Jerry Weiner and David Solis go through the process a second time
Huntington Valley resident Jerry Weiner and Jenkintown’s David Solis are 92 and 95, respectively.
Yet by the end of spring, both men will become bar mitzvahs for a second time.
Weiner will celebrate his second bar mitzvah on the 80th anniversary of his first: May 7 at Ohev Shalom of Bucks County in Richboro. Solis became a man again on March 12 at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park.
Weiner found religion again after his wife Evelyn and son Larry died within months of each other during the first year of the pandemic. He began attending Zoom services every night at Ohev Shalom, where his grandsons had gone through their own bar mitzvah processes.
Around the same time, he found his original bar mitzvah certificate and a light went on in his head.
“I’m leaning in,” he said. “I’ve developed a closeness to Judaism.”
Solis decided to resume his Hebrew study because “it was just something I wanted to do,” he said. He lives in what he describes as “an old folks’ home,” and he spends much of his time in his room.
“Doing nothing,” he said. “You don’t feel very worthwhile.”
But Solis certainly felt worthwhile on the day of his ceremony.
About 10 or 12 family members came to Elkins Park to support their patriarch, including Solis’ two sons, his daughter-in-law and one of his grandsons. His girlfriend Reeta Goodman and her daughter Pam Goodman were also in attendance.
Pam Goodman, who is Jewish, called Solis’ effort and performance on the bimah inspiring.
“He did a really good job,” she said. “It’s not the age that counts. It’s the heart and effort you put into it.”
After the service, the family went out for lunch at the Drake Tavern in Jenkintown. Dr. Andrew Solis, David’s son, said younger brother Rob Solis drove from Connecticut for the event.
“It was a great day, and it was fun because we had members of my family, members of his girlfriend’s family,” Andrew Solis said. “It was a nice family gathering.”
The bar mitzvah, according to Andrew Solis, was also not just something to do. The Solis family history in the United States dates to Colonial times. The doctor’s sons were the 10th generation of boys in the family to become men in America through bar mitzvahs.
David Solis faced some antisemitism as a kid. As Pam Goodman explained, he still remembers other kids refusing to play with him because he was Jewish.
“He believes the continuation of Jewish life is important,” Andrew Solis said.
Jerry Weiner always believed the same thing, but he grew to believe it more intensely after the deaths of his wife and son.
The Weiners were married for 68 years and their lives were “intertwined,” Weiner said.
“We did everything together,” he added.
That included caring for their son, who had Down’s syndrome and lived with his parents until moving into a group home at the age of 60. So, after his wife and son died, Weiner was suddenly alone.
But when he started going to services on Zoom, he rediscovered a part of himself. He was a member of a different synagogue, Beth Chaim on Street Road, for 35 years. But he never joined another one after it closed, only attending services on High Holidays.
That was until the fall of 2020 when the Ohev Shalom members welcomed him with open arms. Weiner joined for services every night and became friendly with the other members on Zoom. When Ohev Shalom reopened in 2021, he started going in person, too.
“It was a blessing,” Weiner said.
And it’s a nightly ritual that he keeps to this day.
He likes the feeling of looking forward to services each night. Weiner only missed one in the past year-and-a-half: for his grandson’s wedding in Washington, D.C.
“It gives me an inner peace, a closeness to my religion, a closeness to God,” he said. “I look forward to talking to the people there.”
When Weiner looks back on his first bar mitzvah, he sees it as a stepping stone. He became a man that day according to Jewish law, and it pushed him to work toward actually becoming one.
Now he sees his second bar mitzvah similarly.
“It’s a fundamental part of my Jewish upbringing and learning, and that compelled me to continue on,” Weiner said.
At 92, he wants to enjoy his remaining years with his son, his daughter and their spouses. He also wants to enjoy them with his new synagogue family.
“The good Lord is giving me years and, whatever years I have left, I want to make the most of them,” he said.
Most of those people, as well as Weiner’s grandsons from California and D.C., respectively, will be in attendance at the May 7 bar mitzvah. A luncheon will follow at the synagogue, and there will be an intimate dinner that evening with the family.
But it’s not just going to be Weiner’s day. It’s going to be his late wife and late son’s day, too. For his bar mitzvah project, Weiner raised almost $2 million to build a sports complex and a playground in Northampton Municipal Park.
The complex will be for special-needs athletes, and the playground will be wheelchair accessible. A bench in the outfield will honor Evelyn Weiner and Larry Weiner.
“My mom was my dad’s guiding light,” said Debbi Katz, Weiner’s daughter.
Both Katz and her son, Eric, also said it’s very much in character for Weiner to go all out like this. He did it during his career as a pharmacist, as a father and as a husband, and now as a 92-year-old bar mitzvah boy.
“I respect it. It’s commitment,” Eric Katz said. “I think back to my bar mitzvah. It was hard. It was a lot of work.” JE