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First bar mitzvah highlights ONR BBYO regional kallah

Read this story in Cleveland Jewish News

For the first time, a local teenager celebrated a bar mitzvah during the Ohio Northern Region BBYO’s regional kallah Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 at Hiram House Camp in Moreland Hills.

Jack Barron, 15, of Gates Mills, became a bar mitzvah Jan. 31 during the weekend convention, which was open to BBYO members in ninth through 12th grades.

“There are two main goals for the kallah,” said Brian Innenberg, regional director of ONR BBYO. “The first is for everyone to understand and choose their own Judaism. The second is to create a great community.”

The bar mitzvah was made possible through a new program funded by the Dicker Family Learning and Enrichment Partnership, Innenberg said, allowing a teenager who is not affiliated with a synagogue to celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah during the weekend convention.

Barron, a sophomore at Mayfield High School, said it had been one of Todd Kay’s dreams to incorporate a bar mitzvah into the kallah. Kay, who had served as senior regional director of ONR BBYO, died Jan. 26 at his home in Beachwood.

“When Todd was in BBYO, his friend became a bar mitzvah at an international kallah and he wanted to bring that to the Ohio Northern Region BBYO,” Barron said. “Todd wanted to include it in the regional kallah because if you’re not affiliated with a synagogue, you don’t have to go through all the hurdles of joining and paying, but you can still have the experience of becoming a bar mitzvah.”

Lane Schlessel, a BBYO director for 30 years, said Kay put a lot of effort into seeing the bar mitzvah come to fruition.

“He felt strongly that if we were able to show the community that a young person who hadn’t become a bar mitzvah for whatever reason, that he and the organization would be able to present an opportunity for that young person,” Schlessel said. “This was definitely a culmination for him. We felt like he was looking down on us this weekend.”

Barron, who became involved with ONR BBYO in eighth grade, said he was approached by Kay and Schlessel and asked if he would be interested in celebrating his bar mitzvah during the kallah.

“I felt honored to do it. I thought it was a cool concept. I’d like to join a temple at some point, but I thought this was a good opportunity,” Barron said.

Barron celebrated his bar mitzvah in front of around 150 people, including his family and close friends. He said he now feels more connected to Judaism and to the community.

“It was a little nerve-racking to be up in front of all of my peers, but I thought it was a good experience to be with all my friends and be a part of something new and being able to experience it with all of them,” he said.

“I had this experience where I got to connect with all of my friends who have become a bar or bat mitzvah and I had a better understanding of the prayers and why we say them. I felt more Judaic and more a part of the Jewish community as a whole.”

Schlessel said the bar mitzvah was the culmination of many years spent trying to bring more Jewish content to BBYO.

“Jack’s bar mitzvah set the stage that BBYO is vested in Jewish journeys for the children. We’ve really ramped up the connection to Jewish identity,” he said.

In addition to the bar mitzvah and Shabbat services, the kallah featured programming led by teenagers and BBYO employees on topics related to appreciating others, pursuing justice, the Israel Defense Forces and stereotyping. Happie Hoffman, Eric Hunker and Josh Cohen performed music throughout the weekend.

Innenberg said he hopes the teens will feel a greater sense of community after participating in the kallah.

“I feel that they will have a better understanding of Judaism and their own personal beliefs, and that they will feel that they are part of a really great community where they’re appreciated and valued,” he said.

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