Quints' rite of passage Adults: Five children go through b'nai mitzvah, the latest red-letter day for the family.

June 30, 1996|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

When Pam and Dan Pisner woke up yesterday morning, they were the parents of five children.

By day's end, the Olney couple were the parents of five adult Jews: Devin, Ian, Michael, Elliot and Shira, 13-year-old quintuplets who became b'nai mitzvah yesterday.

"It's special, not everyone does this," said Michael not long before 230 people gathered to observe and celebrate the Jewish rite of passage into adulthood. "People believe in God in different ways. Some people think he's inside everyone, some think he's in heaven. I think he's in our hearts."

The evening ceremony at a rented hall in Columbia, conducted by Cantor David Shneyer and catered by Attman's of Lombard Street, is the latest red-letter day the Pisner family has experienced in multiples of five.

There was worldwide coverage of the quints' premature birth on June 21, 1983, after Pam took a fertility drug.

The ritual circumcision took place eight days later.

Before long, the nonidentical Pisner quints were walking and talking together (the word "quintuplet" was alien to their vocabulary for years).

And one day -- a few years after Dan traded schticks on the "Tonight Show" with Joan Rivers -- they were all heading off to kindergarten.

Although the Pisners consider their Jewishness to be more cultural than religious -- attending services on High Holy Days is about the extent of their observance -- it was important for them to see the houseful of teen-agers embrace the faith.

Boys are bar mitzvah, meaning son of the commandment, while girls are bat for daughter. B'nai denotes both sexes.

Yesterday's Bible reading was from Numbers 22, a wilderness scene peopled with characters named Balak and Moab and Balaam.

Instead of the traditional ceremony, in which a boy or girl is called to the Torah before the congregation to read the passage in Hebrew, the Pisner children divided the reading into five parts and acted out the Scripture.

The siblings have been studying the Hebrew language for four years and have used the past year to prepare for yesterday's ritual. Of the five, Shira is said to be the best student of Hebrew (her favorite word is "ruach," for the wind) and Devin thinks the time he spent studying religion could have been better used at play.

Elliot said he knew he was now considered a man by the Jewish faith -- old enough to form a "minyan," or quorum, of at least 10 Jewish men to hold a prayer service -- but he really didn't feel like a grown-up.

"Right now, I think I have enough information to basically know what the Jewish religion is about," said Shira. "I believe in God and I know about our ancestors. We learned a lot of stories. I liked that."

The Pisners are the greatest story of Betty and Blanche Major's lives.

Elderly twins living together in nearby Damascus, Betty and Blanche heard about the quints on television and took it upon themselves to knock on the Pisners' door to offer help. Pam immediately sensed they were genuine and for the next five years, Betty and Blanche showed up twice a week to feed, diaper and love the children as needed.

They were among the 75 or so guests invited to the b'nai mitzvah as a thank you for their help over the years from Pam and Dan. It was the first one the Major sisters had ever attended.

"As twins, we've always been interested in five babies born at one time," said Betty, who said she and her sister became fascinated with quintuplets after the 1934 birth of the Dionne girls in Canada.

"We always said that if any quintuplets were born anywhere near us, we hoped we could just see them. We're close to this family, and I think we always will be."

Perhaps Blanche and Betty will be on hand for the next rite of passage the Pisner children will face together: getting driver's licenses.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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