Tzviki Eisenbach had a bar mitzvah with more than 200 guests, including at least 50 from out of town. That was in August 2019. Then, it was his younger brother Mutty Eisenbach’s turn this winter.
Yet as the pandemic wore on, it became increasingly clear that 13-year-old Mutty’s bar mitzvah would be different from his brother’s.
“We were coming up with all different variations,” said mom, Chani Eisenbach. “But we realized we couldn’t make any concrete decisions until the week before.”
Mutty’s is one of many recent simchas in Wisconsin and worldwide, all gone sideways but still special and even beautifully resilient. The Eisenbach family is part of Milwaukee’s Orthodox west side community, and their Dec. 5 bar mitzvah experience is but one example of this strange year of pandemic life.
Abie Eisenbach said he spent months getting ready for Mutty’s big bar mitzvah, wanting to believe it would be possible with visiting family. He knows he was reaching. About a month beforehand, he realized, “it was not going to happen,” he said.
“I was trying to figure out – Can we do this? Can we do that? Can we have a tent outside?”
In the end, they pared down their plans and sent out invitations that said pandemic rules would be followed. There was no out-of-town family present.
“These family simchas, these family occasions are when we get together, we get to reconnect,” Abie said. The loss was hard on him, he said.
Mutty said he wished family could have come to town. “I like the way it turned out, but I wish it was different,” the 13-year-old admitted. But Mutty has been a wonderful young man, Abie said, at one pointing keeping it to himself that he knew a surprise video was coming, so as not to disappoint others.
“It was still his big day ... to see his smile,” Abie said. “It brought perspective back of what’s really important. We didn’t need a whole party. We didn’t need speeches out the door.”
Kiddush and Zoom
“We decided to make the kiddish outdoors,” Chani said. “We had the table set up with food they could just take.” The family called it “grab and go” food, because you grab a container and eat it elsewhere. They had about 100 people, but not all at the same time. People came, stayed and talked for a few minutes with distancing, took packaged food and left. In contrast, Tzviki’s kiddush had been a much larger sit-down affair.
On Saturday night, after Shabbat, the family Zoom–ed with extended family from Minnesota, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio. That was Mutty’s favorite part, he said.
Not everything is equal
“I feel like it was very nice in its own way. It was different but it was really nice,” Chani said.
“One brother had a huge gala event and the other had a much smaller event, yet they both came out realizing that this is what hashem does,” Abie said. “Not everything is equal.”
“Life doesn’t always give us fastballs. Sometimes hasehm throws a curveball in there.”
Mutty was not upset.
“He realized that this was the hand that was dealt to him, and he made the best of it,” Abie said. “He took it like a champ.”