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Local doctor celebrates Jewish faith

May 08, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

HAGERSTOWN

In 1956, when Douglas Becker was 13 years old, he participated in the Jewish rite of bar mitzvah.

"You do it then because it is expected of you," said Becker, a Hagerstown pediatrician.

Because his faith has played such a big part in his life, Becker decided to hold celebration on the 50th anniversary of his passage to manhood and invited family and friends to join him April 28 at Congregation B'nai Abraham.

"It felt good," Becker said several days after the ceremony at the Baltimore Street synagogue. "It was the right thing to do."

Becker, 63, said many who have gone through the ritual have remained faithful, but others have intermarried, which has had an effect.

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"Cohesiveness of community in this day and age is difficult," he said of the Jewish faith. "There is pressure to assimilate."

Becker, who grew up in a small town in Kentucky, said the nearest synagogue was 40 miles away. The Jewish families in the area weren't affluent enough to have a full-time rabbi.

"They hired a student rabbi to do monthly services and holidays," Becker said.

The lay leadership saw to it that the children were educated in their faith, he said.

In Becker's case, an aunt held classes in her home for her nieces and nephews - an act of devotion by her, he said.

Becker said he doesn't remember having stage fright at his bar mitzvah.

"I doubt that I did a very good job ... I wrote a speech, I read a little in Hebrew, which I learned from my grandfather," he said.

Becker explained that a child reads a section from the Torah that corresponds to the birth date of that particular bar mitzvah candidate. At last week's celebration, Becker read from that same passage, which included 12 lines from the Book of Leviticus and concluded with remarks of the prophets.

"I got the chance to speak my mind," Becker said.

He conveyed his belief that "this old religion" has a strength and sanity in this day and age.

"I'm aware of the tradition, but the message which still resonates has to be modernized," Becker said.

As a physician, Becker said his approach and style is to use modern thinking on the ancient issues of human nature.

"I debate things in my head. I take it very seriously," Becker said. "It's kept me closely connected to my religion and given me a foundation."

Family and friends, some from as far as Kentucky, gathered for the occasion.

A graduate of medical school in 1969, Becker has been in Hagerstown since 1983. He and his wife, Joan, have two children and five grandchildren.

"I'm not proficient in Hebrew; it's an effort for me," Becker said.

It was a challenge for him but he said it was important for him to make this statement - 50 years later.

"Hey, I'm still Jewish after all these years," he said.

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