What do Jews do, Bar Mitzvah Edition

I haven’t written about the bar mitzvah most of the week because frankly, it was just too big an event to absorb and regurgitate on the blog. Not immediately anyway. I picked up the picture proofs and a DVD that was made of my son conducting the entire service (edited down to two hours from just over three) this morning, so at least now I have a few pictures to include that can help the narrative.

[Payoff to those who read, unless you skip to the end now – it’s a good thing that SB16 hasn’t passed yet and that the Marriott hotel isn’t classified as an adult entertainment establishment because whomever the enforcers end up being could have raided the Saturday night party, as one of the pictures below might suggest – and that’s a tame one I’ve included]

Friday night, 5/11/07

Friday began with a rehearsal at 10am in the synagogue’s sanctuary with the Cantor, my husband, myself and my three children. I wasn’t sleeping well most of the evenings last week because my brain refused to rest and yet still, I arrived late. Once there, I darted from kitchen to atrium to office to sanctuary to atrium to office and back again to each of these areas, checking on table arrangements, baskets of candies (for throwing at my son from the seats Saturday morning after a particular part of the service), brochures (had to be sure we had the one with all the explanations inside – many non-Jews would be attending) and pretty much anything else that could keep me pre-occupied from the fact that in less than 24 hours, this event for which I’d been planning, or at least had known about, for three years would begin.

I don’t remember what errands I did or whether I ate lunch or kissed my kids or husband during the day, but by 4pm, my kids and I made it to the synagogue in time to meet the photographer and have formal portraits taken, of my son reading from the Torah and of our family, on the bima and outside – as in the picture above.

To say that relief was in sight would be a lie, but the relatives and close friends began to arrive by 5:50pm and the Shabbat service commenced at a little after 6pm. The weather cooperated and sun streamed in as I lit the Sabbath candles with most of my female relations on the bima with me – mothers, grandmother, aunts, nieces, daughters.

The Friday evening service which welcomes the Sabbath is lyrical and brief – less than one hour. For some reason, of which I’m unaware, there is no Oneg after a 6pm service (but when services start at 7:30pm, there is an Oneg – which is a dessert-type gathering) so after the service concluded, we gathered for a Shabbat dinner.

This point makes a good point for saying: almost nothing, and I mean nothing, went wrong or unanticipated. Except for this one occurance:

Several people entered the dinner room before I did. Two of those people were my two younger children. Those two younger children decided that they would take all the alphabetically arranged placecards for our guests, placecards which I’d arranged on a table for people to check when they entered the room, and, you know – remove them from the table. And try to match them to the numbers on each of the dinner tables.

So that, you know – when people walked in – they wouldn’t know where to go. Or they would think that they didn’t have a card.

Sounds silly? Confusing?

Well – mayhem ensued. One set of relatives didn’t have a card (because I had in fact screwed up) and the remainder of the guests? They didn’t know where to sit.

Tragedy? Of course not. There were barely 30 or 35 of us.

But, well, to perfectionists like us, major breakdown.

After a few minutes of testiness, composure returned and the dinner progressed with few problems. Especially after I scared the behoosus out of my two younger children by telling them,

“Tomorrow night? There will be 150 placecards. On a table. All by themselves. DO NOT TOUCH A SINGLE ONE. Do you understand? LEAVE THE CARDS ON THE TABLE. DO NOT TRY TO MOVE THEM. Okay? I love you. Now eat.”

I’m proud to say that I did make it through Friday evening without a single mind-altering drug being administered – to me or anyone else.

Saturday morning, 5/12/07

The Torah service begins about 45 minutes into the entire morning service, the entire service lasting from 8:45am until just before 12noon.

Some women wear tallit. I never have, I don’t own one and I don’t know that I ever will, although I’m considering doing an adult bat mitzvah, but that’s another post.

Because I was on the bima in the presence of the Torahs, I had to wear a kipa. This wasn’t a terribly difficult thing for me to do, however, I don’t, or, rather, I didn’t own one. When you don’t own one, your choice is to not go on the bima – which wasn’t a choice for me on this day – or to wear the lace doilies the ushers hand out. And I didn’t really want to do that either.

So, the day before, I looked at the options sold by the synagogue and I chose a gold-toned metal kippah with small black beads in it. It felt very odd to me, but I lived. I also took it off pretty much as soon as all the guests left the kiddush after the service but before I entered the luncheon room with our guests.

As for the day itself, my son’s bar mitzvah will remain an unparalleled experience in my life, pretty much the rest of my life. My other children will have such moments also. But this child, embraced this experience unlike any child most of the congregants and certainly unlike any child I’d ever seen. Again, Jeff Hess bore witness to what my son accomplished, and not being raised a Conservative Jew or even being all that familiar – as familiar as perhaps I should be – with the service, I can’t fully appreciate just what he did.

However, we continue to get emails, phone calls and cards from people we don’t even know – literally – who were there that morning, tell us what a gifted child we have.

