My Second Bar Mitzvah

By George Heller, 3/3/07

At Temple Beth Jacob we celebrate a second Bar Mitzvah around our eighty-third birthday. This is my opportunity to reflect on my life, to remember my hopes, my dreams, and my aspirations, and share with you, briefly, some of my life’s journey.

On Monday, my wife Iby and I are flying to Poland and to Israel for a two week study tour. We will accompany a group of high school juniors and seniors of the Shalhevet project, a program to pass the torch of our Tradition from Generation to Generation.

Our purpose is to teach the younger generation about our life and experience during the Holocaust, and to remember our six million martyrs. And I would like to share and teach the meaning and power of faith and hope, and Tikkun Olam, how each of us, in our own way, can, and must, take part in repairing this world and make it better.

I have come a long way from that small Synagogue, in Budapest, where I had my first Aliyah in 1937. I knew then that I would never go to America, and I would learn the profession of printing and publishing. Well, I did come to America, and, with the help of computers, I still teach desktop publishing.

I survived the Holocaust in slave labor camps and Concentration Camps. I have known starvation and sickness. I was homeless, but hope, faith and an immense amount of good luck sustained me, and I survived. And I remember my brother Steven and my sister Kato, martyrs of the Holocaust, who were less fortunate. May their memory be for a blessing

I cherish the memory of my parents. They taught me that education is the only thing you own that nobody can ever take away from you.

I came to America sixty-two years ago. It was education that changed my life, for the better. Participation in the community enriched my life. Teaching made everything so much more fun.

What did I learn over these eighty-three years? All that I have learned can be said in a single sentence that fits on a button:

“We have little control of events around us, But we can control the way we react.”

That says it all ... Almost.

Fifty years ago, while at MIT, I began to realize what computers could do for us all. For everybody. Even for preschool children, for the blind, and for the handicapped. And I decided to do something about it.

When in the fall semester of 1960 I started teaching high school juniors and seniors the art of computer programming, computer design and artificial intelligence, many called what I did “George’s impossible dream.” Today that dream is reality. I call it Tikkun Olam.

We celebrate Purim tonight. We remember how our ancestors survived. And I am grateful that I survived the Holocaust and by now lived for sixty two years on borrowed time.

Today, I count my blessings. I have a wonderful family, four married children and nine beautiful grandchildren. And I am most grateful for my wife, Iby, who stood by me for all these fifty-two years we have been together. Without her help all this would not have been possible.

I remember the words of the Psalmist: “Lord, teach us to count our days, so that we may make every one of them count.”

This week’s Torah portion speaks of the menorah and the light used to keep the Mishkan, the traveling Arc, well lit all of the time. Indeed, our Tradition brings light into our lives, enlightens us, and guides us to take meaningful action.

Please join me in reciting the Shechecheyanu, my family's favorite traditional blessing:

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheynu melech ha-olam, shechecheyanu, v'kimanu, v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.

Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season (Amen) And let us all - say -- together: Amen.

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