By Larry Ruehlen, Observer & Eccentric 10/19/08
Jakob Louk celebrated his bar mitzvah on Thursday with the people who helped make it possible.
“Who would have thought this could happen?” Jakob’s grandfather, Steve Mandell, said after the ceremony at The Shul in West Bloomfield.
Jakob, of Farmington Hills, is a special-needs child who communicates with more smiles than words.
Leading up to a bar mitzvah, a boy must immerse himself in the traditions of Judaism, studying the Torah, Hebrew language, prayer, Jewish identity, liturgy, beliefs and holidays for at least a year.
Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov said Jakob carried out that tradition in his own way.
“Jakob learned how to enjoy Jewish life,” Shemtov said. “Our traditions are the core of the program. We believe every child serves God in their own unique way.”
The Shul is known for its accepting, family atmosphere. While a special-needs child like Jakob might struggle to fit in elsewhere, he is welcome at The Shul. Because Jakob’s father Andy isn’t Jewish, Jakob’s grandfather fulfilled the traditional family role in the ceremony. The proud father didn’t mind at all.
“The Shul is an amazing place,” he said. “Jakob went into manhood today. He’s fit in here from day one, and the difference in him is night and day.”
Jakob is shy and most of the time has little patience for big crowds.
That wasn’t the case Thursday as some of his classmates from Warner Middle School attended, as well as dozens of friends and family, some of whom flew in from Australia.
Jakob clearly enjoyed his big day.
He spent a fair amount of time in the spotlight, helping with the Torah and occasionally encouraging friends and family to clap in celebration. When Rabbi Shemtov offered him a chance to collect his official bar mitzvah certificate, shyness got the best of Jakob and he returned to his seat.
“Come up here,” said his grandfather, standing near the podium.
“No,” replied Jakob, with a mischievous grin on his face. Laughter filled the synagogue and soon the formal service concluded with Rabbi Shemtov calling out, “Mazal Tov!”
A tour of The Friendship Circle followed. It is a special place that helps children overcome challenges by letting them experience life in a controlled setting called LifeTown. A movie theater, library and dentist’s office are just of a few of the experiences offered in the small, indoor city.
There is also the gym where Jakob takes martial arts and a whole bunch of activity rooms where children can do everything from use a climbing wall to paint with their fingers. Each child is teamed with a teen volunteer who helps them navigate through the lessons of the day.
Bassie Shemtov, LifeTown director, said the children form a mutually beneficial bond that allows both to flourish. It is a formula that has worked wonders in the 12 years Jakob has attended classes.
“Jakob loves you for who you are,” she said. “He gives unconditional love.”
Since Jakob’s bar mitzvah occurred during Sukkot, the Festival of Tabernacles, the congregation carried out the commandment of “The Four Kinds” and had an opportunity to eat the celebratory meal in a Sukkot booth.
“This is a special place,” Mandell said. “It was a great day for Jakob.”