Twins to share bnai mitzvah in duplicate style

At first glance, the small town of Twinsburg, Ohio, would seem an odd destination for a family vacation. But for former Bay Area resident Jeanette Nemon Fischman, the memories of an almost decade-old family trip there will last a lifetime.

For starters, the town was founded by twin brothers, one of whom was named Moses (although neither twin was Jewish). The twins were so active in the civic life of the community that the town decided to adopt their names. As part of the town's homage to the late brothers, the annual "Twinsburg International Twins Days Festival" draws entrants and curious onlookers from all over the world.

Eight years ago, Fischman took her twin sons, Aaron and Joshua, to the event and won second place in the "most look-alike" category for their age group.

"That was a blast," Fischman recalled, adding that she and her husband, Joel, used to dress the twins in similar outfits during their early years. The sartorial styles of the twins has since changed — both kids are literally on the eve of celebrating their b'nai mitzvah — and neither one particularly enjoys being mistaken for the other.

The Fischman twins are part of a rare sub-category called "mirror image" twins, commonly resulting in birthmarks on opposite sides of the face, or hair swirls in different locations. In addition, both are entering their "rebellious teenage years," according to their mother, with one being more gregarious, and the other one tending to be more introspective. Both of them, however, have been inculcated with Jewish values.

"My twins feel their religion in a deeper way — something that goes beyond just bagels and lox," said the resident of the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills. "Our family, including the twins, doesn't look at their b'nai mitzvah as the end of their Jewish education, but as the beginning of it.

"It's so important to their father and myself that they continue to be involved with Jewish traditions," she added. "In today's day and age, the intermarriage rate is probably around 60 percent, and often times, the traditions only stay alive because of the Orthodox, which is really sad."

According to Joshua Fischman, the "two of us don't always get along, but this (b'nai mitzvah) is something that really binds us together. If we're nervous, we can talk it over with each other and support each other. Also, it is important for us to get our bar mitzvah because of what we've learned about the history of the Jewish people — about how they were mistreated and suffered. It's important for us to continue our identity as Jews."

Aaron Fischman concurred, adding that the b'nai mitzvah was the "beginning of our Jewish life, not the end of it."

The twins' mother, who grew up primarily in the East Bay, and moved to Southern California 15 years ago, is still active in the Bay Area's Jewish community. A long-time congregant at Oakland's Conservative Temple Beth Abraham, she now attends Conservative Valley Beth Sholom in Encino, where the twins will celebrate their b'nai mitzvah tomorrow. Senior Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who is also a well-known writer, served Beth Abraham from 1952 to 1970.

"It's been almost two decades and I still miss the fresh air," Fischman said of her move from the Bay Area to Southern California. Although she was extremely active in Jewish civic life in the Bay Area (she founded the Jewish Student Union at San Francisco State in the late '70s), she has transferred her energies to her adopted city.

Another facet of Jewish tradition that the elementary schoolteacher has cleaved to is passing along some of the Sephardi culture of her maternal grandmother, who came from Alexandria, Egypt.

"Both of my kids really relate to the vibrant and exotic Sephardic traditions," said Fischman, adding that, all too often, the paradigm for defining Jews has been the Ashkenazi model.

In a fitting gesture for someone so intent on preserving Jewish culture and traditions, Nemon-Fischman and her family have created unique decorations for the b'nai mitzvah tables. Each table will be adorned with snapshots of relatives as well as biographical information about them.

"I think it's a great way to honor history, instead of focusing on all the cheesy stuff," said Fischman. "I think it's a great way to make the event dignified. This is a ceremony about holding out to precious Jewish traditions, at a time when it's become more and more difficult to do so."