Hungarian Dignitary Undergoes Bar Mitzvah 50 Years Later

A string of events catapulted Hungarian dignitary Gabor Leibovitz to search for his roots and arrange to have a Bar Mitzva celebration at 63 years of age, even leining from the Torah himself.

By reporter

Gabor Leibovitz is a well-known figure in Hungary. He was formerly the Deputy CEO of the National Railway Company and is currently the Deputy CEO of the Hungarian Water Company. This Monday, he was called up to the Torah and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, despite being 63 years old. The event was attended by senior figures from Budapest’s business and political worlds, his friends, and his 94-year-old father, a Holocaust survivor.

Leibovitz was born in Budapest to parents who survived the Holocaust. Yiddishkeit in their home was centered around the horrors of the war, without any yomim tovim or celebrating Jewish life, so the only thing Gabor knew was that he belonged to the Jewish people.

At the festive meal following the Torah reading, the emotional “Bar Mitzvah boy” recounted the sequence of events that led up to that day: about five years ago, he visited Israel with his family for the first time in his life. When they visited the Kosel, he put on tefillin for the first time, guided by the shliach who was at a stand at the entrance. During a tour of the Western Wall tunnels, the guide mentioned that they were at the closest point to the Kodesh Kedoshim. There, he davened to Hashem to guide him towards a meaningful life.

Upon returning to Budapest, he decided to have a bris mila at the age of 59 and was given the name Yaakov-Avraham after his two grandfathers who were murdered in the Holocaust. About a year later, while jogging along the banks of the Danube River, he noticed a group of people gathering around their rabbi, who was holding an object to his mouth and producing strange sounds.

As he approached, he realized it was Rabbi Shlomo Koves – the Rabbi of the Association of Hungarian Orthodox Communities (EMIH) and his congregation. They had come to perform Tashlich and blew shofar for someone who hadn’t heard. Yaakov-Avraham Gabor was exposed to these concepts for the first time. Already that same year, on Yom Kippur, he stood in the magnificent shul of Rabbi Koves and began to come closer. He then decided to celebrate a Bar Mitzvah.

He began to learn Hebrew and even learned to read from the Torah. When he was called up to the Torah this week for his much-delayed Bar Mitzvah celebration, he read the beginning of the parsha, Behar.

At the same time, in recent times, Leibovitz has led the entire bureaucratic process of establishing an eruv in Budapest, a project initiated by Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, the head shliach in the country.

“It was an especially emotional celebration that caused a great kiddush Hashem, and many of the guests were also exposed to Jewish concepts that were foreign to them. Since Budapest is a city with more than 100,000 Jews, many of his friends who attended were also Jews from the upper class, including the prominent candidate for Mayor of Budapest, Mr. David Vitézy. We were happy to celebrate Yaakov-Avraham’s belated Bar Mitzvah, even 50 years late, and we wish him to continue ascending in the levels of Torah and mitzvos.”

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