How do parents of a severely challenged 12 year old girl celebrate their daughter’s bat mitzvah?
The question was poignantly relevant for Rabbi Moshe Meir and Pnina Lipszyc, Chabad representatives to Ft. Lauderdale, who have cultivated a lively Jewish community over nearly two decades while raising their special needs children under extraordinary circumstances.
To honor their eldest, Goldie, born mentally impaired and with extreme autism, the Lipszycs chose to have a new Torah scroll written and dedicated for her bat-mitzvah.
Hundreds came to participate in this unusual celebration. An eclectic mix of friends and family members took their turn with the scribe as he dipped his quill into ink, carefully filling the final letters in the Torah scroll, before it was carried under the chuppah to the sanctuary at Chabad of Ft. Lauderdale.
Outside, children had their faces painted. Inside, people danced and dined. Everywhere, warm vibes suggested that this is a community where acceptance, kindness and generosity are valued currency liberally traded to make remarkable things happen.
Guma Aguiar came from Israel with his wife and children to celebrate. “The first time I came to this Chabad center six years ago,” the founder of Leor Energy told the guests, “I had nothing. I knew nothing about Judaism, and didn’t understand a thing of what was going on during services.”
Aguiar, who went on to become a successful entrepreneur, was born to Jewish parents but raised as an evangelical Christian. “I came here because I wanted to try something authentic,” he said, recalling how he walked into the Chabad center one Friday night in search of something missing in his life. He found it in Rabbi Lipszyc’s unconditional acceptance. Aguiar has since returned to his Jewish roots, living in Jerusalem much of the year.
Like Aguiar, many at the Torah dedication/ bat-mitzvah were there having discovered the joy of belonging through Rabbi Lipszyc. Aguiar says that observing the rabbi’s unfaltering devotion to his daughter has been a tremendous inspiration. “Goldi’s come a very long way since we got to know her six years ago. Moshe Meir has nurtured her with incredible love and patience.”
From the way Rabbi Lipszyc greets an endless stream of visitors to the Chabad center and the Kabbalah Café in Ft. Lauderdale, one would never guess that the 45 year old father of five has twice battled cancer and continues to struggle with his own health while working creatively to build and grow Jewish life in the area.
Today, Chabad of Ft. Lauderdale own three beautifully renovated, well trafficked properties in a residential part of the city. As far as Rabbi Lipszyc is concerned, it’s only the beginning. In an interview with Lubavitch.com, the Chabad representative spoke candidly about his work, his life’s trials and the optimism that keeps him going.