By Deb Silverthorn
“My Mom always says she is proud of me; now I feel happy and proud of myself,” said Kameron Ainsley Hoffman, who celebrated his bar mitzvah at Chabad of Dallas on Thursday, June 2, the Hebrew date of his 21st birthday.
Hoffman, who lives with autism, stood on the bimah as he shared in the blessings and traditions of being, as he says, “a grown young man.”
Kameron is the son of Julie and Jay Hoffman, and brother of Samantha (David) Humphreys and Tori Hoffman. He participates in the My Possibilities continuing education and job placement program and the Aspire 18+ transition program at Frisco’s Emerson High School. He loves Friendship Circle Dallas events and is a regular volunteer at the organization’s pop-up delis hosted throughout the community.
He first broached the idea of celebrating his bar mitzvah with Rabbi Jeffrey Leynor, of blessed memory, then with Leah and Rabbi Levi Dubrawsky, the directors of Friendship Circle Dallas. Hoffman now brought his idea to reality.
After he was born eight weeks early, a grand mal seizure suffered in the third grade erased all of Hoffman’s ability for reading and writing. Whatever he wanted to share for his simcha, he had to memorize.
Hoffman spent nearly six months studying by listening to audio clips that Rabbi Dubrawsky sent to his phone. The two met on Zoom and, on several occasions, before Friendship Circle activities, to review.
“Kameron was driven and he worked hard,” said his mother. “We live in Celina so it’s a good drive to wherever we go and whenever we were in the car, we played the clips over and over. If we missed a day, we did it twice the next.”
Just before the service, Rabbi Dubrawsky assisted Hoffman and his father in putting on tefillin.
“This is something Jews have been doing for 3,000 years and now Kameron has accepted the responsibilities to become a greater part of his community. Through the process, our connection has grown into something even more special,” said Rabbi Dubrawsky. “It was a sensitive and calm morning, not at all overwhelming. He did a wonderful job.”
Joining Hoffman with aliyot were his father, his uncle Gary Polunsky and his cousin Lee Polunsky, Friendship Circle volunteer David Rachman and friends Gal Sacks and Asher Kogutt, who were honored with opening and closing the Ark. “I was happy to have my friends with me,” he said, “and they were happy and excited.”
Wrapped in tradition, Hoffman wore a tallis made by family friend Teresa Oostenbrug. Like his sisters, Hoffman’s tallis has pieces of his grandmother Doreen Polunsky’s wedding dress sewn onto it and the four corners are embroidered with his monogram, birth date and the date of his simcha, a Torah and a Star of David. He also added one of the tzitzis that belonged to his Papa Harold Polunsky, of blessed memory.
“Now I have a tallis like Samantha and Tori and I was happy my family and Friendship Circle friends helped me tie the tzitzis,” said Hoffman. “Because of all the special parts of my tallis, when I wear it, my family and friends will always be with me.”
“It does take a little extra effort; however, never underestimate your loved one. We did a lot of talking with Kameron about having one for a long time,” said Julie. “While his sisters had had their own bat mitzvahs, we weren’t sure what his would look like but, when we talked with the Dubrawskys, we knew they could help us make it happen.
As a mitzvah project, Hoffman learned to make challah and, with Leah Dubrawsky, he made 36 rolls and a dozen challahs that were shared with Bikur Cholim of Dallas to distribute to Jewish patients.
“We had a lot of fun baking together and I know Kameron enjoyed helping, and eating,” said Leah Dubrawsky. “He is the first member of Friendship Circle Dallas that we’ve shared a simcha with and I hope there will be many more. He overcame his fears, he worked hard and he has set a great example.”
Hoffman’s parents hope, for anyone not certain about going through the process of having a bar or bat mitzvah, that their family’s story will inspire them to have hope.
“Levi and Leah have such a passion for the special needs community,” said Jay. “The Friendship Circle is made of his peers, so why not have them be a part of it? Kameron tells us all the time now that he did it, that he had a bar mitzvah and he, and we, are so proud.”
Hoffman’s family and friends watched, with pride, the day that one’s dreams are made of. “It was only about love, respect and seeing our child transform from child to adult,” said Julie. “It was absolutely beautiful and everything a simcha is supposed to be. Just everything.”