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Bar Mitzvah Blues

Tuesday, October 1, 2013
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Here I am at my Bat Mitzvah, the first one from the left in a white dress. This is how we did it in '83!

March 18, 2017.

That is my first choice date for my older son Maxon’s Bar Mitzvah – a date I had to select last Sunday at a B’nai Mitzvah meeting for the fourth grade parents at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

This meeting brought up several things I have no desire to think about right now, not the least of which is how close to 50 I will be when this whole thing goes down. Then there is the debate in our house as to whether Maxon should have his Bar Mitzvah in Israel. I go back and forth. In my heart, I think I want to have the ceremony here. But if we do, there is an overwhelming, ever-expanding list of things I don't want: Chronological video and photo montages. Candle lighting limericks. Buying 125 pairs of tennis socks. Picking a venue, choosing décor, selecting a floral schematic. God, is it hot in here?

But I do want to hear Maxon read from the Torah in front of our family and friends. I want to stand next to him on the bimah, radiating pride with the heat of seven suns. I want to watch him rise from the center of a circling crowd atop a chair. I want to see him struggle with his Torah portion and think he’ll never get it, and stand up and do it anyway. Oh, the fights we’ll have! The doors that will slam! The tears I will shed in my closet!

Mostly I think about what I want him to remember about his Bar Mitzvah. They should be the most significant memories of his young life. Then again, are mine?

When I think back to my Bat Mitzvah, I remember rewinding my yellow sports Walkman and clicking to replay Cantor K’s rendition of my Haftarah. I remember Cantor K challenging me to chant the blessing after the Haftarah in front of the whole Hebrew School after struggling with it for weeks, and then surprising him by killing it. I remember picking out my outfit from Bloomingdale’s and being allowed to buy shoes with heels. I remember my Aunt Harieta on the bimah, singing her aliyah with her bewitching voice. I remember getting down, down, down to "Rock Lobster." (Oh Purple Haze, you ran the show in the 80s.) I remember making just one mistake during my Haftarah, although I couldn't sing you one single note today. And I remember every second of my slow dance with Charlie Santore.  

Will it really make a difference if Maxon remembers his Torah portion more than the girl he slow danced with? (“Oh, I’m not slow dancing with anybody!” says Maxon, reading over my shoulder.) 

So, this has been fun, but I don’t want to think about all this today. Or argue with my husband about having an overseas Bar Mitzvah today. Or worry about whether Maxon will have to share his day with another child, or if he'll get the first choice date, or how we will pay for the extra tutoring or a party or a trip to Israel today. Because he is nine and as a non-Jewish mom observed when I discussed these issues with my girlfriends: “Wait, this is four years from now? You guys are stressing me out.”

Yes. Indeed. So, au revoir Bar Mitzvah thoughts. I am going to enjoy Maxon's nine-ness and not fret about the fact that the only Hebrew letter he knows is a shin. Because I know I will exhale and he will be 13. And I have to trust that when March 2017 arrives, he will know the whole Hebrew alphabet and we will have figured the rest out.  

“I do maybe want a shirt or a hat,” Maxon says. “That would be nice.”

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