Rabbis often speak of the magic of Torah, but one local bar mitzvah boy took the sentiment to heart and brought Torah lessons and sleight of hand to residents of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Village.
Natan Gamliel, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Krieger Schechter Day School who lained three aliyot and the haftorah at his bar mitzvah service last May, knew he wanted to do something different for his mitzvah service project. He combined his love of Judaism and his passion for magic tricks into three presentations for seniors focusing on Torah and holidays.
According to rabbis, cantors and educators who work with children preparing for their bar and bat mitzvahs — and the service projects that tend to go with them — projects in general are getting more creative and can serve as ways for boys and girls to express their individuality.
“At Chizuk Amuno they encourage you to do gemilut chasadim and community outreach,” said Jenny Gamliel, Natan’s mother. “As our family started to talk we wanted to go beyond the collect-something-and-distribute-it kind of thing. We wanted Natan to have a connection with the people he would help.”
“Weinberg Village is a place for elderly people, and I wanted the opportunity to bring some joy to their day; a lot of time they’re alone in the day,” added Natan. Through the lessons, “I could brighten a few people’s day.”
The magic tricks, often a card trick or in one instance putting a resident’s phone inside a balloon, were an effective ice breaker before proceeding into the lesson.
“It was a great interactive piece,” said Natan, “to have them involved and bring their guard down so it’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s some 13-year-old coming here to teach us.’”
In the lesson portion of his presentations, Natan would present a Torah or holiday teaching. For Purim, he summarized the Megillah and recounted the customs and traditions of the holiday. As in school, Natan followed up with trivia and a question-and-answer portion to ensure that his senior students were paying attention.
“I was responsible for thinking of the magic tricks, and I also thought of the basic topic we would discuss,” said Natan. Then, together with his father Ziv, Natan would go online and look up commentary and craft lessons in a way everyone could understand.
Said Weinberg activities director Gayle Newman: “We have had several students come and do their bar and bat mitzvah projects here, so we were thrilled to have him. He was poised and presented his material very well. … He certainly is a talented young man.”
Natan also had the opportunity to serve meals with residents as part of their Eating Together program that runs four times a week and is always looking for volunteers, according to Newman.
Reflecting on what he got out of the project, Natan said, “Aside from delving deeper into what I was explaining, I learned how to present, how to be clear and audible for an entire audience. I learned how difficult it is and how rewarding it is when it’s over.”
He also had occasion to reflect on his day school education.
“It made me very grateful for the education I have,” said Natan. “A lot of people are just learning about these things or are hearing about them for the first time in a very long time.”
“I know walking in cold is not something he’s confident in. This pushed him outside of his comfort zone, but he knew it was important to do,” said his mother. “I was very proud of him for that.”
Outside of volunteering, Natan loves creating three dimensional objects out of Legos, paper, cardboard — “basically lots of hot glue and tape,” he said. He participates in sports and plays guitar and piano.
His love for magic began at a birthday party when among the party favors was a deck of cards. He went home and learned from videos onYouTube and a few magic books. His family, including younger siblings Aviad, Lior and Gilad, act as his test audience.
“I can practice with my family because they won’t run and tell the world how I did [a trick], and I can get notes on showmanship,” said Natan.
Natan hopes to combine volunteering with magic as he moves on to high school.