I have been to my first Bar Mitzvah. Everyone should go to one. No, that’s not strong enough: everyone should have one.
The reform temple was decorated for Sukkot which, to this Presbyterian girl, looked very like Harvest– chrysanthemums, pumpkins, gourds and bunches of shiny waxen grapes decorating the sanctuary. “A saving.” said the bar mitzvah boy’s proud mother ” No need for flowers”.
Once I got used to the book being backwards I could follow the service quite well, although my singing in Hebrew needs a little work. No matter, the cantor did a great job and the words (from books of the old testament I haven’t opened for years) were beautiful. One of the readings opened along the lines of “Such a week as I have had” and went on to list a variety of trials. It ended up ok though, with an exhortation for us all to leave the pain, stress and boredom behind and to a find a moment of peace in the still of the sanctuary.
The Torah is not easy to pass from person to person or to carry on a victory lap. Like the FA cup, it is tall and top heavy. An aunt and uncle grappled with it on the way out of the Ark and the holy scrolls were then passed reverently but clumsily from grandparents, to parents to Zeke. The Rabbi and the Cantor worked hard to unroll the scrolls with a motion that looked like manhandling an old fashioned clothes wringer. Zeke was word perfect.
Susan made a thoughtful speech on the chain that links a Jewish boy to previous generations, and the mesh of links that will provide a safety net, trampoline and lifeline as her boy becomes a man. This part of the ceremony seems to me to be a well-timed opportunity for parents to tell a child what they admire in him before the teenager spins off into his or own hard-to-reach world. Zeke’s dad spoke of his pride in his boy–not just on this occasion, but every day of his life. Both parents were specific about what they saw in their child and honored–very different from the ubiquitous “love you” now routinely tacked on the end of all parental phone calls, texts and notes on the fridge. This is the kind of stuff too often reserved for people’s funerals, or perhaps worked by parents into a wedding speech when their child is fully grown. Always good to hear, I believe it is most useful and valuable at thirteen. I used the hem of my special occasion top to wipe my eyes.
Zeke had worked really hard to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah, something which in his own speech, he freely admitted he did not always enjoy. He had a responsibility, a job to do, and a choice of whether or not to do it with honors. This has to be a good thing too. I was never confirmed ( a practice in the Church of Ireland and the Catholic church) but I remember school friends’ perfunctory attendance at a short series of classes, and them being glad to have a white dress and a gold cross. I never received the impression that it was much to do with lineage, faith, or adult responsibility–certainly no one put in the work expected of a competent Bar Mitzvah boy. I don’t know a lot about the preparation needed for a total immersion baptism –as far as I know there is none, other than an expression of faith–and it seems to me that the work is done from on high:we are saved, rather than self-saving. As Zeke read, his parents and grandparents looked like they might burst with pride and happiness. Zeke was wearing, in addition to a very sharp suit and a bright yellow yarmulke, his grandfather’s prayer shawl. It had originally belonged to Norton’s own grandfather. It is Zeke’s now.
Zeke’s speech concentrated on the importance of showing loyalty, courage and stepping outside a comfort zone. He was also strong on specific examples: ” I could bail on the Redskins and support a good team, but that wouldn’t be right”. The Rabbi is a Redskins fan too: ” From your lips to God’s ears” he intoned, when Zeke concluded his remarks with a fervent wish that the Skins might turn it around this season. Mazel Tov Zeke. Mazel Tov Redskins.