My son had a stroke as a baby. I just watched him become a man.

My greatest hope for my son Max's bar mitzvah: I wanted him to have both a fun and meaningful time.

I got my wish. Actually, I got more than my wish.

It was all so surreal. It didn’t feel like that long ago that Max had suffered a stroke that would lead to cerebral palsy. That he might not walk and might not talk. That he could have vision and hearing problems.


And here he was, my young man.

All photos by Ellen Seidman, used with permission.

Max owned the ceremony. We put it together ourselves, creating our own tradition.

He sang his songs and prayers beautifully, accompanied on guitar by a music teacher with whom he'd been practicing for eight months. He was especially gleeful about belting out "Thank You, God" — sung to the tune of "Fire Truck" — because he'd made up the words. ("I love the mitzvah of helping people, I want to be a fireman when I grow up!") The refrain of "Uri, Uri" had special meaning to me: "'Cause you've got the music in your soul, this world needs to hear your song."

When Max made his speech, first he used the speech app on his iPad to pronounce each sentence, and then he articulated the words. He noted that he is good at being Jewish and doing good; that he'd done a fire safety presentation at school for his mitzvah project; and that everyone should join him in eating sushi afterward.

Max had a gigantic smile on his face the entire time and giggled when people pumped their fists and said, "Woot! Woot!" — he had requested no clapping. He had everyone in the sanctuary laughing and crying; there is a reason we had 70 packets of tissues handy.

He had everyone in the sanctuary laughing and crying.

I only lost it a few times. Mostly, I was beaming, thrilled by his delivery and confidence. Boy, was he in control. Max told one of his cousins "Shhh!" when he heard her talking and directed his little sister, Sabrina, where to stand when she came up to sing a song with him. At the end, he gave the rabbi a hug. After stopping by a pew to give his teacher one, too, he booked out of there for cocktail hour.

Max made an ecstatic entrance into the party room wearing his Fireman Max hat as "Firework" played. He danced it up. He had asked to not be raised high on the chair during the hora, but when the predesignated Max Lifting Committee got him up there, he asked to go higher. Then he asked to do it again. Then he wanted Daddy to go up on a chair. Then me. Sabrina went up, too. Baby Ben: no.

Max welcomed special guests to light candles on his cake. He and the kiddie crowd played games with the DJ. He watched, in awe, the photo/video montage I’d made of his life and kept watching it again and again as it looped on the video screens. He ate a giant slice of birthday cake. He got pics taken in the photo booth. He danced some more, including our mom/son duet to "Just the Way You Are."

And when it was over, he requested another bar mitzvah. "This year!" he told me, hopefully.

Umm...

I wasn't just proud of my boy, I was all-out wowed by him. It was a day to celebrate Max becoming a young man but also a day to celebrate how far he has come.

My husband, Dave, and I did our best to capture the wonder that is Max in the speech we gave at the party.

Max held the mic for us the entire time.

Me: "My friend Wendy recently gave me a compliment; she said I always choose happiness and joy in life. Actually, that’s not completely true. Happiness was delivered to me and Dave, and his name is Max. From his first smile at two months old, Max has added cheer, exuberance, and joy to our lives and to basically everyone who comes into contact with him. To know him is to adore him."

Dave: "Behind that smile is a whole lot of strength, determination, and will. (Stubbornness, too, which explains why Max’s first word was 'No!') Max knows exactly what he wants, at all times. When we went on a joy trip last winter, Max chose the destination — Chicago. He watched videos on YouTube about Chicago, and when we were there, it was him telling me how to get around."

Me: "Max has shown us the way throughout his entire life. He has shown us what true perseverance is. He has shown us how to appreciate the inchstones along with the milestones. He has shown us the many meanings of 'ability.' He has shown us that it’s perfectly OK to be on your own timeline, proceeding at the pace that is right for you. He has shown us the beautiful range that is humanity. And, of course, he has shown us the way to the nearest fire station, wherever we go."

Max has shown us the way throughout his entire life. He has shown us what true perseverance is.

Dave: "We’re so glad you’re here to celebrate Max’s bar mitzvah. You’ve come from places near and far including Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, Georgia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Maryland, Massachusetts, and that truly exotic locale, Brooklyn, New York. So many of you have played a role in Max’s life, whether directly with him or enabling me and Ellen to be the best parents possible to him."

Me: "My father, Zaydie, is here with us in spirit and likely wondering how good the food is — he loved a good meal. He was impressed by Max’s progress, and he would have been so proud of him today. At the beginning of Max’s life, we only hoped this day would come; eventually, we knew it. 'I can see the brightness in his eyes,' a doctor once told us. I know that today, you've seen it too."

Courtesy of Verizon
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If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers www.youtube.com

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

When the COVID-19 pandemic socially distanced the world and pushed off the 2020 Olympics, we knew the games weren't going to be the same. The fact that they're even happening this year is a miracle, but without spectators and the usual hustle and bustle surrounding the events, it definitely feels different.

But it's not just the games themselves that have changed. The coverage of the Olympics has changed as well, including the unexpected addition of un-expert, uncensored commentary from comedian Kevin Hart and rapper Snoop Dogg on NBC's Peacock.

In the topsy-turvy world we're currently living in, it's both a refreshing and hilarious addition to the Olympic lineup.

Just watch this clip of them narrating an equestrian event. (Language warning if you've got kiddos nearby. The first video is bleeped, but the others aren't.)

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