Never say never.
Just ask Danny Rubin. In awe, he recently watched his 90-year old father climb up to the bimah at the Lubavitch center in Omaha, Neb., to become a bar mitzvah. The ceremony took place late last Thursday morning before family and friends. It was followed by a light lunch. That the celebration took place 77 years after Elliot “Bus” Rubin decided to forego the celebration as a 13-year-old made it no less emotional. Nor tense.Who knew? It was a surprise to the entire family that the nonagenarian even wanted a bar mitzvah.
According to his wife Betty, his desire to be bar mitzvah was a wish he kept secret these many long years, even from her.
Bus Rubin, the founder of Rubin Distributing, may have typified many a young, soon-to-be-teenage Jewish boy of his era. He didn’t particularly like after-school Hebrew classes.
“Then one day after being disciplined a little too harshly by his teacher, with his father’s approval, the 12-year old just stopped going,” his son explained.
Shevi Katzman, a daughter of Chabad-Lubavitch of Nebraska co-directors Rabbi Mendel and Shani Katzman, picks up the story.
As part of the Chabad House’s efforts to cater to the needs of the area’s senior citizens, “Rabbi Katzman was visiting Blumkin Home residents. He asked Bus if he wanted to put on tefillin and was turned down.”
Bus then sheepishly confessed he never had a bar mitzvah and went on to explain that at age 90, it was a little late to brush up on his Hebrew.
In a separate interview, his son Danny added: “My father never really had a Jewish education, like all of us did. But two months ago, he came in contact with the Katzman girls,” Mushka and Shevi.
“At the Blumkin Home, they visited my father quite a few times, which he really enjoyed. Mushka really took the lead and talked to him about a bar mitzvah,” Danny said. “With Mushka’s visits and encouragement, my dad’s fear gave way and he agreed to have a ceremony.”
David Cohen, new to the community and a Chabad supporter, worked with Bus on his Hebrew.
“Bus is in the Home now, because he is too weak to take care of himself, and I can no longer help him around the house, especially following his silent heart attack not too long ago,” Betty related. “So having his bar mitzvah at the Chabad House also was unusual, because he rarely leaves the Blumkin Home, except to go to the doctor.”
At the Chabad House, Bus, who uses a walker, was helped to a chair on the podium. The Torah was brought to the platform table top. Danny was called up to make a blessing beside the Torah, and so was his nephew, John Robinson.
Then it was Bus’s turn. He was assisted to the Torah and leaned over to read. Gripping the podium, he began. His voice was barely audible, reflecting his nervousness. He struggled a little, and his eyes glistened, as did those of quite a few others who watched. It was obvious that this was a very emotional moment for the bar mitzvah boy.
The different Rubin generations were all present: His 96-year old sister Ethel, his son and daughter-in-law Lynn, and his granddaughter Jennifer and her husband Erin, all observing closely from different positions in the room.
The new bar mitzvah was both pleased and perhaps a little relieved. The family was proud.
“At his age, it was very meaningful to him to go through the ceremony,” Danny extolled.
A smiling Bus received his congratulatory plaudits with a sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
“He built his business, Rubin Distributing, from scratch,” according to his wife. “He had a great reputation in the community and people like Joe Guss, now deceased, told me: ‘I always enjoyed doing business with Bus, because he was a man of integrity.’ ”
Bus originally wanted to perform the ceremony in private. But he gradually changed his mind. Thus, the ceremony that evolved was more a spur of the moment event, limiting what probably would have been a larger turnout.
On such short notice, Bus and Betty’s other kids, Sue and Tom, who live out of town, could not attend.
“All of us gave Dad a beautiful kiddush cup,” Danny divulged.
When Bus returned to the Home after the ceremony, he felt pretty good, although he did take a long afternoon nap.
“I can’t say enough about how patient Mushka and Shevi were,” said Danny. “The rabbi and his kids make a great team.”
Bus “is one of the least materialistic people on this earth. But after this bar mitzvah,” added the son, “I think now my dad feels his life is pretty complete.”