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Michael Hyman

Executive director, Mandel JCC

Michael Hyman stands at the lectern of Temple Emanuel in Paterson, N.J. at his bar mitzvah 50 years ago.

The lucky boy later smiles as girls kiss him after his bar mitzvah.

Like most bar mitzvahs, Hyman’s was a family affair. A big one. And a formal one. Until after the ceremony.

Hyman, the executive director of the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, conjures scores of kin when he reminisces about his bar mitzvah on May 22, 1965.

“My family at the time was very large, so on the day of my bar mitzvah, they all showed up and the next day, on Sunday, there was a bar mitzvah reception,” he says. “That’s what people did at the time.”

The bar mitzvah itself was very formal; the fun came later.

“The service that Shabbat morning went smoothly, the bar mitzvah reception went smoothly,” he says. “It was very, very formal; this was a Conservative synagogue, and the way that the bar mitzvah was done, all of the bar mitzvah boys – there were no exceptions – you were called up to the Torah for your aliyah.”

Each week, the bar mitzvah boy was the last one called to read one of the seven pieces of the Torah, and then chant a section from the Prophetic Books of the Bible.

After he was called up to read the Torah portion, “I chanted this piece afterward and then didn’t do anything else,” says Hyman, who lives in Beachwood and attends Beachwood Kehilla. “I didn’t learn how to read Torah until a year after my bar mitzvah.”

Temple Emanuel was a large congregation, with about 1,000 families, and that was the way it presented a bar mitzvah, says Hyman, who left northern New Jersey in 1981 for Buffalo, where he lived until 2003 (he spent 15 of those years as director of the JCC in that northern New York city).

“There was no room for any input or creativity” in the ceremony itself, he says.

Hyman’s bar mitzvah, though routine in its execution, was particularly well attended. His mother was one of 13 siblings, each of whom had a family; his father’s side of the family was smaller. Hyman got gifts including cash, checks and pens.

And it wasn’t just family that attended; so did his friends from his public school and from the Sunday school at Temple Emanuel.

The after-party, however, is the keeper. It was one of many in a summer that brings back fond memories to Hyman.

“The food was good; catering did a great job, and the band wasn’t bad either,” he says. “They played a lot of the popular music back then from 1965.” Did he dance? “There was dancing,” he says, looking at pictures from the party.

One shows Michael’s smiling face between girls kissing him, one for each cheek. He’s a happy boy. Make that a happy man.

“A lot of it was a social experience,” says Hyman, who moved to the Cleveland area 12 years ago to head the JCC here. “I just remember going through the whole cycle of bar and bat mitzvahs with friends, going from party to party to party every week. It went on for months.

“Our cohort of bar and bat mitzvah kids was probably 40 kids that year,” he says. “You’d just go one week after another. It was fun. It was just part of the culture, what kids did at the time.”


This article appeared in the Fall/ Winter 2015 issue of Bar•Bat Mitzvah.