In the 1960s, Muhammad Ali stood as an exemplar of black pride and beacon of hope for oppressed people around the world. In recent years, he has been a symbol of tolerance and understanding.
Ali taught his children to rid their hearts of prejudice. The lessons took hold. One of his grandchildren, Jacob Wertheimer, was recently bar mitzvahed.
Coming of age rituals are an important part of every religion. Under Jewish law, when a boy reaches the age of thirteen, he accepts full responsibility for his actions and becomes a man. The ceremony commemorating this occasion is known as a bar mitzvah.
Jacob (the son of Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer and her husband, Spencer) turned thirteen on January 21 of this year. The bar mitzvah took place on April 28 at Congregation Rodelph Shalom in Philadelphia. One hundred fifty people were in attendance. Jacob’s grandfather was among them.
“I was born and raised as a Muslim,” Khaliah says. “But I’m not into organized religion. I’m more spiritual than religious. My husband is Jewish. No one put any pressure on Jacob to believe one way or another. He chose this on his own because he felt a kinship with Judaism and Jewish culture.”
“The ceremony was wonderful and very touching,” Khaliah continues. “The theme of Jacob’s presentation was inclusiveness and a celebration of diversity. My father was supportive in every way. He followed everything and looked at the Torah very closely. It meant a lot to Jacob that he was there.”
Khaliah says proudly that Jacob is an “A” student and a good athlete with Ivy League aspirations. She also notes that the bar mitzvah of Muhammad Ali’s grandson is “a wonderful tale of what’s coming in the world.”
Ali, one assumes, would agree. Shortly before lighting the Olympic flame at 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he proclaimed, “My mother was a Baptist. She believed Jesus was the son of God, and I don’t believe that. But even though my mother had a religion different from me, I believe that, on Judgment Day, my mother will be in heaven. There are Jewish people who lead good lives. When they die, I believe they’re going to heaven. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, if you’re a good person you’ll receive God’s blessing. Muslims, Christians and Jews all serve the same God. We just serve him in different ways. Anyone who believes in One God should also believe that all people are part of one family. God created us all. And all people have to work to get along.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Winks and Daggers: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.