My oldest daughter will be called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah this December. I have a bit of chip on my shoulder about it.
Actually, it’s not just her bat mitzvah that I’m cynical about, it’s the whole bat mitzvah “thing.” (I’m using “bat mitzvah” here to include bar mitzvahs too, of course.) As Patrick Aleph argued persuasively in Kveller last year, there are a lot of problems with this ceremony. Despite this, we’ve seen examples lately of young Jews who transform their b’nai mitzvah into something powerful. We just read last month about the young Jews in Chicago who are building a playground. There’s a young Jew at our synagogue who is riding his bicycle from Mexico to Canada to raise funds for the Sierra Club. But even without the grand, headline-making accomplishments, there is significant untapped potential for this rite of passage to be better reflective of the status-change it is intended to complement.
My daughter’s day school education has been, on the whole, truly wonderful. However, one constant struggle for her has beentefillah (daily prayers). It’s not that she has trouble learning them, it’s that she has trouble engaging with them. Her teachers have been very consistent in their reports that she doesn’t seem interested in participating–she doesn’t follow along in the siddur (prayer book), and is frequently just spacing out. Our daughter confirms that she finds tefillah to be awfully boring. Read the rest of this entry →
A crumpled up map of the city of Jerusalem. A ticket from the Israel Museum. A black and red card for my favorite falafel place in Jaffa. A guide to the tunnels under the Western Wall. A pinkly pale and gray shell I found on the beach in Herzliya.
These smudged, damp, and crinkled remnants of our adventures gently spill out of my new turquoise made-in-Israel bag like the fine grains of Dead Sea salt that scattered on the bathroom floor from my bathing suit this evening.
Meet Marc Luban and Ariana Handelman, a pair of 12-year-old BFFs from Chicago who have decided to forgo the modern bar mitzvah party, often ostentatious affairs featuring celebrity performers like Christina Aguilera (rock on, Sam Horowitz), in favor of helping other kids their age. In a partnership with their temple, Anshe Emet Synagogue, and the nearby Bright Star Church, the 7th graders will design and physically build a playground to serve the Bronzeville community on the South Side of Chicago, which is plagued by high crime and has few safe places for children to play.
The kids of Anshe Emmet and Bright Star Church have teamed up in the past for several events and projects. In fact, it was when Marc and Ariana visited the church to watch Barack Obama’s second inauguration that they noticed the area lacked a decent play area. Read the rest of this entry →
And for many other reasons, too. Because our kids had never been and we wanted to show them the land of their people, because we love beach vacations and no matter where you are in Israel you’re seldom further than an hour from an incredible beach, and because the food is amazing (never mind the shwarma and falafel, even frozen schnitzel and french fries are delicious here–especially if you eat them on the beach!). Because you can kayak down the Jordan river and ride a wobbly camel in the Judaean desert, buy fragrant spices and the freshest challah at the bustling Middle Eastern market in Jerusalem, and find the most exquisite shoes at the beautiful mall just steps away. Because Israel grabs you by all five of your senses and never lets go…
But mainly we came to celebrate my oldest son’s bar mitzvah. He’s been practicing his Torah portion for almost a year. I’ve heard him once or twice–he doesn’t falter, never hesitates. He has spent hours with our rabbi in Oakland learning, discussing, preparing his speech and his words of Torah. Read the rest of this entry →
Michael and Dylan Douglas (Courtesy of City of David Youtube)
After nearly breaking a hip dancing the Hora at his son Dylan‘s bar mitzvah, Michael Douglas flew down to Israel with wife Catherine Zeta-Jones and their two kids for a post-party trip, staying in the presidential suite of the King David hotel in Jerusalem. During their stay, the Douglas family explored the “City of David,” an archeological dig.
Here’s a clip of Douglas kvelling for the camera with Dylan at his side (can we get an “awwww”?):
And on the seventh day of our trip to California, we lost our camera.
It was an expensive Canon SLR with zoom lens, battery, memory card, lens filter, and sun shade. On that memory card were some 1,500 photos and videos that we’d taken in one week. In an instant, we’d lost something eminently replaceable and something devastatingly irreplaceable.
On the trip, we had visited Yosemite National Park, celebrated my cousin’s bar mitzvah in Berkeley, and toured San Francisco, my husband Rob skillfully and happily composing and snapping both posed and candid photos along the way. Read the rest of this entry →
I never want my kids to feel like there is a right way to be Jewish.
Because that’s the way I felt growing up. Even though both my parents are Jewish– and their parents, too.
I grew up in the 1980s in New Jersey in a town that was predominately Jewish. I wanted to be like the popular girls who seemed so together: pretty, well adjusted, wealthy, and yes, Jewish. So I tried to copy them. I thought wearing Guess Jeans, having beautiful hair, a big house, a big fancy car, and a mom who stayed home and always looked glamorous that I would finally become Jewish in just the right way. But I failed miserably. My parents were artsy. I wore Lee Jeans. My mom worked outside of the home. We didn’t live in the fancy part of town. No matter how much I blow-dried my hair, it remained frizzy. My nails were always dirty. Read the rest of this entry →
Think about when you are in the midst of labor and you are going through the most intense and difficult–yet simultaneously the most meaningful–experience of your life. You are bringing a new human being into the world and you know that you will never, ever, forget these people–the nurses, obstetricians, midwives, and other medical staff–who helped you through this amazing day.
You know how, later on–maybe much later on–you realize that as meaningful as that day was to you, that to the nurses, obstetricians, and midwives who helped you, it was just another work day, and your peak experience wasn’t anything special? Remember how that revelation made you feel kind of sad?
Of note, the article from ABC does include a quote from Sam about the bar mitzvah ceremony itself, saying, “It’s really about the service, and it took two years to prepare for that. It’s a really big milestone in my life and it meant a lot to me, so I’m happy people are enjoying it.”
Hat tip to Jordana Horn for finding the video below which is by far the craziest bar mitzvah video I, and likely you, have ever, ever seen. I’ll skip the obvious jokes about everything being bigger in Texas and just let you watch and decide for yourself.