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A cub becomes a bear - mazel tov!

Last weekend, Brown/RISD Hillel had a "beary" unusual guest of honor - Bruno, the University mascot.

On Friday night and Saturday morning, the Jewish sabbath, Bruno celebrated his growth from a cub into an adult bear with classic Bar Mitzvah festivities at Hillel.

Bar Mitzvahs are "a rite of passage now, especially in American Judaism," said Rabbi Mordechai Rackover, the associate University chaplain for the Jewish community.

"Originally it signaled that a person had gone through puberty and was ready to be part of the adult community."

Gene Goldstein-Plesser '11, chair of the Shabbat Committee, and Jennifer Grayson '11, chair of the Student Welcoming Committee, planned the Bruno-themed weekend in hopes of attracting new faces to Hillel.

"It's always the same people that read things at services," said Grayson, a former Herald copy editor. "A lot of times we don't have new people come in."

On Saturday night, Bruno celebrated his coming of age with a party that included numerous Bar Mitzvah traditions.

The party kicked off with Bruno and students dancing the traditional Hora to the klezmer band Yarmulkaze. Four or five students, arm-in-arm with Bruno, danced in a circle to "Hava Nagila" and lifted him in a chair several times.

Students played traditional Bar Mitzvah games like Coke and Pepsi - a modified game of tag - and limbo.

Later that night was a candle-lighting ceremony, when, traditionally, the celebrated teenager lights candles on a cake to honor important friends and family members. Candles were lit in honor of Josiah Carberry and the Annmary Brown Memorial, the art gallery and mausoleum at 21 Brown St.

Goldstein-Plesser and Grayson also created a video montage for the party, which featured doctored images of the bear statue attending Hebrew school, having dinner with the entire Brunowitz family and getting a bris, a ritual circumcision.

Goldstein-Plesser said he and Grayson intended for the weekend not only to encourage more student involvement at Hillel, but also to let people know they can have a Bar Mitzvah ceremony on campus.

But the two said they planned the weekend mostly because they thought it would be fun.

"You go to all these really absurd parties when you're 13, when you're an awkward adolescent," Grayson said. "We thought it would be fun to do this as college students, who are allegedly a little bit less awkward."

Hillel's special weekend for Brown's mascot began Friday night, when Bruno made an appearance at four Shabbat services - Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Chavurah - and stuck around for the month's first Shabbat dinner.

The dinner poked fun at the tradition of themed Bar Mitzvah parties with its own motif: Brown. All the dinner tables held a centerpiece, each depicting a different location on Brown's campus, including the Gate, the Sharpe Refectory and the Sciences Library.

The lovable University mascot made his next appearance at Saturday morning services. After the Torah reading began, Goldstein-Plesser, wearing an Obama yarmulke, left the congregation.

A few minutes later, Bruno, donning an Obama yarmulke of his own, returned. The bear sat down, joined the services and greeted other members of the congregation.

The students participating in the services were glad to have Bruno join them.

"It was fun to see Bruno expanding his horizons and experience Jewish life at Brown," Rebecca Strauss '11 said.

Ethan Tobias '12 offered Bruno a hearty "Mazel tov!"

Though Bruno received a warm welcome from Hillel's congregation, he was not an active participant in any religious ceremonies.

"We don't want it to seem like it's any sort of proselytizing," Grayson said. "We just thought it would be a fun, humorous way to get people to get involved."



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