My sweet son, your unexpected early arrival onto this planet 13 years ago sent shock waves through my core. I wasn’t prepared to be a mom. In many ways, I feel I’m still playing catch up. Yet in spite of my stumbling here we are: your bar mitzvah day, the day after your 13th birthday. Today is the day your father is supposed to thank God to be released of the burden that is you.
But much like every day that has preceded this one, we chose a different path.
On this day, we won’t stand with you on the bima and speak words that have been rehearsed ad infinitum. We won’t throw candies at you (well, I might follow you around the house hurling Jolly Ranchers just for fun). We won’t rent a hall, or hire a photographer or DJ. You’ll have to cope with our home, some selfies, and my Neil Diamond playlist (typical day, really). We will not, ever, refer to you as a burden.
As your father and I have tried to manage our different religious backgrounds, we haven’t quite managed the divide on the issue of Hebrew school and the bar mitzvah. Aside from the agonizing discussions I’ve had with my family intermittently over the years, religion remains background to our home life. This has not been without its challenges.
And those challenges started from day 1. Let me tell you, when broaching the subject of a traditional bris with your dad, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. Apparently there is no ritual in casual Christianity in which you publicly remove body parts of tiny baby boys and follow that with bagels and schmear. We learned early that compromise was difficult and required us to dig deeply, read more, and understand at the core what was important for us.
Being married to your father means that I have not had the experience of simply following tradition for tradition’s sake. This would have been the case had I fallen madly in love with a Jew, but I didn’t. Following my heart to marriage means that I must truly follow my heart with everything else. So instead of walking the path of my parents and grandparents before me without ever considering why and how and why again, I find myself learning more and examining small and large things alike. It’s not enough to tell Dad we do something because that’s the way it is. I must have a reason and Dad, in his challenge, has made me a better and more authentic Jew than I ever expected.
I admit though, this bar mitzvah thing has had me wracked with guilt for years. I have asked you, begged you, heck, I even offered you a dirt bike to just consider having one. Deep down, I know this was motivated by feeling I wasn’t Jewish enough. I wasn’t providing you with a Jewish education, and I worried you would somehow be “less than” because of this.
Well, guess what? I was wrong. I was wrong in trying to manipulate you and have you do something so very un-authentic. You live in a house that celebrates two religions. We have not pushed either out of respect for each other and, really, religion is not that important to us on most days. Your spiritual path is your own. So in the absence of a solid foundation of one particular belief system, you, my son, will soon enough begin your own journey.
Today, according to Jewish law, you become a man. No prayers, ceremony, or party is necessary for this to be true. Yet, you have still so much growing and learning to do—in fact, you should never stop.
Let today be a first step in this new chapter for you. You are certainly not a baby anymore, and your family and community have more expectations of your conduct now. Remember to always do good things for good reasons in good ways. Today, most importantly, we celebrate that you are here with us, you are healthy, and a great world of opportunity lies before you.
And now, since we have no plans for the day, is it too much to ask that you make your bed and for goodness sake, put your dirty clothes in the hamper?