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First Bar Mitzvah at Southampton Synagogue in over a decade

Monday, 23 December, 2013 - 8:57 am

Rachman Bar Mitzvah 1.PNGThe first Bar Mitzvah to be held at the Southampton Hebrew Congregation in over a decade has left a family and a community deeply moved and inspired. 

On Thursday, 12th December 2013, 13 year old Sam Rachman of Winchester put on Teffilin for the first time and read from the Torah, followed by a lively dance with family and friends around the Bimah. The Rachman family and the congregation welcomed guests from Winchester, London and even from Canada, Israel and South Africa, to join the celebrations on this momentous occasion.

Pulling off a Bar Mitzvah in a city which has no permanent rabbi and no kosher facilities proved to be some undertaking for the Rachman family, who are thankful that a chance meeting with Rabbi Zalman Lewis enabled the Bar Mitzvah to become a reality.

Rachman Bar Mitzvah 4.PNGRabbi Lewis, director of the Brighton-based Chabad at SE Coast Universities, serves as Jewish Faith Advisor at the University of Southampton, where he works closely with the local JSOC, running weekly lunch n learns, Jewish Festival events and other Chabad on Campus activities for the Jewish students. Every Thursday during the past year, 12 year old Sam and his mother Sharon made the hour-long round-trip journey from Winchester to meet up for studies with Rabbi Lewis at the University.

“A number of years ago” Rabbi Lewis recalls, “I received a call from Elad, a post-graduate student and a good friend, who was an active member of the local Synagogue. The serving cantor was no longer able to lead the High Holiday Services, and the Synagogue officers were wondering if I knew anyone available to fill the role.”

Rachman Bar Mitzvah 6.PNG

The rabbi’s brother-in-law, Rabbi Dov Katzel, an ordained rabbi who works as an accountant in London, was happy to step up to the plate, and Rabbi Katzel and his wife Aidel Brocha, have spent Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Southampton for the past four years, providing both inspiration and festival meals.Once during each university semester, Rabbi Lewis and his wife Shterna, along with their children, make the hour and a half journey from Brighton to Southampton, where they spend Shabbat in the company of the university students. 

On the Saturday morning, the rabbi heads over to the Synagogue, where he shares inspiration, schmaltz herring and a whisky with the small congregation. “While the numbers may be small, the community spirit and determination is strong, and we feel privileged to support their efforts”, said Rabbi Lewis. He is also grateful for the special friendships formed and the support he receives. “Dr. Tim Sluckin, a maths professor at the university who serves as the Synagogue secretary, has generously opened up his home to our family and the students whenever possible. Our work with the students, and within the community, is a reality because of the encouragement and assistance offered by Dr. Sluckin and his colleagues on the Synagogue board, and we’re thankful for that”.

Rachman Bar Mitzvah 8.PNGAt the conclusion of the Bar Mitzvah service, Synagogue President Mr Martyn Rose welcomed Sam and his parents, and presented the Bar Mitzvah boy with a gift of a Siddur on behalf of the congregation. Mr Rose told the family and their guests that this was the first Bar Mitzvah in the Synagogue in over a decade, and he declared that with falling membership in recent years, he was delighted to see so many people, including so many youngsters, in the Shul.

The exquisite food essential to a Simcha was not missed, and a delicious brunch followed, much of which was procured from Golders Green in North London, though an enthusiastic aunt managed to shlepp along a suitcase full of cakes and biscuits from Toronto, just in case...!Rachman Bar Mitzvah 5.PNG

Proud parents Jon and Sharon told, “We set out as a family on a journey into the unknown, and emerged closer to our roots, our faith, our community and Chabad’s Rabbi Zalman, whose overwhelming sense of spirituality and inclusiveness imbued all of our interactions with him, not least the Bar Mitzvah celebration which has served as an inspiration to all who attended.”


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