by Shoshana Bernstein. Leizer Galperin’s Bar Mitzvah of the Century, which took place at Maritime Parc on Monday August 7th, was not just a Bar Mitzvah. It was not simply an elaborate event. It wasn’t just a party attended by many of the most celebrated Jewish entertainers today. It was much more than the sum of its part.
It was the ultimate display of absolute goodness; from the part of the inimitable Event Architect and Director, Isaac Leider of VitalOne, to the unaffiliated Jew who agreed to wrap tefillin in front of a huge audience for the first time in forty years. In between there was a marching band, a helicopter fly-over, a Navy seal presentation, a boat, two limousines, fireworks and more, all accompanied by the ultimate in Jewish catering and cuisine.
The evening was the culmination of eight weeks of intense planning made possible by the generous sponsorship of Duty Free Americas, the Jay & Jeanie Schottenstein Family Foundation, C-4 Analytics and an Anonyms donor. It was the realization of Isaac Leider’s dream, one initially deemed impossible by Mrs. Frimi Rosenberg, the event planner and Yanky Fekete, Chief of Staff and Isaac’s right-hand man.
“Isaac called me and I listened to his plans. He wanted to organize the most amazing Bar Mitzvah ever. To be honest, as he was talking I was thinking to myself that his ideas are great, but there’s no way his dreams can become reality.”
Frimi admits that she vastly underestimated both Isaac’s determination and his incredible skill at managing details. “The power he has to make things happen is unlike anything I have ever experienced.”
As far as Frimi knows, the Jewish world has never witnessed something like this before. In fact, the Bar Mitzvah of the Century proved to be epic to all who witnessed it. From the wait staff to the venue administrators, people were in tears throughout the tear, amazed by the unity and love they were witnessing.
“At some point during the evening, I met with Elizabeth, the Manager at Maritime Parc,” explains Frimi. “I saw she was in tears and asked her what was wrong, thinking something had happened. “I have never seen anything like this, Elizabeth responded. “I am so emotional. You have touched my heart.”
Frimi has since been inundated with calls and messages, with hundreds of people reaching out to say how touched they were by the actual event or the clips that have starting circulating around the world with snippets of the amazing event. “The Bar Mitzvah of the Century is really resonating. People are touched by Isaac’s kindness and inspired by Leizer’s story. I’m grateful to have been a part of the team.”
Thousands of Jews across the globe have been moved by the plight of young Leizer, a now 13-year-old Israeli who was severely burned over 85% of his body at the tender age of 5. Isaac first encountered the Galperin family when his organization, VitalOne, successfully transported Leizer from Israel to Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati, the preeminent pediatric burn center in the world, for life saving surgery and care. Since that time, Isaac has developed a strong bond with Leizer and his family.
The day began with a lights and sirens police escort courtesy of Lakewood Police Chief, Greg Meyer. Leizer was picked up from his ‘home away from home’ in the Lakewood Lev Rochel Bikur Cholim house and brought to Lakewood Airport where an A S-76 Sikorski helicopter was waiting. As the helicopter took to the skies, singing superstar Mordechai ben David appeared and surprised Leizer with an in-flight mini concert.
Leizer landed in Morristown airport where exclusive permission was granted for a horse drawn carriage to meet him on the tarmac. He was taken to the only handicapped accessible mikvah in the state of New Jersey, Mikvah Chana, in Livingston. MBD and the Shira choir serenaded him once again with Omar Rabbi Akiva.
It was then back to the skies as Leizer boarded a luxury Challenger jet where he enjoyed high end catered breakfast from Hava Java of Monsey. The surprises were not yet over; Beri Weber emerged from the back of the jet to join MBD and the Shira choir and sing L’Chaim. Upon landing in Teterboro , a limo whisked Leizer to Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters at 770 to daven shacharis and then on to the Rebbe’s Ohel to light a candle and say a prayer.
And that was only the beginning!! Leizer arrived via boat to Maritime Parc at Liberty Landing Marina, a stunning event venue located on the Hudson River with views of the Manhattan skyline. He was greeted with ecstatic music and singing. Hundreds of guests had poured in from far and wide; family and friends joyfully gathering to celebrate Leizer’s milestone.
Thanks to Frimi and her crew, together with Yanky, every detail was exquisite; from the flowers, to the food to the custom décor. Excitement mounted as the guests moved from the elaborate smorgasbord to a specially erected tent for what was to be a highly inspirational ceremony.
As an impeccably costumed marching band played their way down the red carpet, the Galperin family followed close behind, with Moishele Holtzberg, the young Mumbai survivor of Chabad shiluchim (and Leizer’s cousin) Child soloist Yoeli Glick serenaded Leizer as he was brought to the stage.
