Preparing for a Bar Mitzvah can be extremely time consuming for a young boy. Besides preparing for the Bar Mitzvah itself, boys must attend Hebrew School for a minimum of 4 years. However, 14-year-old, Jesse Martinez, a boy who was diagnosed with autism at age 3, was not going to let that stand in his way. In early August, Martinez celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, and completed his rite of passage into adulthood among friends and family.
Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center in Monroe, New Jersey said, “It was incredible. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Martinez’ mother, Sari Yates, recalled how happy she was for her son at that moment, but also remembered how difficult of a path it has been. She explained the pain that accompanied knowing something was wrong with him when he was a toddler, and not being able to get a proper diagnosis from professionals.
Yates said, “I knew there was something not right with my child. He was staying a baby for a lot longer. He didn’t want to engage with other people. He was very happy just playing by himself.”
She has since taken on a much more positive view of Martinez’ autism, saying that she doesn’t believe it should be the characteristic that defines who he is.
Yates didn’t start looking for a Hebrew School for her son until he was 12, because she didn’t think he would have been able to handle it at a younger age. She soon settled on the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, who welcomed Martinez with open arms.
Zaklikovsky said, “We basically embrace him. This is a special child. A special child needs to have special attention. We weren’t going to let this opportunity pass.”
He continued, stating: “What a normal person is subjected to and is challenged by, he is above it all. All he does is love everybody. He’s on a much higher spiritual plane than some of us. You won’t see him hitting or hurting someone. In a sense, he’s closer to God than we are. He needs to work less on refining himself than one normally would have to do.”