Mazel tov to Olivia Z. Rowland, daughter of Elizabeth and Paul Roland of Philadelphia, who was Bat Mitzvahed on March 2. She is the granddaughter of Jim and Mary Ann Roland and Richard and Joanne Cohen; niece of Aaron, Liana and Paul; and big sister of Harper.
I have a picture of my twin brother on my desk. It’s from a school photo day. Sitting in front of a navy blue backdrop, Scott is wearing a navy New York Yankees T-shirt and a calm, easy smile.
To the untrained eye, it’s an unremarkable photo, one bound for family members’ wallets and walls. It stands on the ledge above my desktop computer, next to a photo of Scott and my parents.
In that image, Scott is squeezed between my parents, his gaze fixed down and to the right, looking equal parts disturbed and annoyed. And there is my mom and dad, smiling straight ahead, smiling through the daily heartbreak of raising an autistic child.
Living with Scott is hard. It’s a reality familiar to friends and extended family but only authentically grasped by me, my mother and my father. (I have no other siblings). Scott often spends hours yelling and screaming. He pees his pants and watches old Barney clips on a loop. He is nonverbal. He exists in his own universe, governed by a set of rules known only by him. That photo day shot is a miracle; prompting Scott to follow directions and smile on command is almost as rare as a day without a fear-inducing presidential tweet. Bigly.
But Scott also brings us simple joys. He’s exceptionally affectionate, capable of dissipating the headache he gave you with an unprompted hug or kiss. He has an uncanny sense of direction. He likes running and is unapologetic in his love of spaghetti.
He has a contagious smile and an even more contagious laugh. He drops into our day and gifts us precious moments, moments that become memories, memories that become earnest stories: “Hey, remember that time Scott did that thing?”
He gave my family one of those experiences on Sept. 8, 2007, the day of our B’nai Mitzvah. I wasn’t super stoked for my “big day.” Battling social anxiety, among other pubescent delights, I was nervous about how many of my friends would show up. And if they did show up, would they have fun? (Spoiler: They did. Of course they did. The party was on a cruise ship.) For my parents, though, the B’nai Mitzvah was a crowning moment. A pair of Jews from Brooklyn, this was the day their boys would shine, in front of grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles, friends and co-workers. The spotlight was on.
“Two beautiful boychiks,” my father joyously shouted to a hospital waiting room full of family on July 28, 1994. That was the day we were born, but on Sept. 8, 2007, we would become men.
I had been preparing for this day, whether I liked it or not, the past four years at Hebrew school. I could read Hebrew, write Hebrew and speak Hebrew. On the bimah I would have to sing my Torah portion, and that prospect gave me even more jitters. (Remember: social anxiety!)
Scott, of course, didn’t have that same dread. Some people with autism learn to speak later in life, even if it’s just a handful of words or phrases. Scott is not one of those people. My parents felt strongly that Scott should participate in the service, though, so a plan was hatched.
Back then, Scott carried around a DynaVox, a communication device with a grid of pictures corresponding to recorded phrases. In theory, Scott could tell us ‘I am hungry’ or ‘I am sleepy’ with the push of a button.
So, on the day of our B’nai Mitzvah, after I read my Torah portion, Scott was called to the bimah. He pressed a button on the DynaVox and again my voice filled the synagogue, reciting his portion. But it was Scott who pressed the button, who completed the action to generate the audio. This was Scott’s moment, too.
I called my mother recently to ask what she remembers about Scott pressing that button.
“Everyone heard you and started crying,” she told me.
“Everyone?” I asked.
“Everyone. Just picture it. I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it,” she replied. “It’s very emotional to see a disabled child, and you see his disability and you see we wanted to include him in that old coming-of-age routine: a Bar Mitzvah.”
And then our lives went on. Scott grew taller and his voice got deeper, not manifesting in words but in random, unsynchronized verbal mumblings. His mannerisms and moods and behaviors stayed the same. He is the epitome of the saying, ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ It has always been my thinking that he is wholly unaware of his condition, and as such he lives in an alternate dimension, unknown to all but him.
So it’s hard to say what the B’nai Mitzvah meant to him. He had to wake up early and put an unfamiliar cap on his head. Later, at our party, he kept fiddling with his tie and putting it in his mouth. What is this funny piece of cloth? In pictures, he looks mostly unamused, bored or indifferent.
In flipping through the album, one photo sticks out. It’s of me and Scott, standing in front of our cake with the candles lit. I’m looking down, wearing an awkward half-smile, with my right arm around Scott’s shoulder. He’s blowing out the candles, wholly in control of the moment, tie out of his mouth. He is a man. ❤
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“You want Philly Philly?”
“Hungry dogs run faster.”
“We all we got, we all we need!”
These are well-known phrases in any Eagles fan’s lexicon, but they are also the names of some of the drink specials that were on tap for Josh Markowitz’s Sept. 29 Bar Mitzvah. (If you wanted water, you had to ask for Patriots’ Tears.)
