Full house for bar mitzvah at Levy Chapel

August 14, 2016

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Commodore Levy Chapel at Norfolk Naval Station can be described as attractive, historic and well-appointed. What it usually isn’t, is crowded.

That changed on Saturday, July 23, when more than 150 friends and relatives filled the chapel to the walls to celebrate Josh Burton’s bar mitzvah.

Rabbi Ellen Jaffe Gill of Tidewater Chavurah and Cantor Aaron Sachnoff, former program director at levy Chapel, trained Josh in prayers and Torah and led the Shabbat service.

Josh is the son of lieutenant Commander Eve Burton-Poteet, currently assigned to the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. lCDR Poteet discovered the chapel named for Commodore Uriah P. levy (1792-1862) last year and attended High Holy Days services there, which Cantor Sachnoff led. An alumna of the University of Virginia, she knew the history of Commodore levy well, as he saved Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, from destruction.

LCDR Poteet says she knew the pretty chapel was the right place for Josh’s bar mitzvah and received permission from Command Chaplain Commander Vinson Miller for the service. Cantor Sachnoff introduced the Burton-Poteet family to Rabbi Jaffe-Gill so they would have a congregational home base at Tidewater Chavurah in absence of regular Shabbat services at levy Chapel.

Josh is on the autism spectrum and was nonverbal and afraid of many sounds as a small child. He overcame those hurdles to become an avid consumer of heavy metal music and hip-hop, a surfer and a gamer. He delivered a d’var Torah on Parshat Balak that drew chuckles from the congregation. Active in Special Olympics and a competitive speed skater, Josh welcomed many friends from the organization to the chapel.

The reading from Torah was an intergenerational affair, with LCDR Poteet, her mother, ingrid Nelson, and Josh all chanting from the scroll.

After the service, the congregation went up the street to the base’s Vista Point Center for a lively, DJ-driven lunch, at which Josh was not only lifted in a chair in Jewish tradition with a traditional hora dance, but also carried around the large room by his friends and family.

“Josh is not only my son, but my hero,” says LCDR Poteet. “The child who was told for years he couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t—does. He never gives up, and he teaches all of us everyday to never give up on ourselves or others.” Josh

Rabbi Ellen Jaffe-Gill 

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