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April 02, 2004 - Image 75

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-04-02

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A Young And Wise 83

Rabbi Ernst Conrad re-celebrates his bar mitzvah


Staff Writer


hen the Saturday, April
3, bar mitzvah cele-
brant is called to the
Torah at Temple Kol
Ami, the guests smiling up at him
with pride will hardly be a group of
13-year-old classmates.
Instead, they will include the wife
and adult children of Rabbi Ernst
Conrad, who, at age 83, will celebrate
his bar mitzvah — the second time
The rabbi, who along with eight
other families, founded the synagogue
in 1966, has stood on the same bimah
with scores of other b'nai mitzvah
through the years, but this will be the
first time the honor will be his.
"The first time I became a bar
mitzvah was in 1934 in Berlin, where
I was born," Rabbi Conrad said.
"Hitler was already in power and the
impact of Nazi tyranny was already
felt. There was a subdued tone among
the family and friends who joined me.
Everyone felt insecure. We were
always looking over our shoulders."
In the years between the two mile-
stones, Rabbi Conrad moved to
America, was ordained as a Reform
rabbi from Hebrew Union College in
Cincinnati and founded Kol Ami,
where he has been the active rabbi
emeritus since 1986.


of old age wisdom. So adding 70 and
13 together — the second bar mitz-
vah would be at 83."
Current Kol Ami rabbi, Norman
Roman will join Rabbi Conrad on the
bimah. So will Rabbi Conrad's wife
Nathalie, the temple's music director,
who composed several pieces in honor
of her husband that she will sing dur-
ing the service. His children, Josef
Conrad of Royal Oak and Elsa
Conrad of New Hampshire, will also

70 years later.

"I am really looking forward to
being part of the service," Josef
Conrad said. "It is such a special
honor to be able to something for my
dad, who with our mom, did so much
for us.
"My sister and I became bar and
bat mitzvah at Kol Ami," Josef
Conrad said. "I've been to adult bar -
and bat mitzvahs, but for the first re-
bar mitzvah I attend to be my dad's is
The synagogue's cantorial soloist,

Of Age

Rabbi Conrad's observance of the sec-
ond celebration of his bar mitzvah
stemmed from something he learned
40 years ago from the congregant of a
neighboring synagogue, when he was
rabbi of Temple Beth Jacob in
"Joe Jacobson, one of the leaders of
the Conservative B'nai Israel (which
later merged with Congregation
Shaarey Zedek) had a second bar
mitzvah when he was 83," Rabbi
Conrad said.
"He told me it was a Jewish cus-
tom. The most reasonable explanation
I could find of why, was in Pirkei
Avot, where it states that 70 is the age

Rabbi Ernst Conrad in front of the ark at Temple Kol Ami

Susan Greener will also include some
of her original music in the service
and several additional singers have
joined the choir for the occasion.
While Rabbi Conrad will speak to
the congregation during the service,
he said, "I already promised not to
repeat all the events that took place
between my first bar mitzvah and the
second one."
He will read the same Torah read-
ing and haftorah as he did 70 years
"I will chant it the same way I did
in the German liberal synagogue
where I grew up," he said.
Not needing instruction, he said
"I've been learning it on my own. The
Hebrew words were not a problem,
but I forgot some of the tunes at first
and had to remember how they
Rabbi Conrad is well-known for
his lifelong interest in liberal Judaism
and in interfaith, intercultural and
interracial projects. An avid opponent
of segregation, he once marched with
Dr. Martin Luther King.
"He has constantly remained true
to the things he believes in," Josef
Conrad said.
The rabbi continues to be active in
issues of economic social justice and
peace, receiving numerous awards
from multi-faith, peace-based and
religious organizations. He has had
long-time involvement with the Anti-
Defamation League and is active in
many groups including the Michigan
Coalition for Human Rights. For 17
years, he has co-facilitated Bible stud-
ies for the Institute of Retired
"I hope others see the impact of
celebrating a second bar mitzvah and
will be able to come to a point in
their lives where they can celebrate
one, too," Josef Conrad said.
For the rabbi, the celebration goes
far beyond one of his life's highlights.
"I see the event of my second bar
mitzvah as a link between the genera-
tion of the Holocaust and the current
generation," Rabbi Conrad said. "It is
a hope for the future that we will
remember and not forget." ❑



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