Rod Keskiner, facilities worker at the Clearwater campus, celebrated his second Bar Mitzvah on Saturday at age 39. Rod believed that his cerebral palsy may have prevented him from fully appreciating his orginal Bar Mitzvah at age 13. Read the TBO.com story about Rod’s Bar Mitzvah here.
Twenty six years ago when I was thirteen, I had my first Bar Mitzvah. I had that Bar Mitzvah because I was in the Bar and Bat Mitzvah class and it was just what everyone did. I was too young to really understand that it was a commitment to my faith.
A year ago, Rabbi Birnholz and I were talking and he suggested the possibility of doing a second Bar Mitzvah to celebrate 3 X 13 on my 39th birthday. At first I thought he was just being nice, and I worried if I said yes, I would be doing a Bar Mitzvah for the same reason that I did it when I was 13 – because it was expected of me.
Fortunately I talked to Cantor Bain and she helped me realize that Rabbi was really sincere about doing this because he felt it would help me to reconnect with my Jewish heritage.
Over this past year, I have done a lot of inner reflection and I now realize that it is an honor and privilege to have this second Bar Mitzvah. Not only has it given me a chance to reconnect with my Judaism, but it has brought me closer to some very special people at Schaarai Zedek. This Bar Mitzvah is also giving me a chance to share a special part of my life with my friends at work.
My Torah portion, KeTavo, is the same Torah portion that I recited when I was thirteen. This Torah portion tells us that when the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, they were to offer the first fruits of their produce to God. With this act, they would show their gratitude to God. In Biblical times, we showed our devotion to God by offering our harvest, but today, we can show our devotion to God by offering ourselves – our own personal gifts. These personal gifts may include being a role model for others, helping others, doing acts of kindness and giving tzedaka, or any other contribution we can make for the good of others.
As Rabbi and I discussed my Torah portion, he asked me if I knew of anyone who during his lifetime had given God his first fruits by rising above impossible odds to fill his potential. As everyone knows, sports have always been an important part of my life. I have several heroes whom I admire for their strength in the face of adversity. These athletes have been an inspiration to me since I too have had to rise up against difficult odds and adversity to get to where I am today.
Ben Hogan, the golf pro, came back from near death from an automobile accident to win the US Open. The doctors didn’t think he would ever walk again, but not only did he walk, he came back to win.
Mohammad Ali also achieved greatness despite impossible odds. In 1967 he refused to serve in the military when his draft number was called because he said it was against Muslim faith. He was sentenced to five years in prison and was not allowed to box while serving his prison sentence. Three years later, in 1970, the court lifted the ban on boxing and in 1971, his conviction was overturned. Even though he was allowed to resume his career, 3 prime fighting years had been taken from him without justification.
Nevertheless, Ali put this injustice behind him and came back to win again and again. When he developed Parkinson’s disease in later years, he again overcame adversity by accepting the limitations of his disease without bitterness or giving up.
A third person who overcame great odds was Jackie Robinson. His accomplishments are explained in a beautiful story. During Passover, we read from a book called the Haggadah. The leader of the Passover Seder meal asks, “why is this night different from all other nights?” The people at the Seder are supposed to answer by explaining all the unusual things they do at this meal to make it special for Passover.
There is a story about Jackie Robinson in which a child at the table is heard to say something very different when the leader asks,” Why is this night different….” Before anyone could answer that on this night we dip the herbs twice or we recline as we eat, this child jumped up and answered: “because Jackie Robinson is in the major league.” What a beautiful way for a child to notice that an incredible African American player had finally broken the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
But Robinson’s roadblocks to acceptance did not end with being accepted into the major league. He endured racial slurs, and, when he was on the road, he couldn’t eat in restaurants with teammates or stay with them in hotels. When you realize how much pressure there was on him, it is amazing that he was so successful. I don’t want to take anything away from other earth shaking events, but thinking about Jackie Robinson stepping on the field for the first time in a major league game helps me realize anything is possible. It takes the first offering to set the stage.
Another tie in with my Torah portion is that Moses made a covenant with God which changed the course of Jewish history. Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey (the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers) also made a covenant – to allow a black man into major league baseball, which also changed the course of history.
Although my life has not always been easy, I have been blessed with a wonderful family and good friends. I feel that I actually have 3 loving families. Obviously, my first family is my biological family. I have loving parents who accept me for who I am and who love and guide me.
My second family is my St. Petersburg College family. I started college at SPC in 1990 and received my AA degree in 1992. I then went to Florida State University. Then I came back and began working at SPC in 1994 and have been there for 16 years. Every day I make two rounds across campus visiting all the buildings and departments. I have made friends everywhere I go. I am so thankful for this wonderful job in a place that has fully welcomed me and treats me with dignity. Everyone on campus accepts me the way I am and shows me friendship. I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor and the joy in knowing that I help everyone on campus. I realize that in turn I receive more than I give. To all of you who are sharing this day with me, I want you to know how much I value you as my second family.
