As life lessons go, virtual Bar Mitzvahs make the path to ‘adulting’ real, fast

by | Jul 26, 2021 | Mazel Tov

Originally published in the March 8, 2021 issue.

Lisa Richmon

In 2020, Carin Joffe Simon and husband Mike Simon planned the first Tidewater virtual Bar Mitzvah for their son, Nate. When Betty Ann Levin watched the event, which was livestreamed on Facebook from their home, she joined the community of friends and family congratulating Nate for his accomplishment during a pandemic. Levin couldn’t help but think about her son Sam’s future Bar Mitzvah months away.

“Back then, January 2021 seemed so far off and we just naturally assumed everything would be back to normal,” says Levin, United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s executive vice president. Levin, like so many people was gobsmacked by the pandemic’s longevity. Sam Levin is the oldest of Scott and Betty Ann Levin’s two children. This was their first pandemic, and their first experience planning a pandemic-produced Bar Mitzvah.

On December 6, 2020, 119 years to the day after Walt Disney was born, Elijah Morrissey became a Bar Mitzvah at Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk. “We picked the date close to Elijah’s birthday because it has a huge tie in to Disney. Our family loves and follows everything about his life’s work, the movies, the music, the history,” says Elijah’s mother Alyson Morrissey. “We are a Disney family, so having a BM on his birthday is pretty cool.”

In their own ways, Levin and Morrissey, and their sons, used what COVID took away from their original plans and found silver linings. “One awesome thing is that so many of my cousins are much older than me. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are from all over and even if things were normal, they would not have come here. Because it was livestreamed, they all got to see it, making it really special,” says Morrissey. “We converted the recording to a video, and now have a keepsake.”

For Levin, the hardest thing was not being able to share this with friends and family. But the takeaway made up for it. “I can’t imagine a more meaningful service. The entire experience brought out Sam’s love of Hebrew! He showed us that if he sets his mind to it, he can do anything. Nothing really surprised us, but the preparation brought us together in a different way. His dad and I reminisced on our bar/bat mitzvah preparation and had wonderful discussions with him about his parsha as he prepared for his Dvar Torah.”

Elijah is the third child of Alyson and Chris Morrisey. “If we had to plan a virtual event during the pandemic for Elijah’s older siblings it would have been super hard. Elijah is pretty easy going. But we had to have his service in the sanctuary for livestreaming purposes and that was a little intimidating. His brother Jacob and sister Leia both had theirs in the chapel, which is very intimate and is better suited to our tight-knit family.”

Everyone was on board helping Elijah prepare, not just Cantor Jen and his mother who oversees the Hebrew school curriculum at OST. His siblings stepped up, too. It got rough at times, and the motivation zigged and zagged, but a joint effort on the part of Elijah’s entire family paid off. “Elijah blew us all away,” says Morrissey. “He rose to the occasion and did it with so much grace.”

The Morrisey family likes to do things their way—as a family, and often with a new destination in mind. Instead of producing a party with a band and a theme, they have an experience in Hawaii on the books. Elijah is a gamer. His biggest letdown perhaps was the cancellation of the Circuit Social party where he could celebrate his accomplishment his way, with friends playing video games.

The virtual Bar Mitzvah season mantra is making the most of a situation you can’t control. It’s a new family affair. Welcome to adulting.