We know. Trust me, we know. And we don’t take it for granted for a single second.

Saturday night party, 5-12-07

The kids set up:

We had about 40 kids, from ages three to 16. At their disposal: laptops, a GameCube and a Playstation setup, each of which was attached to projectors that displayed the games on 100 inch screens – or something like that. The idea was mine, the execution – my son and husband. It was an outstanding arrangement, the techies from the rental company were superb, they’d never done anything like it, none of the kids had ever been to anything like it and the parents were pleased as punch because they knew where the kids were at all times, we shut the computers down during certain parts of the evening (like, when the kids needed to eat) and really – a lot of the adults were over there as well. My son had arranged for multiple games to be installed on several computers so the kids could interact and it just went off without a hitch.

Also, I made an iPhoto slideshow of my son and our family and we showed that about midway through the evening on one of the large screens. It was about 11 minutes long, with about 90 photos and I used the songs, Up All Night by the Talking Heads for the baby pics, You’re My Best Friend by Queen for the family and friends photos and then the Pink Panther for more travel and family and friends pics. Everyone seemed to love it.

And, now, last but not least, the moment you’ve been reading and skimming for:

The bar mitzvah boy was supposed to be in a chair lifted high up, but our son had declared long ago that that was not going to be a happening thing. So the DJ called all the Jewish dancing for the adults, and any kids who wanted to join in (with all those computers in the room – that wasn’t too many).

Well – I’m exhausted just writing this somewhat dry review of the weekend. But let me be clear: it was an enormous success on absolutely every single level and only today am I finally feeling somewhat recovered.

But what would this entry be if I didn’t mention that the bar mitzvah boy? He came down with strep on Wednesday and an ear infection today.

“Just thank Gawd it wasn’t last Froyday!” she moaned in her most Brooklyn accent possible.

Shabbat shalom. (beware – I’m publishing without editing – I take no responsibility for typos etc but will fix later)

*This post has been edited.

16 thoughts on “What do Jews do, Bar Mitzvah Edition

  1. Hello Jill,
    I am a photographer about to shoot my first Bat Mitzvah this Saturday, September 13th.
    Although I have always been fascinated with the Hebrew Religion and traditional customs, I am not Jewish, and I have been making an effort to familiarize myself with the Bat Mitzvah ceremony.

    Thank you for writing this enlightening and humorous article.

    As I have been in coordination with the Mom of the Bat Mitzvah Girl, she informs me that they will not be having the “chair” ceremony. I’m a bit disappointed..I would love to have captured that fun in photos.

    And there will be no photos, at all, allowed during the actual religious portion of the ceremony…oh well!

    Anyway, thanks again for the education and insight into this wonderful tradition.

    Thanks,
    Bob Levesque

  2. Pingback: What Do Jews Do: The Series | Writes Like She Talks

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  4. What a great B Mitzvah journal! Not to mention a handsome family! And as long as you didn’t take money while on the chair, you are safe (and if you did, don’t tell us šŸ™‚

  5. Aw, thanks for reading and leaving a comment! It’s so funny – when I don’t really know the people who comment, even if I can ID them but I don’t actually know them, I feel more anonymous. Now that I KNOW you’re reading, I’m blushing that I’ve published this stuff! Yes, it was a very nice occasion this afternoon.As for partying, hopefully we’ll be able to do as good a job for our daughter and it won’t fall on a Bible contest weekend (I think it will be the weekend before).Hope baseball went well!

  6. Sorry again I had to miss it all. While you were partying, I was escorting our two young friends through the M&M story at Times Square. You had a better time, I’d wager. At least we were able to break bread together this afternoon at Yael’s reception.

  7. Hi Mom in Israel! Thanks! And you know, I have been following your posts about dress rules etc. very closely. Fascinating to me, just fascinating (clearly my party dress wouldn’t, um, be okay?)Yes – you are right to love when kids try to be helpful. Unfortunately, the first response by the person who will remain unnamed who saw what was happening was panic and then a fear of imperfection. But…I took the person aside and set things straight and the rest of the weekend passed without a hitch.Again, thanks for the support. I have your blog on RSS but haven’t seen too much lately…?

  8. I love it when kids try to be helpful. . .mazal tov and it seems all your preparation really paid off!

  9. Well, I tell you what Wendell – if we’re both still blogging in three years, I will invite you and your wife and kids to my daughter’s bat mitzvah. And you can always borrow the two hour DVD! (Okay – not even I’m going to be watching that any time soon – but it’s got all the scene clips you can browse so I can watch just the portions I like.)Jesus is just fine – but he’s not in the Old Testament.

  10. I’m calling the State Police. This post is obviously a violation of SB16 and thanks to you I can no longer come within 6 feet of my computer.Seriously though, great rundown of the festivities… you’ve totally got me re-thinking this whole Jesus thing.

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