Boat Mitzvah Sails On Despite Storm
The call to the Torah came aboard ship instead of on a Caribbean island.
B’nai mitzvot celebrations take place at venues ranging from bowling alleys to Masada, and the Halpert, Rindsberg, Fink and Rosh families took theirs to the high seas with a master plan for simchas on a Celebrity cruise ship over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, culminating in a ceremony at the venerable, sandy-floored Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas.
Enter Hurricane Irma and its extensive damage to the Virgin Islands in mid-September, and it was time for Plan B.
Nathan Rindsberg, Ellie Halpert, and 86 friends and family members still embarked on the Celebrity Silhouette for their special weekend in November, but they didn’t have to settle for a ceremony in a storm-damaged synagogue.
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Instead, Rabbi Brian Glusman, the Marcus JCC’s director of membership and engagement, stepped in with guitar, Torah, kippot and his 16-year-old songstress daughter for a shipboard service. The ship supplied the challah and wine, and the Caribbean provided the glorious aquamarine backdrop.
The arrangements were made by grandmother Linda Rosh, an independent cruise specialist and vacation travel agent. “We wanted it to be unique and memorable. Rabbi Glusman added so much and was just like family,” she said. “It didn’t hurt any that I am in the cruise business.”
Nathan, alongside parents Meryl and Lenny and siblings Zachary and Emily, joined Ellie and her parents, Jodi and Ben, and her siblings, Ethan and Ava, to rock the waves with perfect recitations of their Torah portion, Vayetzi, and English d’var Torah speeches.
Jodi Fink Halpert, Ellie’s mother, said: “We knew we wanted to do something fun and nontraditional for Ellie and Nathan’s b’nai mitzvah. From that desire and our love of travel and cruising, the ‘boat mitzvah’ was born.
“It was incredibly special to celebrate our simcha while enjoying Thanksgiving in the warm Caribbean with family and friends. We hosted several events throughout the week to bring everyone together, but there was also plenty of downtime to relax and unwind. The week cruise gave everyone time to mingle and get to know each other. I think everyone had a wonderful time, and it is certainly one we will always remember.”
Rabbi Glusman said he likes synagogue ceremonies, but he acknowledged that they’re not for everyone.
“I found the whole experience to be powerful and that being on the ocean was meaningful,” he said. “Before we recited the Shema, I reminded all that one of the threads of the tzitzit among the white threads must be blue. This color was chosen because of the azure of the sea, which resembles the sky, which resembles G-d’s thrown-off glory. We were all surrounded by G-d’s presence.”
The festivities included an excursion in Punta Cana, a party in a disco bar, the takeover of the entire Qsine restaurant on board, a lunch buffet at the Tuscan Grill, and an innovative silent disco, where everyone wears ear phones and dances to different music. On one hand, this sounds appealing because often gigs are way too loud. On the other hand, in an old-fashioned way, isn’t it cozier to dance with someone who’s on the same beat? Can one do the slow swag with a partner doing the rumba?
More important than the wonderful memories, Ellie and Nathan, as their mitzvah project, chose to send money toward the restoration of the Hebrew Congregation of St. Thomas.
Aye-aye, mates: Air, land or sea, our tradition sails on.