Stuart Tobin, 85, was called to the Torah to celebrate his second bar mitzvah last month at Beth Shalom Temple Center in Green Valley, surrounded by family and friends.
The custom of a second bar mitzvah ceremony, which has grown in popularity, is based on Psalm 90:10, which says that a human’s expected life span is 70 years. Reaching age 70 qualifies as a new start, so a second bar mitzvah may be held 13 years later, at 83 — but for Tobin, it took another two years of gentle cajoling from his children to get him back up to the bimah.
“After I joined the temple down here, one of the kids said it’s time to have another bar mitzvah, and then it just kept growing and growing,” says Tobin, who moved to Sahuarita full-time two years ago with his wife, Marylou, after many years in Scottsdale and several divided between Northern and Southern Arizona.
“Stuart was so dedicated,” says Michael Mussman, who officiated at the Nov. 16 service with his wife, Cantorial Soloist Sara Golan Mussman. Mussman points out that a traditional bar mitzvah boy, at age 13, may be celebrating out of obligation to his family or for the party or the presents.
“Definitely Stuart wasn’t doing it for those purposes, and he went out of his way to do it so seriously. He did a lot of research, a lot of preparation on his own as well as with me and Sara,” Mussman says.
“I like to develop background and know what I’m talking about,” says Tobin, who went beyond the history of the second bar mitzvah — actor Kirk Douglas is perhaps the most famous participant — to delve into the reason 13 became the age for a first bar mitzvah. It is based on the biblical story of Levi and Shimon, two sons of Jacob, who “took up their swords to destroy the inhabitants of a village that violated their sister [Dinah],” he says. Levi, the younger brother, was just 13, and that became the age at which a Jewish boy is considered a man, at least in terms of taking a seat in a minyan, Tobin explains.
A retired pharmacist, Tobin was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Patchogue, New York, where his father also was a pharmacist. He attended Columbia University, and upon graduating from pharmacy school, bought a drug store in Westhampton Beach, New York. He owned the store for 20 years and became involved in local politics, serving as a village trustee for 10 years, then mayor for four years. After moving to Scottsdale, he was a Costco pharmacist until he retired in 2015.
At his second bar mitzvah ceremony, he says, “I was under control but I was excited, yes. So was my family. Actually so many of the people from the temple, they’d see me beforehand, ‘Oh, there’s the bar mitzvah boy!’ I said, ‘Just don’t buy me a fountain pen,’” he jokes, referring the once-ubiquitous bar mitzvah gift.
“With the Mussmans, I knew everything was under control,” says Tobin, who did his Torah reading in English rather than the laboriously learned Hebrew of his original bar mitzvah.
Tobin’s wife, children, and two grandchildren participated in the service.
In his speech, Tobin thanked the Mussmans and BSTC President Ruthann Shapiro “for their consideration and work in making it successful.” He also told family stories, including a time when, after years of running his store alone, he was finally able to hire an assistant and take the family on vacation. “Who is going to take care of people the way Daddy does?” one of his kids asked. His children picked up on the caring he modeled, he says, “and they do the same in their lives.”
“I was very proud. I think he did fabulously,” says Marylou, his wife of almost 34 years, who hosted a post-service brunch at their home for 32 family members, friends, and neighbors. Marylou’s daughter and her husband came in from London, England, with other family members coming from Massachussetts and Colorado. Marylou and Tobin’s three children collaborated to create a 15-minute photo montage, with pictures starting from Tobin’s childhood.
Mike Finkelstein, membership chair for BSTC, says it was only the second bar mitzvah held at the synagogue since he joined 24 years ago. “It was nice to have a simcha to celebrate,” he says, adding that whenever a member has a new idea, “we’re all ears.”
Mussman likens the second bar mitzvah to a renewal of wedding vows. In this case, he says, “It’s saying, ‘I rededicate myself to the vows I made at my first bar mitzvah, to being a part of Judaism, to being involved in the synagogue.’”
“It was a very special feeling” to participate in a second bar mitzvah, says Golan Mussman, who has coached many young b’nai mitzvah students and prepared a group of adult women for a b’not mitzvah some years ago. Tobin was her first second-timer, though.
“We were really honored to be able to do that for him,” she says. “He’s a very special human being.”