In a bar mitzvah, another generation is stepping up into community leadership

Some 30 years ago, my husband, Burt, decided to drive out west in a big Ford truck, corral a wild mustang, bring it back to our farm in northern Michigan, and train it. I accompanied him on the journey. When we personally witnessed these handsome untamed beasts in person, Burton saw how impractical and unfair the plan was. We returned home, steedless.

Over the last five years I watched illness overtake the wild mustang I married 57 years ago. We made it through high highs and low lows. As low as the lows were, I’m glad we stuck it out.

In Back from Betrayal, my first book, I shared how I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing, at a future child’s or grandchild’s wedding or bar mitzvah, another woman on Burton’s arm. I thought about that a few weeks ago at my grandson River’s bar mitzvah. While I wished Burton could have been there, I didn’t have to leave early, as he’d have insisted. I stayed on the dance floor ‘til midnight. And felt grateful for the hard work we’d both done to save our marriage.

Several other things also made River’s bar mitzvah special. For one, his age. River is 14, rather than the usual age of 13 when most bar mitzvahs are held. He’s recovering from ALL leukemia, which is—thank God—highly curable. A year ago, his parents realized he’d lost a lot of weight and was unusually tired. They rushed to Beaumont ER, which diagnosed the problem and sent River directly to Michigan Children’s Hospital in Detroit. He remained there, in treatment, for three weeks. He’s still in treatment, but living at home, and able to visit for the painful lumbar punctures he still receives. He’ll continue in treatment for three more years. Whew!

Like his late grandfather, River’s been a remarkably brave, stoic and patient patient. He’s a very smart young man, and—as I expected—he sailed through his reading of the Torah.

Another special aspect of River’s bar mitzvah: He’d connected with Diego, a teenager from Lafayette, LA, also undergoing treatment for cancer. River and Diego met in a Tik Tok comment section and talked for hours on Snapchat. River’s mom and dad, Nadine and David, invited Diego and his mother, Mary, to the bar mitzvah. The boys met in person for the first time that weekend and relished the interaction. Mary kept up with me on the dance floor, though I admit she’s a far better dancer.

Other special touches included cotton candy on paper cones that were snapped up and devoured. Also appreciated: sugar cookies imprinted with the hard-earned phrase: F*#K Cancer.

Yet another highlight: the special appearance of BabyTron, a popular rap artist from Ypsilanti, MI. (Of course, you already knew that.)

On a personal note, one of River’s nurses, Brandon Fitzgerald, introduced himself. He admired my silver t-shirt (found online by my fashionista BFF Brenda. Being chic takes a village.)

Brandon said, “Thank you for the gift of River.”

Yes, I melted.

David spoke beautifully about how Nadine had risen, make that soared, to the occasion and been such a remarkable advocate for River. The Yiddish term kvell—bursting with pride—only begins to describe my reaction.

As for my response to the whole evening, I quote River’s nurse, Brandon. Thank you, David and Nadine and Andy and Amy, for a legacy beyond miraculous—the gift of our grandchildren.

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