. And I’d also like to thank my mom, my dad and my brothers, Ben, Jake and Zack, for their love and support. I love you, guys.