A Toronto man has honoured his thirteen-year-old liver transplant with a bar mitzvah ceremony, the first of its kind.
Standing in front of a packed congregation at Darchei Noam Reconstructionist synagogue in Toronto, Frank Bialystok, a 64-year-old University of Toronto professor, read from the Torah and related the week’s Torah portion, “Acharei Mot” or “After Death,” to his own experiences as the only child of Polish Jews who survived World War II in the Soviet Union.
Born in Poland 1946, Bialystok and his father unknowingly contracted Hepatitis from an unsanitary smallpox vaccination.
“The tragic irony of our lives is that both of us had Hepatitis, but neither of us knew this,” he explained. His father later died of the condition in 1969.
After discovering he had Hepatitis C, Bialystok underwent a liver transplant, and has since celebrated his transplant anniversary every year.
It was Bialystok’s daughter who first came up with the idea to have a bar mitzvah for her father’s liver transplant, an idea that Bialystok agreed with in hopes to raise awareness about organ donation.
Darchei Noam’s rabbi Tina Grimberg reiterated Bialystok’s message of the importance of organ donation.
“There is an unfortunate misconception that Jews are not supposed to donate organs,” she explained. “But I stand on the shoulders of many great and venerable rabbis when I argue that there is no contradiction between Jewish law and organ donation. It’s a mitzvah.”
Rabbi Grimberg supported the bizarre bar mitzvah, telling the congregation that she had a hard time coming up with the appropriate blessings to bestow on the unusual bar mitzvah subject. “We normally wish our bar mitzvah boy a good education and a nice family,” she joked, “But our bar mitzvah boy has a PhD and three grandchildren.
In the same bar mitzvah service, Bialystok also introduced his third grandchild, three-week-old Rebecca to the synagogue for her official baby naming.
To read more about Frank Bialystok and his bar mitzvah ceremony, check out this article, found on the Haaretz website.