When Alan Fink glanced at the calendar earlier this year and saw that the 50th anniversary of his bar mitzvah was fast approaching, he knew it was time to start preparing.
For most of the last 40 years, Fink, 63, of Baltimore had marked the occasion with modest get-togethers. He liked to keep things simple yet intimate. Bringing together family and friends, he would often chant his haftarah portion, Vayeriah, for them and take the opportunity to mingle afterward.
“Each time, it has meant a lot to me. We’ve had bigger celebrations, or at least what I consider bigger, and sometimes, we’ve had celebrations that have barely gone noticed,” Fink said with a laugh.
But this year, he set out to celebrate on a much larger scale. He figured the golden anniversary of when he became a man in accordance with Jewish law would be as appropriate a time as any to relive that moment. And on Nov. 4, after months of hard work, planning and assistance, he will get a chance to do just that.
Wanting to recapture his bar mitzvah experience, Fink will lead prayer services, hold a post-service Kiddush reception and unveil his tzedakah project at Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Congregation, his lifelong place of worship.
“I thought to myself, ‘What would be better than to honor all the family history I have at the congregation?’ There was no better way to honor that history than this,” said Fink, who had his bris and wedding at what was then known as the Liberty Jewish Center.
Inspired by a wave of young congregants and young clergy members at the Mount Washington-based modern Orthodox synagogue, Fink said he feels a sense of rejuvenation. He has spent weeks relentlessly brushing up on his haftarah portion with Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro, whom he credits for putting any last-minute nerves to rest.
“He has put me at great ease and has really done a lot to make sure that I am in a good position with my haftarah,” Fink said.
Shapiro said the respect runs both ways.
“From the day I arrived at MMAE, I knew Alan was an incredibly involved leader,” Shapiro said. “I’ve never officiated at a bar mitzvah reenachment, but there is a first for everything.”
Fink said he hopes the same sense of closeness he has enjoyed for so many years at MMAE is captured inside the walls of the sanctuary.
A devoted father and husband, Fink said he felt it was important to have his three children, daughters Julie, 30, and Katie, 27, and son Joey, 24, and wife, Judy, share in the moment, as well as devoted congregants and friends. For instance, Julie will carry the Torah in the women’s section on its way back to the ark, and Joey and Fink’s brother will also recite an aliyah.
“It means so much to have my family involved,” Fink said. “One of my kids lives in Philadelphia, and my two other kids are busy with their careers. So this is a nice way to get everyone together.”
The post-reception Kiddush also figures to generate much buzz and discussion. Fink said he picked the theme of the 1960s because, as he put it, “I wanted to relive what a bar mitzvah would have been like in 1967.” In addition to the “retro decor and atmosphere” he remembers from his youth, Fink noted there would be a tasty kosher spread from Hoffman & Co. consisting of finger-sized meatballs, knishes and more.
“My mouth is watering just thinking about it, so I hope people come hungry and leave happy,” Fink said with a chuckle.
More importantly, Fink said, the party will help benefit causes close to his heart.
The centerpieces on the tables, for one, will represent more than symbolic value, Fink said, and contain items such as suntan lotion, bug spray and other camp supplies. Fink is working with CHANA, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore that responds to abuse of all kind, to help send kids from troubled homes to summer camps.
In addition, Fink is helping raise money for his congregation through a foundation his late father, Daniel, a founding member of MMAE, created as a congregant.
Fink said in planning his latest bar mitzvah soiree, he enjoyed every aspect of the process. He also expressed a great deal of appreciation to MMAE for allowing him to give back to a community he feel has given him so much.
“It’s so positive and reinforcing to be able to undertake an effort like this,” Fink said. “It’s just a win-win on all levels.”