Kaplans Celebrate Jake with Beachside Bar Mitzvah
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Simcha SpotlightBar Mitzvah

Kaplans Celebrate Jake with Beachside Bar Mitzvah

Jill and Jason Kaplan joined 56 of their friends and family members in Aruba for a beachside celebration of their son, Jake’s, sports-themed bar mitzvah.

After 35 years with the Atlanta newspapers, Marcia currently serves as Retail VP for the Buckhead Business Association, where she delivers news and trends (laced with a little gossip).

Rabbi Lauren Cohn encourages Jake as parents Jill and Jason Kaplan look on.  //  Credit: Kenneth Theysen
Rabbi Lauren Cohn encourages Jake as parents Jill and Jason Kaplan look on. // Credit: Kenneth Theysen

When it came to their son Jake’s bar mitzvah, Jill and Jason Kaplan knew that they wanted a special venue. So, navigating COVID restrictions and finding a rabbi who agreed to travel, the Kaplans headed to the powdery-white beaches of Aruba, an island country in the southern Caribbean that is part of the Netherlands, during the weekend of March 12.

“We knew that we wanted to do something more intimate than a huge party in Atlanta, and with the pandemic, that option seemed even less appealing,” said Jill Kaplan. “We originally wanted to have Jake’s bar mitzvah in St. Thomas, at the old synagogue, but accommodations were limited for a group of our size. I’m honestly not sure how we decided on Aruba, but we knew the weather would be beautiful. Once we knew that our rabbi would travel with us, we could really go anywhere.”

The island bar mitzvah leaned into the sports theme.

Jake, a 7th grader at Ridgeview Middle School, is obsessed with sports, focusing on football and basketball. “Jake is football crazy, so we tried to incorporate football as much as we could,” Jill said. “We had a logo that blended the Aruban flag with the NFL logo, welcome bags with each family’s team name (ex: Team Kaplan) and a football for guests to sign.”

For his mitzvah project, Jake collected sports equipment for underprivileged athletes. “Because of my love for sports, I wanted to ensure that other kids have opportunities to join and participate in sports in their communities,” he said in his speech. “So, I collected sporting equipment for Helping Athletes Score, HAS, an organization whose mission is to make sure any athlete who wants to [can] play a recreational team sport in our community, regardless of household financial situation.”

Jake dedicated his bar mitzvah to both of his late great-grandfathers, Jacob Baer and Robert Sukloff. He wears Baer’s tallis.

The simcha, for 56 guests consisting of friends and family, took some nine months to plan. Festivities began with a Friday night sunset dinner cruise and continued on Saturday with the bar mitzvah service and a sunset Havdalah service on the beach. Following Havdalah, guests enjoyed a beach party with a DJ and BBQ menu. On Sunday morning, Jake’s grandparents hosted a hotel brunch.

The group stayed at the Hilton Aruba, where the onsite party planner managed all the details, including hiring the DJ and photographer. “COVID made everything trickier,” Jill said. “Everyone had to test and submit paperwork to the Aruban government to get into the country and then we had to test to get back into the U.S. The hotel had onsite testing, it was very seamless. The logistics were not easy, but our travel agent helped tremendously.”

Rabbi Lauren Cohn, who leads Temple Beth El in Anniston, Ala., and tutors and teaches at Temple Sinai in Atlanta, officiated at the service. “During the pandemic, our kids were no longer attending Sunday or Hebrew school, and we were struggling with trying to give them some kind of Jewish education,” Jill recalled.

Rabbi Cohn “comes to our house every week for Sunday school with our 10-year-old twins and helped Jake prepare for his bar mitzvah. She was more than willing to travel with us for this crazy idea and brought a travel Torah and all the items we needed for the service.”

Havdalah at sunset lent the ceremony a spiritual glow.

In his speech, Jake described her as “the best Hebrew teacher I’ve ever had, and the only one I’ve ever wanted to go on vacation with!”

“Jake’s bar mitzvah was absolutely magical,” said Jake’s dad, Jason Kaplan. “It was the most stressful, but the best idea we’ve ever had! We loved having an entire weekend with all the people who mean the most to us and who love Jake enough to travel to Aruba! The group was intimate and everyone there had a unique and special relationship with Jake. Our hearts were bursting watching our son become a bar mitzvah at sunset on the beach surrounded by so much love. It was a moment we will never forget.”

Jake’s official bar mitzvah program in the sand.

Jake’s interpretation of his parsha, Tzav, sprang from what he said was both G-d and man’s need to be seen and heard. Jake feels seen and heard through his love of sports. “When I play sports, particularly basketball and football, I feel most comfortable and feel most like me,” he said.

“I loved that I didn’t just have a party and then it was over,” he said. “I had the best time with all my friends and family. It was the most fun ever, and I’m pretty lucky I had such a cool bar mitzvah!”

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