Barmitzvah boy among first teens to mark milestone in shul since lockdown began
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Barmitzvah boy among first teens to mark milestone in shul since lockdown began

'The message is just the doors are open, they may not be open in the same direction they were but, smile, and make the most of it'

Photos of Matthew Benn's virtual bar mitzvah live streamed on Sunday for friends and family unable to attend Saturday's service (Credit: James Shaw)
Photos of Matthew Benn's virtual bar mitzvah live streamed on Sunday for friends and family unable to attend Saturday's service (Credit: James Shaw)

Barmitzvah boy Matthew Benn was among the first teenagers in the country to return to shul to mark the special milestone, as places of worship reopened after months of lockdown.

The Year 8 Immanuel College pupil delivered his Torah portion in Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue on Shabbat morning joined by his parents Bernard and Tracey Benn, 50 and 51.

Approximately 100 congregants, all wearing face coverings, watched the ceremony from socially-distanced seating. Perspex screens were set up around the bimah, and all those attending had pre-registered, with their data collected to enable track and trace.

Matthew was the third generation in his family to have his barmitzvah in Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, of which his great-grandfather Bernard Benn was a founding member.

The north London teen found the day “absolutely amazing and really understood the significance of it” and there was a “real excitement and joy in his voice” during the ceremony, Matthew’s dad told Jewish News on Monday.

Due to the lockdown, the 13 year-old had to learn his bar mitzvah readings online through virtual classes. “It really was quite a moment absolutely, and it’s important that people are encouraged to start going back,” his dad said.

“The message is just the doors are open, they may not be open in the same direction they were but, smile, and make the most of it,” he added.

The family held small private gatherings in their front and back gardens throughout the weekend, welcoming groups of up to to eight guests at a time and serving food in individual packaging to avoid the risk of the virus spreading.

Hundreds tuned into a virtual service live-streamed on Sunday on Facebook Live and YouTube for family members and friends based outside London.

Under United Synagogue guidance, those under 12 cannot attend services during the initial reopening period, with exemptions for the family and close friends of bat and bar mitzvah children.

The Board of Deputies urged the community to remain cautious ahead of the easing of restrictions as it warned the coronavirus death toll among UK Jews reached 501 as of 26 June.

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