The night before his bar mitzvah in November, Ellis Gould couldn’t sleep. He was nervous.
“I was going to bed, I was listening to music and then at 11 o'clock, I was like, ‘Holy shit, I'm having a bar mitzvah tomorrow. Oh my gosh.’ ” he said.
With his parents and older brother asleep, Ellis went into the living room and took out the Torah scroll. He read it over about seven times before going to bed. To help his nerves, he reminded himself what was most important about the next day: “A bar mitzvah is not about completion. It's not about memorization. It's really about community. It's about you making an effort to show up.”
The next morning, Ellis and his family sat snug in a row on their couch, a laptop open on a table in front of them, as about 300 family members and friends joined them on a Zoom call.
Deciding to take Ellis’ bar mitzvah virtual was a family decision, but Ellis made the final call. His father, Jon, said he watched his son really take ownership of the experience after the decision — maybe even more so because it was online.
“We didn't have any sense of, ‘Oh, this is a loss,’ ” Jon said, “He went right to the, ‘Wow, I can have this in my house! This is going to be in our living room!’”
Jon said that when the reality hit that the bar mitzvah wasn’t going to be in a temple, it removed this piece of the experience that wasn’t as important to his son — the place it occurs.
“It really kind of stripped it down to what is the meaning of a bar mitzvah, which is not so much, for Ellis, tied with something that is called Temple Beth Am that just happens to be in northeast Seattle; for him, it's much more about a broader definition of community,” Jon said.
Although Ellis became a bar mitzvah — meaning he assumed his position in the adult world— both he and Jon expressed some disappointment they couldn’t be physically near their loved ones.
“The day of, I felt all of the pride and the joy and the sense of arrival that comes with a rite of passage, especially one that has to do with parenting and community,” Jon said, “and at the same time, I felt really distant from the community of family and friends and that was really hard.”
“I would have loved to see all of my family members' faces in front of me as I presented to them,” Ellis added. “I might not have seen them in person, but they're there for me.”
Jon explained that even though Ellis is the youngest, he is looked to as more of the elder, the moral compass, by his family. This was exemplified in his thoughtfulness and seriousness throughout the ceremony.
“When the bar mitzvah ended, I was like, ‘Everyone has acknowledged me for being a man at this point’,” Ellis said. “I've done this ceremony and was like, ‘Oh my God, I have a really cool accomplishment that I'm going to carry with me throughout the world.’”