Lawrence man gives thanks with second bar mitzvah

Herb Friedson, right, recites passages from the Torah for his bar mitzvah on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center. Friedson decided to do the ritual 70 years after his first bar mitzvah, for his 83rd birthday, as a way to give thanks for his good health. Following along with him during the service, from left, are Cheryl Lester, Steve Hurst and Melanie Cohavi.

Herb Friedson got a head start Saturday on Thanksgiving with a special way of celebrating his 83rd birthday.

Friedson marked the day with his second bar mitzvah, which came 70 years after his first at the Cleveland synagogue of his grandparents. This time, he led the Lawrence Jewish Community Center with the same parshah and haftarah that he recited as a 13-year-old, wearing — he recalled in comments to the congregation at the conclusion of worship — a tweed suit.

“People ask me why I would do this again,” he said. “I have lived to the age of 83 in relatively good health. I’m thankful for that. This is my way of expressing thankfulness by repeating an event that occurred 70 years ago.”

There’s significance in the 70-year mark, Friedson said. That’s the number of years King David lived, and in the Jewish Book of Wisdom it’s stated that age is “ripe old age.”

Friedson’s wife, Martha Taylor, said a second ceremony is analogous to couples renewing wedding vows, but much more rare.

There were differences in Friedson’s two ceremonies separated by seven decades. His children and grandchildren were among those in attendance Saturday, as well as friends he has made in Lawrence as the former longtime co-owner with his wife of a downtown clothing store and as the creator of enamel artworks. He also studied the Hebrew passages much differently the second time around, Friedson said.

“Seventy years ago, my teacher was a very learned man who instructed me on the bar mitzvah and the way I had to cant the passages from the Torah,” he said. “This time, my cantor recorded my passages very slowly and succinctly, so I could get on the computer and repeat the passages. The passages are intricate and complicated. It’s not like learning to sing a pop song.”

His wife was instrumental in ensuring he kept to this practice schedule, Friedson said.

“She would tell me, ‘You better not get behind,'” he said. “She was with me the whole time I practiced every day for six months.”

Susan Elkins, president of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center, said it was the congregation and community that should be thankful for Friedson’s good health. He was an ?example of justice, compassion and commitment in the community, she said.