For C.J. Montefiore, becoming a Bar Mitzvah this spring meant being encircled by 50,000 Jews from all walks of life, many of whom had flocked to Jerusalem for the Passover holiday.
C.J. Montefiore with his godfather, Richard Berg and his father David, at the Kotel.
C.J. — it stands for Cortland Jerushalmi — and his family decided to celebrate the occasion in two separate ceremonies in Israel. The first took place on C.J.’s birthday, March 31, at the Reform Or Hadash synagogue in Haifa. The ceremony fell on Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat immediately before Passover. The second ceremony was performed at the Kotel on Thursday, April 5, during Chol HaMoed Pesach, the intermediate days of the holiday.
The family chose to have two ceremonies in order to accommodate guests with differing styles and levels of observance. “As a cantor,” says C.J.’s father, David Montefiore, “I’m sensitive to all spectrums of religiosity and observance. We have friends that span the spectrum, those who are very modern and Reform, and those who are traditional. We tried to cover all the bases.”
The family’s connection to Israel is deeply felt. Abi Montefiore, C.J.’s mother, was assistant to Danny Bobman, who served as director of Tucson’s Israel Center through June. Bobman and Dan Karsh, co-chair of the Israel Center, flew to Israel to attend the Bar Mitzvah. David, a cantor and former president of the Jewish Ministers Cantors Association of America, had toured the beleaguered country shortly after its 2006 conflict along the northern border. His visit was part of Mitzvah Emunah, or Operation Faith, which brought cantors from around the world to Israel in a show of support. The tour included a concert at Or Hadash, which had been strongly affected by the conflict.
“I was so impressed with Rabbi (Edgar) Nof and the way we were received,” says David, “that I decided that this would be a great place for C.J. to have his Bar Mitzvah.”
At the Kotel, C.J. recalls, he was surrounded by thousands of worshippers of all stripes, creating an unforgettable atmosphere of spiritual celebration.
“You had every manner of Jew there, particularly the Chasidim,” David remembers. “It was fantastic. It was such a ruach (spirit).” The occasion was made all the more memorable when the family watched a videotape of the ceremony and noticed Israel’s two chief rabbis, Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, standing on the balcony of a nearby kollel, or religious school.
C.J. says that his greatest memories of his Bar Mitzvah are “the Kohanim on Pesach and the 50,000 people praying. We’re just surrounded and swarmed all over, and you hear [the chief rabbis], and you hear the Kohanim, and they’re just chanting. It was just a wonderful feeling.”
“The energy from the thousands of visitors to the Kotel that day was indescribable, totally fulfilling and transcendent,” says Abi.
C.J. Montefiore with his mother, Abi, on the bimah at Congregation Or Hadash in Haifa.
C.J. donated a portion of his Bar Mitzvah gifts to the Friends of the IDF, which supports social, educational, and recreational programs for Israeli soldiers, as well as providing support for widows and orphans of fallen troops. “I wanted to help them out because of the war,” he says. While C.J. says he hadn’t worried about his father’s safety, the conflict hit close to home for the family during David’s trip to Israel with the Mitzvah Emunah project, when a Kassam rocket landed (but did not explode) in Sderot not far from where David was meeting with the city’s mayor, Eli Moyal.
C.J. davens at the Western WallThe family spent two weeks in Israel this spring, which afforded them plenty of time for sightseeing. C.J., who had not been to Israel before, was especially fond of the Old City of Jerusalem. “It was fun going all around it and through all the Quarters,” he says. “It was such a nice place to be, with lots of people around.” The Montefiores spent time exploring the excavated tunnels beneath the Old City, and also visited several other cities and sites, including Ein Gedi, Qumran, Akko, Tsfat and Tel Aviv.
During Passover, the streets were thoroughly clogged with travelers, but that _didn’t dampen C.J.’s enthusiasm for Israel.
“I had a really wonderful time just being there, going all over and being with my family,” he says. “It was a lot of fun.”
Valerie Saturen received her M.A. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona in 2007. She lives in Tucson.