This week is “my Bar Mitzvah parasha.” In my experience, many adults think back to that long ago time of their Bar Mitzvah on its anniversary.
I think back not to “a man,” as supposedly we all become on our Bar Mitzvah. I think back to an innocent young lad who brought his father to tears as he chanted the Haftarah.
What they didn’t tell me on my Bar Mitzvah was to love my parents a thousand times more than I already did because a parent can die. Life can be wrenched upside down in a second.
I think back to a boy who was tutored for his Bar Mitzvah, who had to learn the “trop,” the speech, the davening and had to gain some competency in chanting or singing.
What they didn’t tell me on my Bar Mitzvah was that I would proceed through schooling, rarely having the privilege of a teacher as effective and as loving as that Bar Mitzvah tutor.
Nor did they tell me that when he was tutoring me, he was a scant 14 years removed from the death camps, and that explained a lot of how he acted.
I think back to a boy whose grade in music the semester of his Bar Mitzvah jumped up to an A.
What they didn’t tell me is that it takes persistence and practice to retain that increased musical sense. Or, maybe they did tell me, but age 13 is too young to get that.
Mostly, what they didn’t tell me was how right they were that with Bar Mitzvah, life is only beginning.
They didn’t tell me about the depths of Torah that could open up.
They didn’t tell me that one day I might hold other Bar Mitzvah boys — my own descendants — in my lap.
They didn’t tell me that to be segmented out of normal teenage society for the nine months that it took to prepare my Bar Mitzvah revealed a strategy for avoiding the pitfalls of a secular society that could rob any American teen of spiritual goals. And that, even at 13, I did get.
They didn’t tell me that the synagogue I loved could one day become a church.
They didn’t tell me that the rabbi I revered could one day drop dead at age 50.
They didn’t tell me that, soon enough, I would be on my own in terms of synagogue, rabbi, mentor and curriculum.
They didn’t tell me that one day I would realize that my most prized possessions were my tefilin — and that, paradoxically, they would wear out over time. And those precious Bar Mitzvah tefilin would need to be replaced.
They didn’t tell me that a half century after my Bar Mitzvah, people would still be debating how much time a Bar Mitzvah boy should put into writing his thank-you cards.
They didn’t tell me that the society around me could suddenly become convulsed, that what passed for a regular hairstyle could become ridiculed, that what passed for the sacredness of marriage could become abolished, that what passed for “cool” — the fraternity — could be marginalized, that what passed for music could be eclipsed.
They didn’t tell me or my cohorts that it wasn’t worth cheating on the SAT or other exams — because they didn’t need to.
They didn’t tell me or my cohorts that it was important to read and learn and study new things — because they didn’t have to.
They didn’t tell me that some of my cohorts, honest and curious as they were, would nonetheless ruin their lives on drugs. They didn’t tell me how lucky I was to have the right parents or the right something to figure out how to “just say no” not only to drugs but to many other temptations that veered from the teachings conveyed . . . on my Bar Mitzvah.
They didn’t tell me that travel could be eye-opening in an unimaginable way, or that a single college course could shape the way a person looks at the world, or that somebody could decide to pay young men the attention they needed to gain a foothold in the mysteries of the Torah.
They didn’t tell me a lot back then, no doubt because I wasn’t capable of listening, but also because those elders of mine could not see what would unfold from the day of my Bar Mitzvah forward any more than I could.
They didn’t tell me about the coming assassination of an American president, or the coming Civil Rights upheaval, or the liberation of the Western Wall. They certainly didn’t tell me about the fall of Communism or the rise of terrorism.
They didn’t tell me about the glory of a cool fall day, or the beauty of a Swiss waterfall or the wonder of a jet airplane. These I would find out on my own — with the tools, the life tools, acquired from the loving tutors and teachers and elders I had for my Bar Mitzvah.
Copyright © 2012 by the Intermountain Jewish News