NYPD police officer Mark Schwartz recently brought cookies to his precinct to celebrate a great achievement. No, he hadn't caught a famous criminal or stopped a large crime -- the 27-year-old finally realized his dream by having a bar mitzvah.
Schwartz, who grew up in and patrols the borough of Queens, noted he had felt the bar mitzvah was "something I'm missing in my life," calling it "a rite of passage I never received, something I missed."
As a child, Schwartz recalls he "didn't understand the point" of going to Hebrew school and preparing for the ritual by which 13-year-olds are called to the Torah and recognized as adults, responsible for their own sins under Jewish law.
Last year Schwartz met Rabbi Mendy Hecht, co-director of the Queens Chabad center with his wife Chaya, and told the rabbi he had never had a bar mitzvah but wanted to. With the rabbi's support, that desire was finally realized in late January.
In the process, Schwartz went to the tomb of the Lubavitcher rebbes Rabbi Menachem Schneerson z''l and his father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson z''l. “It was a very deep, emotional feeling walking into the building. It felt like I belonged,” remarked the police officer. “I felt proud to be a Jew.”
When the bar mitzvah finally arrived, Schwartz made new discoveries of his Jewish roots. His father came wearing an orange kippah with his name on it from 50 years ago, which he had kept from his own bar mitzvah. The officer also discovered his father owned a set of tefillin (phylacteries).
Schwartz received his own kippah at the event too, with his name written on it alongside the NYPD logo.
The event has reportedly given Schwartz a renewed connection to Judaism. “I don’t read Hebrew yet, but I’m going to start studying so I can read it one day," notes Schwartz. "I’m a guy who doesn’t know anything about the religion, but I’m Jewish; I was born into it."
The officer added that holding his bar mitzvah as an adult means "I’m not doing it because my parents made me. I’m doing it because it’s what I want to do and what I feel is right for me. I’m able to understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.”