In true Lubavitch style, the programming commenced with Leizer wrapping his own tefillin on a secular Jew. Here too there is a story worth telling. Six weeks earlier, Leizer had undergone grueling surgery and his spirits were low. Isaac decided to invite Leizer and his father to accompany him on his trip to the venue site, where he was scheduled to meet with the owner and finalize details.
“When we arrived, Rabbi Shmuel Galperin turned to Marc and asked him, ‘Have you put on tefillin today?’ He responded that he had not, and demurred when asked if he would like to do so. Rabbi Galperin then asked if Marc would agree to allow Leizer the incredible mitzvah of wrapping him in tefillin on the day of his Bar Mitzvah. Moved by the obvious courage and faith of this young boy, Mr. Haskell agreed.
And so, Leizer began his bar mitzvah celebration, surrounded by family, friends and relatives as he turned to another and assisted him in embracing G-d. There was not a dry eye in the house as Marc said the bracha of tefillin for the first time in forty years.
Marc shared his impression of the evening, saying, “The last time I wrapped tefillin was on the day of my Bar Mitzvah. Being there for Leizer who suffered through a tragic incident as a child is something I will never forget. I felt the production and celebration for him was amazing. Isaac and his team did a remarkable job.”
In keeping with the evening’s theme of “Sea, Land and Air”, next to walk the red carpet was U.S. Navy SEAL Thomas “Drago” Dzieran. Thomas came to the US as a political refugee from Poland during the Cold War. He was twenty-four years old; had just the clothes on his back and was unable to speak English. Determined to give back to the Country which had granted him freedom, Thomas spent 20 years as a Navy SEAL, serving in combat and as a SEAL instructor at NSW Center, Coronado, California. During his time as a Navy SEAL, Thomas trained extensively with other NATO military forces, even spending time with the Israeli Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 commando unit. Thomas was awarded the Bronze Star with “V”, Navy Commendation Medal with “V” and an Army Commendation Medal.
Thomas put his arm around Leizer and told him he is a true SEAL. “You did not choose this life of heroism, of unrelenting pain and bravery. It chose you.” Thomas extended an open invitation to Leizer to visit him and the other SEALS at any time saying, “My house is your house.”
Yishai Lapidot was next, followed by a stirring rendition of the National Anthem sung by Cantor Leider. Guests young and old were moved to tears when Leizer asked Yishai to sing ‘Ima’ in honor of his devoted mother.
Performers include Avraham Fried, Shmueli Ungar, Beri Weber, The Shira Choir, Nachman Berger, the Rapping Rabbi, the famous Meir Kay and music by the Sababa Band led by Mendy Herskowitz. What transpired was magical and guests stayed until well past midnight, no one wanting to miss a single second of what is being described as a once in a lifetime event. In the end, it was the feelings of intense joy and compassion permeating the night that left the deepest impression.
The assembled guests, entertainers, and service staff were all blown away by the palpable warmth, deep emotion and off the charts excitement of the event. Gabriel Boxer, the Kosher Guru enthused: “It truly was the Bar Mitzvah of the Century, from the superb food and drinks, the helicopter greeting, Navy Seal and Jewish celebrities, royal horse escort with a true marching band to bring Leizer Galperin into manhood as a bar mitzvah. I was honored to be part of this amazing simcha. I thought I was going to uplift Leizer; it so happened that Leizer lifted me. Seeing what Vital One did along with the Bikur Cholim of Lakewood and the entire community, I walked away understanding the power of kindness and giving.
Calling himself a friend and admirer, Chaim Itzkowitz of Monsey’s Toys 4 U, a tremendous baal chessed in his own right, commended Isaac Leider saying, “Wow! What an amazing event. Isaac, you truly know how to present the most extravagant party possible, all while staying cool and composed. Thank you for making me part of it.”
A large contingency of officials attended from Lakewood. When asked what brought him to the event, Rabbi Moshe Ehrman, Chaplain of the Lakewood Police department shared, “It is quite simple. The Lakewood community has kind of adopted the Galperin family and Lazer has become part of our family. Tonight’s event showed how one single individual can make a difference in this world. Firstly, Leizer, who has touched so many lives. People from different walks of life and from different communities were all brought together for one single purpose: to show support to someone who fights the fight day in day out and does it with a smile. And Isaac, who orchestrated this entire event, goes by the same model. He is a single individual who manages to touch and change the lives of so many through VitalOne and his constant smile.”
As for what is next for Leizer, he is underwent serious surgery last week to prepare his body for prosthetics. Post-surgery he was in excruciating pain, but he is slowly recovering; thanks to his many new visitors and the heartfelt tefillos of all. He has a long road ahead, but one thing is for certain. He will go forward in his courageous battle fortified by the love and compassion he received at his Bar Mitzvah of the Century.
[See VitalOne for Photos. Video below]