Monday, January 9, 2012

On "becoming a man"...

Yesterday marked the 29th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. It seems almost hard to believe that so much time has passed since that milestone, although it doesn't seem like it was just yesterday. One thing I do know—I wouldn't want to revisit the physical awkwardness of that time!

In our temple, preparing for your Bar Mitzvah was always a bit stressful, even though I was a fairly good Hebrew school student. Cantor Ben-Isvy definitely expected the best from all of his Bar and Bat Mitzvah candidates, and he would run you through your paces over and over again, and tolerate no mistakes. He knew when you didn't practice, and I didn't make him angry more than once! (Maybe twice.)

In the weeks leading up to my Bar Mitzvah, I remember a few things weighing on my mind. First and foremost was the weather—it was the beginning of January, after all, in the days before global warming, so all of us prayed that snow wouldn't hit New Jersey and affect those who would be traveling to celebrate with us.

But the main thing I thought about a great deal was my Grandpa George, who was terminally ill with cancer. I remember hearing later that he used to wake up every morning and pray that he could make it until my Bar Mitzvah, as I was the oldest grandchild. Not only did he make it, but he truly thrived—watching the video of that night it's hard to believe how sick he was, and that he died a little more than one month later.

The theme of my Bar Mitzvah was Pac-Man, believe it or not. I remember we had a really cool robot greeting guests and serving drinks (it was the early 1980s, after all), and the stereotypically cheesy Bar Mitzvah band. And much like any special occasion, it was marked more by how quickly the night flew than anything else, other than being greeted by relatives and family friends who hadn't seen me since I was "this high," or in some cases, I'd never seen them before.

Looking back on my Bar Mitzvah, what I'm proudest of is the fact that of all of my friends who attended, I'm friends with all but maybe four of them on Facebook, and in probably every one of those cases, they're not on Facebook as far as I'm aware. It's awesome to have that kind of connection all these years later.

Becoming a Bar Mitzvah means becoming an adult in the Jewish religion, but that is a ceremonial responsibility. (Believe me, your parents don't look at you or treat you any differently!) Even though I don't practice Judaism in my adulthood, I still remember much of what I learned back then, and I feel fortunate to have had such a fantastic celebration to mark that occasion.

Plus, I shared that day with Elvis' birthday, so how could I have lost?

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