“Don’t take this the wrong way,” my rabbi said, three weeks before my son’s bar mitzvah, “but every parent needs something to obsess over that isn’t so important. I think you’ve found your thing.”
She was talking about candy throwing after the Haftarah reading, and she was right: I was obsessing.
If you’ve been to a b’nai mitzvah, you’ve probably seen a rainbow of Sunkist Fruit Gems flying toward the bimah at the end of the Torah service. What’s more, you’ve probably heard those Sunkist Fruit Gems. They’re packed in cellophane and they rattle, especially if your congregation has 12 and 13-year-old boys with fidgety fingers.
In our congregation, the Gems made so much noise that my friend Elisa decided to forgo candy throwing altogether. No way, she said, was Hannah going to practice her Haftarah, only to be completely drowned out by tssss-ch-ch of the cellophane. She envisioned Hannah’s grandmothers in the front row, shushing people like angry librarians. “No way,” she said again.
I agreed about the rattle. But I loved the festive nature of the candy throwing and couldn’t let it go. It wasn’t up there with the Maftir (the conclusion of the Torah reading) as a rite of passage, but it belonged. I started throwing alternatives at our rabbi, who has strict perimeters on candy throwing dating back to the time she saw a flying Hershey’s Kiss break a bride’s finger during an Aufruf (the special synagogue honor before the wedding). “She put up her hand up to protect her face,” the rabbi said. “Like this. She was at her wedding in a cast.”
Because our simcha was near Hanukkah, I considered gelt, which was less dense than the candy kiss and, in my chocolate-loving family, a step above the Sunkist Gem. But gelt rhymes with melt, and there’s nothing like melted chocolate on a white tallis.
“How about white chocolate?” I asked the rabbi.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
I found an internet discussion about the quietest candies for shul, and promptly ordered some made-in-Israel fruit taffy. But the taffy arrived stale in the mail, hard enough to break glass or a bar mitzvah boy’s nose. So that was out.
Even my friend Naama, who I can always count on to obsess over the same things I do, thought I was spending way too much time on the candy question.
“Personally, I want the rattle,” she said. “It’s part of the whole thing. It’s not shul, it’s simcha shul!”
But I heard it in my head again, tsss-ch-ch, like the noise that comes just before Jason sticks an arrow through somebody’s throat in “Friday the 13th.”
I kept looking.
Finally, I heard about a synagogue that used cloth bags for candy, so I ordered tiny jewelry bags for $1.42 per dozen. Then I drove to Maryland, to Moti’s Market, where I bought $26.32 worth of silent, kosher gummi bears. My daughter and I loaded them into the bags in varying amounts. We had my son stand in the dining room, while we hurled candy at his chest to determine the pain threshold.
“Seriously?” he said, his new 13-year-old voice cracking just a bit.
Two nights before his bar mitzvah, we stuffed three gummi bears into each bag. My nephew passed them out during the service, his younger cousins in tow. There was no rattling, just the sound of my son’s voice going up and down and up again.
M’kadeish ha-Shabat. Amen.
One hundred forty four cloth bags flew in his direction. He ducked, but he still got konked in the head. I watched him emerge from the candy storm uninjured, ready to take his place as a grown member of our community.
A week earlier, when I’d been fretting over how much food to serve at the reception, my friend Wendy said: “He’s going to become a man, whether or not you run out of cheese.”
He would have become a man if he’d been rained upon by Sunkist Fruit Gems, too. God would have heard him chant that Haftarah and speed through a speech that somehow linked his Torah portion Vayera to “Return of the King,” even if the rest of us never heard a word.
But we did hear–every single one.
In the end, I spent a ridiculous $52.31 on candy and cloth bags for my simcha-on-a-budget. I saved some of the bags for the next parents who might obsess about noisy bar mitzvah candy, though. And that means that those parents will have plenty of time to obsess over something else instead.