Kevin Hoffman is hoisted in the air at the celebration of his bar mitzvah
(Photo/Cheryl Bigman)
Kevin Hoffman is hoisted in the air at the celebration of his bar mitzvah (Photo/Cheryl Bigman)

This grief-stricken family got the chance to celebrate with ‘Wish Mitzvah’

When Michelle Hoffmann called Simcha Sisters, an event planning company in Walnut Creek, to get a price quote for her son’s bar mitzvah party, she didn’t know what was going to come of it.

Hoffmann was just taking the first steps to figure out what she could pull together for her son, who had lost his father, Michelle’s husband, to cancer only months before.

However, once she was on the phone with Simcha Sisters co-owner Shana Goldberg, Hoffmann found herself able to articulate and describe some of the most momentous times in a person’s life — b’nai mitzvah, marriage, becoming a parent, death.

Hoffmann’s eloquence, and her circumstances, blew Goldberg away.

“As soon as I heard what was going on, I said, ‘You know, you’re our mitzvah project,’” she said.

The “mitzvah project” is Wish Mitzvah, a joint effort headed by Simcha Sisters and local MC and entertainer Adam Goldstein that sponsors one b’nai mitzvah every year as a way to help a family that is struggling in some way.

“There’s a whole bunch of ways to need help,” Goldstein said.

For Kevin’s bar mitzvah, that meant everything from party planning to decor to food to things like music, professional photos, centerpieces, backdrops and a candlelighting ceremony — involving, in all, nine companies and months of work for a guest list of 225.

Goldberg said that a party of that size could cost a family close to $40,000. The Wish Mitzvah team raised around $2,700 through donations; Temple Isaiah, the Reform synagogue in Lafayette, donated the use of its hall, and “all the vendors ended up donating their services,” Goldberg said.

“It was a lot of work, but it felt really great,” he added.

Wish Mitzvah came at the right time for the Hoffmanns.

“They needed something really special to look forward to,” Goldberg said.

Kevin’s father, Sean Hoffmann, was diagnosed with cancer at age 39 and passed away in June 2016. The following months were hard for the family, and Michelle Hoffmann said she’d talked with Kevin about having only a ceremony and not a party.

CELwishmitzvah-hug (1)
Kevin Hoffman hugging his mother Michelle Hoffman (Photo/Cheryl Bigman)

“He was OK with that, but a little … sad,” she said.

That’s why the message from the Simcha Sisters about the Wish Mitzvah was like a bolt from the blue.

“I started to hyperventilate,” Hoffmann admitted.

As it turned out, the party was a huge success — not just as a way to celebrate, but also as a rite of passage for the whole family.

The Wish Mitzvah idea started two years ago when Goldstein met a girl struggling with leukemia whose attitude and energy inspired him to give her something in return — a bat mitzvah, something that nobody had been sure she’d live to see.

“That was when I decided that this was something we needed to do in the Jewish community,” he said.

Goldstein, who has performed at more than 1,000 bar and bat mitzvahs, according to his website, said Bay Area Jews sometimes need a helping hand. And because of his long roots in the celebration business — his website says he emceed his first bar mitzvah at age 13, and his father, bandleader Frank Goldstein, was known as the “Mitzvah King” — he was able to round up a group of people, including Simcha Sisters, who were ready to help.

“We haven’t had to ask a single person twice,” he said.

Now he hopes he can do more than one Wish Mitzvah a year, harnessing the “power of a party” for the greater good.

“As a DJ, you don’t always know how to give back,” he said.

That thought was echoed by Goldberg, who said that though a party might seem frivolous in the midst of hardship, it makes her feel good to know that Simcha Sisters’ contributions can make a positive difference

“Sometimes you feel you can’t do enough for other people,” she said.

And it made a difference for the Hoffmanns. With Kevin’s bar mitzvah a reason to come together in joy, being able to host friends and family at a party was another reason for happiness.

“We really wanted to share with the community of people who stood by us while our hearts were breaking,” Hoffmann said.

And with the help of the Wish Mitzvah, it happened.

“They showed up again and stood by my side while my heart was swelling with pride,” Hoffmann said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.