In the course of this past year, the Temple has become my 3rd family. At first I just got to know Rabbi Birnholz, Cantor Bain, and Rabbi Simon. Then as I began to come to services, I got to know more people. The Koleinu choir has come to our house for several choir parties so I have spent time with many of you. Any time I come to Temple, people always talk to me and go out of their way to make me feel a part of the congregation. By doing this Bar Mitzvah, I not only gained a third family, but I have found that I have reconnected with my Jewish heritage and have found that it is really an important part of my life. Four years ago my family joined Schaarai Zedek.
Since my Bar Mitzvah, I had not really felt part of a temple family. I really didn’t expect to feel a part of Schaarai Zedek, but as I got to know the Rabbis and the Cantor, they welcomed me and took time to get to know me. Since Fred is in the Koleinu choir, I met many of the choir members and as a surprise to all of us, one of the people in the choir got me reconnected to a special time in my childhood. Judy Rosenkranz had met me 30 years ago when her son, Andy, was my camp counselor. When I learned that Andy became a Rabbi, I was even more inspired to reconnect to my Jewish heritage.
I want to thank many people for sharing this special day with me. To my “guys” – we have had a blast. If people only knew what goes on at break and lunch they would not believe it, but in all seriousness, you have enriched my life in ways you cannot believe.
To Phil, Angelo, John S, Kieve, Regan, Dave, Hank, Jon Y, Chris, Dustin, Tom — you all are so special to me. I truly love each and every one of you.
I have been blessed to have a family that has expanded over the years to include step parents, step brothers and sisters and their spouses, a wonderful sister-in-law and nieces and nephews. To Dad, Cindy, Sean, Stacy, Tim, and Emily,– you have touched my life in ways that you can’t imagine. Cindy, you are the world’s greatest WSM –wicked stepmother – I love you and especially thank you for taming Dad.
To the Merriam clan – Sara, Michael, Jessica, and Matthew – my other step family – thank you for sharing this day with me. When Mom and Fred got married, I finally got the sister I always wanted. Jessica and Matthew have been a part of my life for 25 years. As a young Uncle, I got to have special times with a niece and nephew not too much younger than me. I remember our fun swimming at my Grandma’s pool, our many dinners, and even family vacations to St. Louis and New York.
Fred, you became part of my life before my first Bar Mitzvah and I feel that you have always loved me as a son. You are also one of my closest friends. We have shared so many things together, sports, travel, and now our commitment at Schaarai Zedek. Thank you for your love and devotion to me and for the 8,726 peanut butter sandwiches you have made for me over the years. I also love your meatloaf.
I was very lucky to have my grandparents around for many years. At my first Bar Mitzvah we also celebrated my Grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary and my Grandfather’s 75th birthday. Their love will always be a special memory for me. I also have wonderful memories of my grandfather’s best friend, my Uncle Shorty. His wife, – my Aunt Carolyn will be 100 years old in two weeks. Our whole family is going to St. Louis to celebrate this wonderful occasion with her.
My brother Aydin has given me some very special things – I guess to atone for all the years of torture. He brought Barbara and Sophie and Maxwell into my life. Although Maxwell doesn’t really know me yet, Sophie and I have a special bond. When we have all been at Temple, she would only go up on the Bima if I went with her. Mom tells me that she always asks about me and she always gives me hugs and kisses. My sister-in-law is not only beautiful, but is warm and loving. I am so glad that my brother was able to convince you to become part of our family.
To my mom – what would I do without her. She has been there for me for 39 years. Although I attended school, Mom really home schooled me and spent hours every night helping me with homework. She is the one who came up with my speech board which has allowed me to “talk to everyone.” I wanted to go to college and she was determined to help me reach that goal. She devoted hours of her time when I was in high school driving me to and from sporting events so I could participate as a team manager. I actually became a 3 varsity letterman in high school. I love you mom.
Lastly, to Rabbi Birnholz, Rabbi Simon, and Cantor Bain – all of you have reached out to me and made that special effort to get to know me. In the past, people have often not made the effort to talk with me and read my board, but all of you have taken time to do this. I love all of you and I feel that this is my Temple home. You made it comfortable for me to have this second Bar Mitzvah. You allowed me to tell you what I comfortable doing, so that it has been a joy to practice my Torah portion without feeling overwhelmed. You asked me how I wanted to do the service and listened to my requests. I so appreciate your allowing me to have my friends be part of the service. I can’t thank you enough for suggesting this wonderful day.