Jacob Wertheimer was called to the Torah on April 28 at Philadelphia’s Congregation Rodeph Shalom in front of 150 people, including legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent reported.
The 13-year-old is the son of Ali’s daughter, Khaliah Ali-Wertheimer, who was raised Mulsim, and Spencer Wertheimer.
Ali’s daughter told the Sweet Science boxing news website, “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.”
Ali, nicknamed “The Greatest” during his storied career, was raised Baptist and converted to Islam in the 1960s.
At the ceremony, Ali, 70, said, “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life,” according to the Exponent.
However, Ali is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and was not on the bimah at any point during the service, the Exponent reported.
According to the temple’s director of membership, the Wertheimer family tried hard to keep the event private.
Nonetheless, the synagogue did mention the bar mitzvah — and the fact that Ali would be present — in its monthly bulletin. But the service drew a crowd no larger than a typical bar mitzvah, the Exponent reported, leading synagogue officials to wonder how closely members actually read the bulletin. — jta