Becoming a bar mitzvah — take two


It is written that “The days of our years are three-score years and ten, Or even by reason of strength fourscore years…” (Psalms 90:10). Since a young man is considered a bar mitzvah at age 13, this line led to the tradition of having a second bar mitzvah at age 83, said Rabbi Bernard Lipnick, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Amoona.

Last weekend, Lipnick was surrounded by generations of family and friends as he celebrated his second bar mitzvah. The sanctuary was filled with the many people whose lives he touched and impacted over the years.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

“It is beginning to be a long life, and I am grateful to have survived,” Lipnick said. “It was an opportunity to celebrate a milestone and a wonderful excuse to bring together family and friends.”

Lipnick said Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose “pounced on the idea” when Lipnick mentioned the possibility of celebrating his second bar mitzvah.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Rabbi Lipnick as a person and his relationship with the congregation,” Rose said. “He and the congregation are synonymous with one another as their relationship has sustained, deepened and flourished over the years.”

Lipnick’s 58-year association with the congregation started with his appointment as education director in 1951.

He was a head counselor at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin when someone suggested he contact B’nai Amoona, which was looking for a new education director.

“At the time, it had the largest religious school in the country, with 750 students,” Lipnick said.

Having previously worked at the Camp Ramah on the East Coast, Lipnick had become “enamored” with the kids at the Wisconsin Ramah.

“I was struck by the differences in the kids (in the Midwest) — they were a different stripe, much more to my liking and educable from my viewpoint,” Lipnick said.

When he interviewed with B’nai Amoona’s Rabbi Abraham E. Halpern, Lipnick made it clear he wanted to be the education director, not the assistant rabbi.

“I had entered the Jewish Theological Seminary because I wanted the best Judaic education, not so much to be a pulpit rabbi,” Lipnick said. “But I did agree to step in and help out when necessary and Rabbi Halpern was delighted with that arrangement.”

He was hired and remained the education director for 11 years. Lipnick became the senior rabbi in 1962 after Halpern’s sudden death. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1991 after being with the congregation for 40 years.

Lipnick said he “returned to the saddle” when he and his wife Harriet moved back to St. Louis after living in California for 13 years. He served as interim rabbi for one year when the congregation was between rabbis.

However, throughout his life he has never lost his passion for Jewish education.

“I received my PhD. at Washington University and was their first doctoral dissertation in Jewish education — not their last, but their first,” Lipnick said. “I was also the chairman of the committee that established the Central Agency for Jewish Education in St. Louis.”

Lipnick’s influence on the lives of individuals and the St. Louis Jewish community is still evident today.

Fran and Harvey Cantor and Terry and Harvey Hieken co-chaired the weekend’s celebratory events. Both couples have long-standing relationships with the rabbi and the congregation. They recalled asking their committee members to go around the table and talk about their first encounter with Lipnick. They said some members remembered the rabbi from when they were youth group members, their bar mitzvah and other life cycle events.

“Planning this weekend has been a labor of love,” Terry said.

There was a special dinner for family on Friday evening in the lobby of Solomon Schechter Day School. Lipnick was the driving force toward its establishment, Fran Cantor said.

“It was his vision, diligence and expertise that made the school come about,” she said. “He understood and still understands the whole package.”

The celebration continued on Shabbat morning with Lipnick chanting the Haftarah portion. The Sedra was Emor, the same as his first bar mitzvah, which took place on May 6, 1939 at Congregation Pesach Tikvah in Baltimore. His parents were founding members of the Orthodox congregation.

“I chanted the Haftarah, but I don’t remember if I did a speech,” Lipnick said. “I can’t remember a party, but I do recall there was a celebration, because my parents told me to take a nap in the afternoon to be ready for the events in the evening.”

This time around, Lipnick did speak to the congregation on Shabbat morning about some of the events and memories of his first bar mitzvah. He recalled it took place just six months after Kristallnacht and being honored by Dr. Louis L. Kaplan. He was Dean of the Baltimore Hebrew College and a close friend of his parents, who had agreed to come and to daven Musaf.

The second bar mitzvah weekend celebration continued on Saturday evening, with 160 people attending a dessert reception at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Chesterfield. Terry Hieken planned a “This Is Your Life” program, with 12 surprise guests honoring the rabbi. Judi Scissors was master of ceremonies.

Always looking to the future, Lipnick is already making plans for his third bar mitzvah.

“According to the calendar, my third bar mitzvah will occur 13 years from now on May14th, 2022,” Lipnick said. “Same Parsha, same place and, God willing, all of you and all of us together, then as now.”