Dovid, Kivi, Lyla, Aiden & Shoshana
Photos by Alicia Rosner & Dave Scaglione

I’ve written about many wonderful bar and bat mitzvahs. With tremendous gratitude, I now get to write about my twin sons’ b’nai mitzvah. I could start by sharing details about the décor, theme, outpouring of love and support we received to make the event happen.

But I won’t. I’m starting with what I believe is the main focus: Aiden & Kivi. These two young men are remarkable.

Aiden is super creative, mischievous, athletic, funny and incredibly kind. I’ve learned how to be more thoughtful from watching him. And we’ve seen his strong work ethic pay off with his successful lawn care business.

Kivi is crazy-smart, very observant, inquisitive, tech-savvy, enthusiastic about learning and is a voracious reader. He’s inspired me to look at different perspectives.

Guests enjoyed themed yarmulkes & booklets Shoshana wrote, explaining the service, so everyone could follow along.

We’re so very proud of the boys’ dedication to their b’nai mitzvah. They learned for over a year with several people to prepare for their special day. My dad, Dr. Sherwin “Butch” Yaffe, a master B’aal Koreh (Torah reader) with 60+ years of leining experience taught Aiden and Kivi everything for the service at our shul, Baron Hirsch Congregation (BH) in Memphis. They actually had to learn extra prayers, because it was Shabbos Rosh Chodesh (new month) on February 10, 2024.

It was lovely hearing the boys hum and sing their davening (prayers) around the house as they practiced. Watching my dad learn with my sons was extraordinary – a feeling of pride/love/happiness I won’t ever forget.

Aiden and Kivi learned about their parsha (Torah portion) – Mishpatim (Ordinances) – with BH’s Rabbi Ian Lichter; and BH’s Rabbi Joel Finkelstein taught them about tefillin, learned parsha, and helped them write their D’var Torahs (parsha speeches). Zaydie Butch and Zaydie Mike Cenker gifted the boys their tefillin.

Festivities kicked off Friday night with cousins Alicia Rosner and Dave Scaglione taking our family photos before Shabbos, then davening and Shabbos dinner at my house for 60 of our family, friends and out-of-town guests. The boys’ dad, Dovid, a fantastic kosher caterer, cooked the delicious meal that included some of the boys’ favorite dishes. Several women in our community provided scrumptious, home-baked desserts, and Dovid’s dad, Michael Cenker, shared nice words of Torah and thoughts about the boys. It had been quite a while since we’d all been in the same room together, and it felt delightful.

“Having friends and family join us from near and far made the celebrations that much more special,” added Dovid.

With over 300 people in attendance Shabbos morning at shul, the boys truly shined.

Their Great Uncle Barry Yaffe began services with P’sukei D’zimra, followed by Zaydie Butch davening shacharis. Kivi davened Hallel for Rosh Chodesh, with Zaydie Butch and Aiden close by offering support and beautiful harmonies.

Sure, I’m a smidge biased – Hallel sounded magnificent!

 Shoshana’s sister, Elli Pauli, Uncle Barry Yaffe, BIL Chaim Pauli, dad, Dr. Sherwin “Butch” Yaffe, & Shoshana.

We had the unique opportunity to use two Sefer Torahs, because of Rosh Chodesh – Aiden leined the first five Aliyot, then Kivi took over to lein the remaining Aliyot, plus Maftir, then HafTorah.

As Kivi was finishing the final brachas (prayers), Aiden quickly joined him on the bimah (platform) as they were happily pelted with candy from the crowd, which began joyously singing “Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov.” Aiden then had the big task of davening mussaf, which included several extra sections for Rosh Chodesh. Aiden wore a tallis (prayer shawl) from Dovid’s family, while Kivi wore his great-grandfather’s tallis, Zaydie Aron Schlanger (Z”L), a Holocaust survivor whom Akiva Aharon is named after. Cousin Seth Wanderman helped conclude services.

Aiden and Kivi were flawless. They had studied with intention, and it showed. The service was beautiful.

“It was really cool to lead davening,” said Aiden. “It was really nice to have so many people wish me Mazel Tov. And I loved having my family here with us!”

After services, Aiden and Kivi each gave a D’var Torah about their parsha, then together thanked those who helped make the weekend happen.

“You might be wondering how we decided which one of us got to say our D’var Torah first,” Aiden began. “We didn’t flip a coin or arm wrestle, but I totally would have won. It’s actually because I’m older – by 1 minute!” Both boys had poise and spoke so well.

