Interim dean and visiting professor of law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University
Lee Fisher says when his two children, Jason and Jessica Zone Fisher, were bar and bat mitzvahed, he saw them “mature before his eyes.”
“It’s not until you actually see them on the bimah that you are moved because you do see a certain maturity and dignity that you might not have otherwise seen in your child,” he says.
Fisher, who is now Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law interim dean and visiting professor of law, sees his children’s bar and bat mitzvahs from a different angle than some Jews since he never had a bar mitzvah himself. Fisher grew up attending Suburban Temple-Kol Ami, a Reform synagogue in Beachwood, which didn’t do bar mitzvahs when he came of age. However, he did have a confirmation at the temple in 1966 when he was 15.
Confirmations generally occur when one is a bit older than 13 and are done with an entire temple class at the same time. There also is no individual party involved and if there is any celebration, it is typically one the class has together.
“The difference is that the bar and bat mitzvah is very focused on the individual and obviously those who are being bar or bat mitzvahs are the focus of attention and recite extensively from the Torah,” Fisher says. “Whereas each confirmand speaks much more briefly and it’s not necessarily a longer service, but it’s a service less focused on any one person.”
Of that day, Fisher remembers being the president of his confirmation class of 25 students. He led the service and read the longest Torah passage of the students, which he remembers to this day – the Shema from Deuteronomy, verses 4-9.
“Although I value bat and bar mitzvahs, at the time I didn’t feel like I was losing anything by participating in a group ceremony in which we were all confirmed,” he said. “In retrospect, would I have liked to be bar mitzvahed? The answer is yes, I would have – but at the time it was not something I felt I was missing out on.”
Altogether, Fisher says his Jewish upbringing, especially with Suburban Temple, influenced his lifelong value of tikkun olam.
“I think, frankly, it had a big influence on my decision to pursue a public career in government because I felt that it was consistent with this whole concept of tikkun olam that I learned in Sunday school,” says Fisher, who is former Attorney General of Ohio and Lieutenant Governor of Ohio.
While he says he was nervous at the time of his confirmation – he estimates 200 to 250 people attended the confirmation – Fisher found the whole experience “very moving” in a way that is distinct from that of a bar or bat mitzvah.
“This was moving in a different way because you felt like you were part of a larger community,” he says.
However, when Fisher’s children, who are now adults, were bar and bat mitzvahed, also at Suburban Temple, he also remembers being impressed with how much Hebrew they learned and the degree of discipline it required, compared to his confirmation.
“The nice thing about it is it wasn’t just recitation, they actually understood the words and understood the meaning,” he says.
And Fisher was not the only one who saw his children’s bat and bar mitzvahs as special and unique: his wife, Peggy Zone Fisher, and her family, as Catholics, were also new to the experience. Fisher remembers how moved and impressed her family was at the ceremonies.
“(Zone Fisher’s) family recited from the Torah during both Jessica’s bat mitzvah and my son’s bar mitzvah and I remember how moved they were by the service and how they came away feeling that there was nothing comparable in the Catholic or Christian religions that was as moving as that service,” he says.
This article appeared in the Spring / Summer 2017 issue of Bar•Bat Mitzvah.