Dr. Herb Modelevsky celebrated his second Bar Mitzvah at the age of 83 this past August. The custom of celebrating a second Bar Mitzvah at age 83 derives from verse 10 in Psalm 90: “The days of our years are seventy, or if by reason of special strength, eighty years.”
There were several unique aspects about Herb’s Bar Mitzvah, the obvious one being that he was 83 years old, but even more unique is the story behind the Sefer Torah used for this particular occasion. When Heritage Pointe first opened its doors, Herb and his wife Loretta were privileged to gift the first Torah to the home. This Torah previously resided in the temple back in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Herb grew up; he used it for his first Bar Mitzvah. When his dad, Bernard, of blessed memory, was 85, he celebrated his very first Bar Mitzvah at Heritage Pointe chanting the same parsha, from that very same Torah. The Russian Revolution prevented Bernard from having his Bar Mitzvah at age 13 because of the pogroms in his country. Needless to say, this Torah has traveled far and wide and means a great deal to Herb and his family.
I had the good fortune of sitting down with Herb and Loretta in the synagogue at Heritage Pointe where this momentous milestone took place. I asked what he would tell his 13-year-old self if he could travel back to that first Bar Mitzvah. He replied, “the importance of having love in your life, unconditional love.” He quoted the Torah portion, “love with all your heart all your soul and all your might.” He then went on to say, “Only though community service, by being part of a family, can you develop the compassion and the type of understanding that commitment demands. It’s that interaction with other people in the community which helps you mature and become aware of what fulfillment in life is.”
Herb essentially reaffirmed his commitment to Judaism at age 83. When I asked him what it means to be Jewish, he said you must have two qualities: empathy and patience. As he went through life he began to understand that compassion heals. A trained physician in pediatrics, ironically, realized “medicine does not necessarily come from a bottle or a shot in the syringe—it’s the healing power of compassion.”
He added, “If you have a difficult task in your life, you must have a partnership with other people. Have laughter and humor in your life—I believe G-d is present in that joy.” Herb’s outlook on life reflects that of one his favorite comedians, Charlie Chaplin, who said, “A day without humor is a day wasted, so let the funny in.” We could all take a page from Herb’s book and let the funny in.
Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of the Jewish Federation & Family Services.