Father and son share a milestone
By Deb Silverthorn
The weekend of Aug. 11, the Shmukler family shared two simchas in one. Boris and Benjamin, father and son, were called to the Torah at Congregation Anshai Torah (CAT) as b’nai mitzvah. The duo, each delayed for different reasons in celebrating his own rite of passage at age 13, believe it shouldn’t have been any other way.
Boris, now 46, was born in Kazan, Russia, where he grew up not knowing anything of his faith. He was 10 before he heard the word “synagogue.” A Jewish organization once brought a mobile synagogue to his town, but that van came and went.
Benjamin, who turned 15 this summer, had his own “moment” delayed: COVID-19 first broke just as he and his family were beginning to make plans. The family put “someday” on the calendar. Late this summer, “someday” arrived.
“As a child, my only experiences were the week that mobile shul came and another when a Jewish camp from the U.S. came. They came and left and our lives didn’t change. I knew I was a Jew, but that’s all I knew,” said Boris.
He is proud to have shared the milestone with his “mini-me.”
Boris, the son of Bella and Arik and brother of Masha (Michael) Blankenship, arrived in Dallas in December 1994. While he had completed high school in Kazan, he repeated the last two years at Richardson High School.
Arik’s brother Anatoly, of blessed memory, his wife Bella and their son Lev had preceded them in a move to the States. Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas (JFS) supported Boris’ family’s new beginnings, setting them up in an apartment and showing them around. Boris’ sister had her bat mitzvah at Temple Shalom.
Boris graduated from Austin College in Sherman with degrees in economics and marketing before earning an MBA at The University of Texas at Dallas. At 21, Boris went to Israel for the first time through Livnot U’Lehibanot. He brought home many memories and numerous souvenirs, but none were as precious as his future wife, the former Rebecca Kling.
A year later, Rebecca moved to Dallas from her hometown of Columbia, Missouri; the couple married in 2004. They joined Anshai Torah in time for Benjamin, and brother Jacob who followed, to attend CAT’s preschool. Anshai has been their Jewish home ever since.
Benjamin couldn’t figure out how his bar mitzvah would be celebrated or what it would entail. “Everything was different, school online was difficult, we couldn’t be with friends or family and I just couldn’t imagine it,” he said. His mother suggested that father and son celebrate their b’nai mitzvah together.
Warren Rubin was instrumental in the achievement of that goal.
“Warren is almost Moses-like in his appearance and absolute respect for the Torah and all things Jewish. He gave us more than just assignments and wanted to be sure we weren’t just getting through the process with blind memorization,” said Benjamin. “It’s clear that he has tremendous understanding for the Torah. He is a scholar and a teacher.”
Rubin, who has tutored more than 300 students over the years, had worked with siblings but never a child and parent.
“This was a first. To have Benjamin and Boris sharing the readings, alternatively reading pasukim and then joining together at the end? It was beautiful.”
“Neither of us got to do this ‘on time,’ said Benjamin, “but at the same time, it was right on time for both of us.”
Benjamin is a National Honor Society sophomore at Jasper High School, an athlete on Plano West Senior High School’s tennis team and a member of Jasper’s Legacy Pop performance, Tenor Bass and the Texas All-State choirs number of competitive choirs.
Anshai Torah’s Rabbi Michael Kushnick gave the b’nai mitzvah a “yasher koach,” an approbation meaning “may your strength increase.” He said that part of being Jewish in America is the freedom to stand up and say the Torah blessings in front of family and friends.
Beaming for their son and grandson were Boris’ parents and Benjamin’s paternal grandparents Bella and Arik and his maternal grandparents Barb Walts and Barry Kling. Anshai Torah livestreamed the ceremony for those in Israel, Russia and elsewhere who could not attend in-person. To close their day to remember, the Shmukler gents and their friends and family enjoyed a dinner out on the town.
Advice from Rebecca, the glowing mother and wife, has always been to “step toward the things you want.”
With Benjamin and Boris’ first moments at the Torah behind them, they are sure to take the rest of life one step at a time.