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New Yorker Gavriel Margolies Scott Celebrates Bar Mitzvah in Kansas

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When it comes time for their bar or bat mitzvah, some of the seventh-grade students at Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in New York travel with their families to Jerusalem to mark the occasion in Judaism’s holiest city. Most others hold the major life-cycle event closer to home, where friends and family members can celebrate together.

Gavriel Margolies Scott, son of Malka Margolies and Walter Scott, had a different idea. When plans for his bar mitzvah began to materialize a couple of years ago, he insisted that he wanted to celebrate the simcha with his grandparents, Rabbi Morris and Ruth Margolies, in Kansas City. Since they were no longer able to travel, it meant that Gavriel’s bar mitzvah would of necessity take place far from his own synagogue, classmates and friends in New York. It also meant that the event would be held in as convenient a spot as possible for “Grandpa Moshe and Grandma Ruthie” – at Village Shalom, where the couple had recently moved.

In the ensuing months, Rabbi Margolies’s health declined, and the well-known and much-revered retired senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom died in November 2012. However, Gavriel remained resolute in his plans. And so on Shabbat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim in April 2013, the Margolies and Scott families gathered from across the country at Village Shalom’s Appleman Synagogue for Gavriel’s big day. More than 100 friends, Beth Shalom congregants and Village Shalom residents also attended the Shabbat morning service conducted by Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, Kansas City Jewish community chaplain and longtime friend of the family.

Gathered in Village Shalom’s Appleman Synagogue are (from left) Walter Scott, Gavriel Margolies Scott, Malka Margolies and Ruth Margolies.

Ruth Margolies spent the weeks prior to the bar mitzvah expressing her amazement and delight at her grandson’s unconventional choice of venue. “Who goes from New York to Kansas City to have his bar mitzvah? I can understand going to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) – but Kansas? But he wanted his grandparents to be there – all these arrangements were made when my husband was still alive.” She is certain the rabbi would be immensely proud of Gavriel’s commitment.

The event was a bit out of the ordinary for Village Shalom as well. While the retirement community has hosted nearly every kind of Jewish life-cycle event – including brit milah (circumcision ceremony), a wedding, and adult b’nai mitzvah celebrations, this was perhaps only the second time in Village Shalom’s 13 years at its Overland Park location that a 13-year-old youth has marked this rite of passage in the retirement community’s Appleman Synagogue.

All arrangements for the bar mitzvah – including the worship services, meals and lodging for Shabbat-observant guests, and countless other details of the weekend – were made long-distance through many phone calls and emails. Gavriel’s mother did have the date reserved at their synagogue in New York as well – “just in case.” But everything went as smoothly in Kansas City as Gavriel and his family had hoped.

His parents summed up the importance of the experience in a booklet they prepared for the occasion: “By choosing to have his bar mitzvah in a senior community 1,200 miles away from our home in New York City, Gavriel has shown an incredible sensitivity and comprehension as to what it means to live a principled life that, among other things, respects our elders.”

“I love my family,” Gavriel said simply. “I knew my grandma wouldn’t be able to come to New York, and I wanted to celebrate with my family. That’s why I’m here.”