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.