Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bar Mitzvah Post #1

I started this blog shortly after The Dark Lord's bar mitzvah which was, of course, a lovely occasion, but one preceded by months (OK, years) of planning, stewing, worrying, and so on. That bar mitzvah was the first one in our family since the 1930's so, you know, no pressure at all.

It all went so swimmingly that I've been coasting along in serious denial about that fact that we needed to throw another of these things only a year and a half later. Lately invitations have been trickling in from MonkeyBoy's classmates. I've been sending in the RSVP's, offering to bake cookies, and writing dates on the calendar. But have I actually done anything whatsoever about my own son's bar mitzvah? Not a thing. Oh, he's been going to his weekly lessons with the world's greatest Hebrew tutor and working hard and studying diligently. He's learning quickly and will soon be able to chant his Hebrew smoothly.

His brother and I also have Torah readings to learn. Not a huge deal. But there is so much more than that and as Mother of the Bar Mitzvah Boy it pretty much all lands in my lap. There are invitations to design, address, and mail and the corresponding RSVPs which must be tracked, the lunch (for 80 or so) to be organized, a kid party to follow the ceremony, and a thousand little details (clothes, haircuts, embossed kippot, flowers.....). Our congregation is not one of those known for ice sculptures, limos, and other bar mitzvah excesses but it is an important milestone in a child's life and deserves to be celebrated fully and joyously. Which means a big production--not my forte.

Even so, I realize that all this is superfluous to the the process itself, the journey of becoming a bar mitzvah rather than simply having a bar mitzvah. Bar mitzvah (or bat mitzvah for girls) recognizes a young person's growth toward maturity and marks the beginning of Jewish adulthood. One of the key elements of this maturity, I believe, is learning to think of others and moving away from the inherent selfishness of childhood. This is one of the reasons Jewish congregations encourage (or even require) kids in this process to have some sort of mitzvah or tzedakah project, something which helps out a good cause, raises awareness about an issue, or in some way benefits the community.MonkeyBoy, like any normal kid in between childhood and adulthood, can be shockingly self-absorbed on occasion. But he is also capable of stunning empathy and generosity with others. I have seen him empty his wallet more than once for a total stranger, and do so with a smile on his face. He's a great kid that way and he makes me so proud. That's why I was so happy when he began exploring ideas for his tzedakah project. I knew he could really dig in to if he found the right project. I suggested that he might see if there are some needs at Kateri Park he might be able to help with. This is the housing complex where we've been teaching knitting to low income, predominantly refugee women and kids once a week for the past year. MonkeyBoy has come along with me and gotten to know lots of people there. Unsurprisingly he's a huge hit with the kids.

He spoke with the manager today and came away with lots of ideas about how he might move forward, both educating our synagogue community about refugee issues and collecting donations for the folks at Kateri Park. The needs are many, ranging from pencils to a new computer to literacy tutors. I was thrilled to listen to him talk excitedly about all the possibilities today. He has a lot of work ahead of him, but I love that this is a place where he's spent time and gotten to know people and learned to open his heart even further.

I think it's going to be a great bar mitzvah.


arnie draiman said...

right on, oh dark one! your kid is right in the thick of adult jewish life, and the tzedakah component is critical.

i am thrilled to have come upon this. give him a big tzedakah smile!

and i am happy to help recommend places in israel that are run by mitzvah heroes, and use tzedakah money efficiently and effectively.


arnie draiman
philanthropic consultant

Mimi said...

I think it sounds like it will be a very good Bar Mitzvah indeed.

Catherine said...

I've no doubt it'll be a wonderful occasion. How could it be otherwise when you have such an incredible young man to work with? I am *so* looking forward to being there since the last bar mitvah I attended was *ahem* when I was 13 - but mostly because your middle one is such a special kid.

Do let us know how we can contribute!


Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

When I read your list of stuff to do, I had to say that I was thankful that I am now officially done! N. had his Bar Mitzvah last year--and it's my last as a mom. Being a grandma someday will be a lot more fun!

At the same time, looking back on the things we did, I can say that we did not let all the details get into the way of the process. And it was a wonderful religious experience for all of us.

Isn't it amazing how they can be, teenagers one minute, and then blow you away with their Jewish hearts?

bikelovejones said...

I am thrilled to be M-Boy's Hebrew tutor.

(As long as he keeps practicing. Heh-heh.)

Seriously, I look forward to my weekly time with him. I love watching the "a-ha!" moments when they sneak across his face; and, well, last week's lesson was a real breakthrough on so many levels. He gets it, huge and wide and in technicolor.

I know that come June, will miss our mornings together. (I'm thinking of this and its only January, fer cryin out loud. Sheesh.) M-Boy rocks the world.

redmolly said...

What a wonderful project! I'm looking forward to hearing updates... sometimes it seems like empathy is absolutely the hardest thing to teach children, and it sounds like Monkey Boy is doing a wonderful job growing up into a person with a heart for others.

ElizO said...

What a wonderful project. I'm so impressed with your son's willingness to go out there and talk to people and find something to do that will really make a difference. So impressive!. I hope to hear more about it, and thanks for filling us in on this very cool process.

shula said...

Woohoo! A Bar Mitzvah.

I expect to learn a LOT.

Beautiful kids, you have.

Tikkunknitter said...

Greetings Melisa,
You and your blog are recipients of the YOU MAKE MY DAY award.
You can learn more at my blog
THANK YOU for making my day.

And best of luck with the bar mitzvah. Lucky kids, lucky family, lucky community ...

Tikkunknitter said...

Greetings Melisa,
You and your blog are recipients of the YOU MAKE MY DAY award.
You can learn more at my blog
THANK YOU for making my day.

And best of luck with the bar mitzvah. Lucky kids, lucky family, lucky community ...

babs said...

Right on Jonah & family. We all feel the rewards from such undertakings (bar mitzvah and tzedakahs).