Simon Chapiro reverently touched the edge of his prayer shawl to the Torah scroll and brought its fringe to his lips.
He then said a blessing and read the Torah portion of Jacob's encounter with an angel.
At 85, Chapiro was celebrating his bar mitzvah, the coming-of-age ritual customary for 13-year-old Jewish boys. It didn't matter that he was now a great-grandfather.
"I think it's very important that I have my bar mitzvah, because I couldn't have it before, because my father didn't have the money to pay someone to teach me for the ceremony," said Chapiro, who was born in Mexico and grew up and married there.
"This is very important to me."
The timing of the service on a Sabbath a few days before Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, was fitting, said Rabbi Leah Herz.
"The word Hanukkah means dedication. Doing something like this at this stage of life is a rededication to his Jewishness," said Herz, director of spiritual care at the Menorah Manor communities in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, where Chapiro and his wife, Ernestina, live.
Hanukkah, with its central themes of freedom and Jewish identity, begins at sundown today.
Becoming a bar mitzvah, or for girls, a bat mitzvah, brings with it an obligation to observe the commandments. It's so, even without a ceremony for boys turning 13, or girls the age of 12. Honors bestowed at a formal ceremony include being "called up to the Torah" to recite a blessing, read the weekly Torah portion and to give a drasha, or talk, about the reading.
In his talk at Menorah Manor's Ida and Jules Lowengard Synagogue in St. Petersburg, Chapiro spoke of Jacob's struggle with the angel and likened it to the way people struggle with God, "struggle with our faith and the role God plays in our life."
He had rehearsed with an iPad.
"He is a guy who has just kept pace with technology," Herz said.
"He has an iPad mini, and he hauls it around in a bag on his walker and he uses it for everything," she said. "So when it came time to start with him on his Torah portion, I actually read the verses that he is going to be reading and sent them to him as an attachment, which he then opened and learned from my saying the (Hebrew) words."
The service was tailored for the former businessman. Usually the rite of passage is preceded by years of Hebrew school, with students learning special prayers and how to chant in Hebrew. Chapiro's parents, who could not afford such lessons, had fled Russia during the 1920s to escape the pogroms, violent attacks on Jews.
As the bar mitzvah service was about to begin, David, the youngest of the Chapiro children, presented his father with a prayer shawl. He had been wearing one that belonged to Gregory, his eldest son who died of cancer six years ago. His simple kippah, or yarmulke, was replaced with a colorful Middle Eastern-style version, a gift from Menorah Manor, which also presented him with a certificate attesting to his official status as a bar mitzvah.
While Chapiro's formal coming-of-age ceremony took place decades after boyhood, for Jewish girls, it has not always been common to have similar public ceremonies. Some who missed the opportunity are choosing to embrace the ritual as adults. Herz, 59, did not become a bat mitzvah until she was 37. Some of Chapiro's male contemporaries, however, are celebrating their second.
"The Bible said that the ideal age to live is three score years plus 10, so if you live to 83, it's kind of 13 years into your next lifetime," Herz explained.
It's why Dr. Paul Cohen, a retired osteopathic physician and a leader at Congregation Beth Sholom in Gulfport, celebrated his second bar mitzvah earlier this year. "To me, it was extremely fulfilling," he said.
Rabbi David Weizman of Congregation Beth Shalom in Clearwater, which Chapiro attended before moving to Menorah Manor, said he believed his former congregant was satisfying a yearning.
"If a person reaches adulthood and they haven't had that rite of passage, they feel unfinished," Weizman said. "Taking care of business, that's what he's doing."
And like most bar mitzvahs, his was a time of family. Several dabbed their eyes during the service. Ernestina, his wife of 61 years, gave him a kiss at the end, saying, "Mazel tov!" David had traveled from Atlanta, daughter Janet Delgado, who lives in Palm Harbor, brought two of her children. Another daughter, Roxana, in Mexico, and middle son, Isaac, in Seattle, were unable to make the trip. Sister Mirla Kremer of St. Petersburg came with two sons and a daughter-in-law.
Also present in spirit, Herz told the congregation, were Chapiro's parents, Leon and Zlata, who had also lived at Menorah Manor. Chapiro had spoken of them days earlier as he prepared for his long-deferred bar mitzvah.
"Their names are on the wall of remembrance right there," he said.
The bronze plaques are visible as one enters the synagogue.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.