Throughout the service, we were thrilled to honor many of our family and friends (aka “family by choice”), as they opened and closed the Aron Kodesh (ark), carried and held Torahs, received Aliyot, and participated in other parts of the service.

It was so special to include so many of our loved ones in our family’s celebration.

Cohen Family, Berkowitz cousin, Betsy, Michael and Baurch Cenker.

After services the entire congregation enjoyed Kiddush, prepared by Dovid, which featured a phenomenal spread of desserts, salads, chili and more. With the help of friends, the social hall was decorated in our navy and gold space theme – the boys love astronomy. Rocket ships, planets, stars and “clouds” that I created adorned the tables, adding to the festive feel of our simcha. Rather than give a speech (because who wants to hear more speeches?!), I wrote a heartfelt letter to Aiden and Kivi, which was placed on the tables. And with Israel always in our prayers and minds, I created tables honoring the hostages and soldiers protecting our precious homeland and in remembrance of our brothers and sisters we lost on Oct. 7.

As Kiddush wrapped up, select family and friends – all of whom have helped us raise our kiddos in one way or another – moved to a private part of the social hall for a luncheon, yes, also wonderfully catered by Dovid. As we ate, schmoozed, and L’Chaim’d, the boys’ sister, Lyla, said a few sweet remarks about them and how happy she is to be siblings. A lovely, heartwarming moment.

Our dear friend, Jason Caplan, also shared some poignant words of Torah. In part, he told the boys that they will be presented with opportunities and choices. When they’re deciding whether to “walk through a door” of opportunity, they should consider whether they’d put a mezuzah on that door. If the answer is yes, go for it. If no, perhaps that’s a door that should stayed closed, and they can look for other opportunities elsewhere. Such an important message to impart as these young men take their place in the world.

Kivi practicing with Zaydie “Butch”.

Aiden practicing with Zaydie “Butch”.

After Shabbos, it was party time! To complement the space theme, we had a blast at Monster Mini Golf, a glow-in-the-dark putt-putt, arcade and laser tag venue. Once again, friends generously provided all the yummy treats for the party. Aiden and Kivi made handprints that are hanging in Monster Mini Golf to commemorate the occasion. I also handed out touching notes to my besties, expressing my sincere appreciation for their love and support. (Hey, I’m a writer.)

“I was nervous to daven and lein, but I pulled through,” said Kivi with relief. “After all our hard work learning, our super-fun party was well deserved and awesome! I really enjoyed having our family and friends celebrate with us.”

The weekend ended Sunday morning – before heading home, out-of-towners stopped by Dovid’s house for a delicious brunch, sponsored by Nana Pat Yaffe, Bubby Dina Romeo and Bubby Betsy Cenker.

Laser Tag at Monster Mini Golf.

Aiden and Kivi’s chessed (kindness) projects were incredibly successful. Aiden collected Hebrew books for families in Israel and English books for local shelters; Kivi collected dental supplies for Israel and local shelters.

We are grateful for the many, many contributions we received. Dovid took some of the items to Israel in December, which were quickly distributed to people in need. On our family trip to Israel this summer, G-d willing, we’ll bring the remainder of the donated items.

With a year+ of intense planning, we didn’t get here alone. In addition to what I’ve shared above, friends packed and delivered hospitality bags, as well as hostess gifts for those who housed guests, which included fresh-baked sourdough bread from a community member; constantly checked in to offer more help; schlepped tables and chairs; and more. Our Memphis Jewish community is so special – unmatched love and generosity.

Now, the thank you note writing is in full swing, with certain folks instrumental to our simcha also receiving JNF trees planted in their honor in Israel. Officially “bar mitzvah’d,” the boys now enthusiastically participate in leading davening at school and in our shul’s teen Shabbos minyan, as well as leading benching (prayer after a meal). It’s beautiful to see them so interested in our brilliant faith.

Kivi at Monster Mini Golf.

 Table in honor of Israeli hostages and those lost on Oct 7.

I’d been thinking about this special day since the boys were roommates cooking in my tummy. It was everything we hoped for and more. I’m often asked how I do all the things – while I tell the kiddos that I’m a superhero, it has a lot to do with the exceptional people all three are: independent, clever, generous.

 Family and friends before Shabbos & dinner.

It’s a privilege for us to be their parents – nothing brings us more happiness and fulfillment than our three children. Oh, and our family’s joy continues very soon – Lyla’s bat mitzvah is this November! (Drinks large glass of scotch.)

We are incredibly proud of Aiden and Kivi. It’s a true honor to watch them continue to learn and grow, and we’re super excited to share in all their successes and achievements to come. We are schepping all the nachas, Mazel Tov!