Never too late Barmitzvah of Laurence Baehr

At the age of 72 Laurence Baehr celebrated his Barmitzvah surrounded by the love of our congregation.
Here is a summary of his speech.

It has taken me sixty years to achieve this milestone and I would like to offer a brief commentary on my adventures getting to the Bima.

Although both of my parents were raised in Jewish households, in our homes our faith was not necessarily it´s foundation and as German refugees arriving in England in 1932, their desire to integrate into British life was more important than a religion that they maybe felt had forsaken them. Like the majority of the people I knew growing up, we celebrated the secular traditions of Christmas and Easter and did not celebrate Chanukah or Pasach. I did attend Jewish youth clubs playing guitar in a skiffle group, had some Jewish friends and managed to marry two Jewish girls, but unlike Jacob, not both girls at the same time.

But I was just never all that taken by the idea of practising organised religion, although my Jewish identity was very important to me. I loved reading and learning about them and won a scholastic prize in Religious Studies which was given to me by the Archbishop of Canterbury! But I was not committed in practice.

When I met Shirley we joined two synagogues in London, first Finchley Reform and then Belsize Square and most of our friends were Jewish. Living in North West London, I was far more conscious of Judaism than my secular upbringing in Croydon where the few Jews kept a low profile.

In North West London there were Kosher restaurants, Jewish schools, delis, hot bagels on a Saturday night. Driving around on a weekend, it was the norm to see Jewish people walking to shul dressed in their finest and the ultra orthodox proudly dressed in their traditional ways, or fancy dress on Purim. This was a life I had never seen before and there was a wonderful vitality and joy in it. I became drawn to the warmth of our Jewish friends and while we attended some services on Friday nights and Saturdays and high holidays, I really didn’t know much about my Jewish heritage. And then we came to Spain. Our first meeting with the congregation was a Purim Lunch in March 2006 before I retired and we came for good in August 2006. Melvyn was dressed as a clown, Mario as a cowboy, everyone welcomed us. We were immediately engulfed in the warmth and friendship of this wonderfully unique community. We have always felt a deep love coming from all our special family here and I slowly understood a little more about our religion.
Recently with Mario and Lucy’s help I have learned a lot more.

In my family there has been a tradition that the names Jacob and Joseph were passed down from one generation to the next. My Hebrew name is Joseph, my father’s was Jacob. His father was Josef and my great grand father was Jacob and so it has always been and so I hope it will always be so. My son’s middle name is Jacob. My Torah reading, Parasha Vayechi, was therefore so very significant in reading about Jacob and Joseph. It describes the end of Jacob’s life and his legacy to his children.

This Parasha tells us that while our forefather Jacob lived his final years of his life in Egypt, before he dies, Jacob tells Joseph that G-d appeared to him in the land of Canaan, and blessed him saying “I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and make of thee a multitude of people and will give this land to your children for an everlasting possession”. This is a reference in the Torah to our inheritance and our right as the children of Israel to live in the Holy Land. Jacob asks Joseph to take an oath to bury him in the Holy Land and then Jacob blesses his sons, assigning to each son his role: So Judah will produce leaders, legislators and kings; Priests will come from Levi, scholars from Issachar, seafarers from Zebulun, schoolteachers from Simeon, soldiers from Gad, judges from Dan, (*olive growers from Asher. Reuben is rebuked for “being a naughty boy confusing his father’s marriage bed”; Simeon and Levi, are also rebuked for the plot against Joseph.

Naphtali is granted the swiftness of a deer, Benjamin the ferociousness of a wolf, and last, but not least, Joseph is blessed with beauty and fertility. *For the sake of modesty, I did not go past Dan!!!). In following his path, all of Jacob’s children immortalized him as the twelve tribes of Israel. The Parasha is aptly entitled Vayechi, which is Hebrew for “and he lived”. Today, I have achieved a life goal. Sure, I have gone slowly and stumbled on the pronunciation of some of the words. But I was reading and doing my Bar Mitzvah and thinking of all my family before me, my parents, grandparents and relations, the Jacobs and the Josephs who I never got to meet due to the appalling circumstances of The Holocaust, the Jacobs and Josephs who never reached Bar Mitzvah age, who never had a fulfilled life. The Jacobs and Josephs who could not leave a legacy.

I am indebted to my teacher Mario who has literally held my hand over the past few months encouraging me and helping me develop confidence. And I cannot finish without thanking Shirley my lovely very special wife and Geoff and Rona for helping to prepare for this celebration today and all our friends and family from this community who have supported me on this journey and are here to celebrate my special day.
Thank you.
Laurence Baehr
Shabbat Shalom
14 December 2013