The celebration for his big day, which followed a service at Main Line Reform Temple, was Eagles-themed — a fitting decision for a big-time fan who goes to every home game with his dad, David, and older brothers, Justin, 18, and Jared, 16.
The whole family also headed to Minnesota for the Super Bowl.
“We are huge Eagles fans,” said his mom, Lecia Markowitz. “What better theme than this for Josh’s Bar Mitzvah?”
It was the week leading up to the big day, and Markowitz had finished the final fitting for her dress, a black number she was still searching for appropriate green jewelry to accessorize with.
She was excited for the celebration, which was the culmination of planning and plotting special surprises for her youngest son.
One such surprise included David Markowitz making a costume change during the reception and donning a Mummers outfit like Jason Kelce during the Super Bowl parade.
Josh did not know about this beforehand, Lecia Markowitz noted.
And the Eagles certainly influenced the rest of the party — even starting with the invitations, which were Eagles green and black with an outline of the now-famous “Philly Special” play.
The family built an 18-foot tailgate truck to serve as the bar inside where bartenders served the aforementioned Eagles-themed concoctions. The Eagles pep band made an appearance to lead the 265-guest crowd in the Eagles chant as a surprise and the green, vinyl dance floor was made to resemble a football field.
The theme was decided before the Eagles made it to Minneapolis, so the outcome of the game, whatever it was, would not have been a deterrent.
The Birds flying out victorious, however, certainly did not hurt.
“We decided before they won the Super Bowl, probably since last fall, we were doing an Eagles theme,” Markowitz recalled, “and then when they won we were like, this couldn’t have turned out any better.”
But while there was plenty of Eagles spirit in the room, with photos of Josh superimposed on various Sports Illustrated covers alongside blown-up versions of those featuring Eagles players, plus photos interspersed of him and his family from various games and, of course, the Super Bowl, Markowitz noted the party — as fun as it was — was not the most important part of the day.
It was an especially emotional day, as it was the Bar Mitzvah for their youngest son, she said.
“Having all our friends and family together — how many times in your life is everyone you love in the same room together?” she said.
The Markowitzes were not the only ones to bleed green during a special occasion.
In fact, fans taking their enthusiasm for the team all the way to their Bar Mitzvah or even a wedding is part of a larger trend.
“Absolutely,” confirmed Stephanie Fitzpatrick, director of talent and emcee at EBE Entertainment. “It’s been a huge trend as of late.”
She recalled Jennifer Metts and Craig Adams’ recent wedding, which, while not Eagles-themed, featured themed drinks and an
Eagles ice sculpture, and the crowd joining together for the Eagles chant.
The chant and the team’s fight song along with other notable songs like Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares,” which the Eagles came out to during the Super Bowl, have definitely been played more at events, she said. Their bands have all learned the songs and the DJs have them at the ready.
“It really wakes the entire room up and gets everybody in the spirit, which is really nice,” she said. “If people weren’t ready to party before, they’ll definitely be ready after this. It’s a huge crowd participation moment.”
The timing of the Super Bowl and Dillon Frankel’s Bar Mitzvah was pretty significant, noted his mother, Stacy.
Dillon was born six days after the Eagles’ unsuccessful attempt at taking home the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2005. His Bar Mitzvah was six days after they finally succeeded in 2018.
And Dillon was in Minnesota to see it all happen.
“It was a busy week,” Stacy Frankel said with a laugh.
But it was all worth it, as Dillon became a Bar Mitzvah the morning of Feb. 10 at Congregation Beth Or and celebrated later on the club level of Lincoln Financial Field itself.
An appearance by Swoop and tours of the locker rooms and press conference area for the kids added to the experience.
A special video surprise for the Bar Mitzvah boy featured a cartoon version of Merrill Reese talking about Dillon’s big day with a fellow animated Carson Wentz and other players.
With the help of an event planner whose son also had his party at the Linc, Frankel tried to incorporate as many creative details as she could within the space. Even the invitations had brown trim that resembled that of a football.
The food was themed around the idea of a tailgate, including a French fry station.
Like at football games, hawkers went around as guests left, hoisting trays of cotton candy, popcorn and Cracker Jacks.
Drinks, too, were on theme with a “Dilly Dilly” special, a nod to the Bud Light commercials that aired leading up to game day as well as to Dillon himself.
“It just couldn’t have been better,” she said.
The Bar Mitzvah boy sported a jersey during the party, which read “Frankel, #13” on the back. (Josh Markowitz did something similar, his mom noted, and all the men there wore green ties.)
“The best part about it, really, was the people,” Frankel said, noting relatives even came in from Israel. “When you have everybody in your life in one place — everybody was there — it was amazing. It was just a big milestone.
“It was worth every penny,” she added. “I would do it again in a minute.” ❤
Rena and Hal Rubenstein of Pembroke Pines, Fla., formerly of Philadelphia, announce the Bar Mitzvah of their oldest grandson, Skyler Reg Allekotte on Jan. 27. He is the son of Lisa and Ira Allekotte and paternal grandson of Sydria Allekote of Boca Raton, Fla., formerly of Philadelphia.