Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Edden's Bar Mitzvah

Yesterday was an awesome day. I had a great time, but I think nobody had a better time than Edden at his Bar Mitzvah. 

In the morning, we woke up and went over to the synagogue for the Shabbat service. Before Edden started leading the service, the Rabbi said a few words, and then Abba gave Edden his tallit. (For those who don't know what a tallit is, it's probably easiest to describe this as a ritual garment that adults wear and let you look it up on Wikipedia for the full story.) The tallit was a beautiful white and light blue tallit that my dad picked up in Israel the last time he was there. Along with the presentation of the tallit, my dad gave his first speech to Edden, telling Edden about the meaning of the tallit. As my dad's speeches often are, it was quite long and a bit hard to follow. 

However, having been in Edden's position before, I think this was a case where the words were not that important, but it really was the thought that counted. Those of you know my dad know that English, particularly writing and reading in English, can be quite difficult for him. Most of the content of the speech was not that unique; Edden could have read many of the things that my dad told him about Jewish tradition and the tallit online or in a book. It just meant much more coming from our dad. Having been at home for the past week more than anyone else, I can attest at the immense amount of time and effort that he put into writing his speeches. They were real labors of love, and I think Edden saw that. 

As with the whole ceremony, my dad stressed the importance of becoming a part of the Jewish community. He told Edden how tallit means, literally, "little tent" in Hebrew and how it will be a kind of symbolic shelter or dwelling for him throughout his life. He stressed how our Jewish community also was shelter for him, and how every Jewish community and synagogue can be his shelter as well. 

After Edden put on his new tallit, he went on to lead most of the Shacharit service, and he was truly impressive. He led with a great amount of confidence, skill, and poise. If I didn't know otherwise, I would have thought he had done it at least a half dozen times before. The whole thing went by quickly and very smoothly. Before I knew it, we were at the Torah service.

Elliane and I said the seventh aliyah together, and then I read the seventh portion. It was a little rough for me, since I haven't chanted Torah with trope in years. I probably should have spent more than a few hours preparing. While I was practicing, I was getting the trope pretty well, but, when I got up on the bimah, stage fright shook up my memory a bit. I pushed through my seven verses and it was fine. 

Edden was up next for the maftir aliyah and reading. He had no problem at all with his Torah reading; he sounded pretty pro. After the Torah reading, he went on to his Haftarah (Prophetic writings) reading. To his misforture (or fortune, if you think reading Haftarah is fun), this week had a super long Haftarah portion. Again, he had no problem at all. Even while everyone was moving around, readying their candies, he kept going unfazed. And, after he finished the Haftarah, we all threw the candy at him - a tradition meant to symbolize showering him with blessings for a sweet life. 

I may have the order all wrong, but I think it was after this that the next round, the long round, of speeches came. Rabbi Ted gave Edden a speech, mostly about growing up and the responsibilities and privileges of being an adult in the Jewish tradition. My dad gave another speech pretty similar to his last one. This one, though, focused a bit more on how Edden has really grown up and how proud he and my mother are of him. (My mother doesn't do as much speaking I think because she's never liked public speaking.) The best part, though, was probably when my dad told Edden about his bris, when Edden peed on the moil's face. It may or may not have been appropriate for the service, but it was definitely hilarious to hear in that context. My dad told him about how the moil said that Edden was going to have a strong character (or something like that), but I don't think anyone heard that. No one had gotten over the hilarity of my dad just telling everyone about Edden peeing on the moil. 

Then there were more presentations by the synagogue and sisterhood presidents. 

After everyone else had spoken, Edden gave his D'var Torah, an interpretation/analysis/commentary on the week's Torah portion. The portion, Acharei Mot, included God giving the Hebrews a series of directions and laws on how to live and involved ideas of sin and atonement that Edden wanted to talk about. Because this portion calls for a day of atonement, Edden asked the question, paraphrased, "Why do we need a Day of Atonement, and why is there only one?" He wondered why, if atonement for our sins is necessary, why it should happen on a single, set day instead of on any and every day. I thought it was a really mature, relevant question to ask. The way he said he understood and accepted Yom Kippur is by relating it to Mother's Day. He made the point that, just because there is single day when we are called upon to appreciate our mothers does not mean that we should not also appreciate them throughout the year. 

He also asked the question, "Why are there written laws, and why does God punish people for breaking them?" To understand this, he thought about the Noah story, where God got mad and destroyed all of humanity because everyone was acting so immorally. Edden said that, by doling out punishments and requiring fasting on Yom Kippur, God really was just softening his fist. To Edden, it was as if God understood that humans would never do exactly what he wanted them to do if left on their own. Rather, we need written laws to follow to keep us on track. Also, we need those small punishments and opportunities to atone for our transgressions. They are much better a flood to wipe out humanity and show a much more understanding, forgiving God than Noah's God. 

He brought in other examples from his life to help him understand these challenging questions. While he didn't fully answer his own questions, he ended his d'var by recognizing that he would continue thinking about these questions for years to come. I was proud of him for taking on such serious, thought-provoking questions even while he knew full well that he wasn't going to be able to answer them satisfactorily. I thought he did a good job balancing addressing these questions and not trying overly hard to come up with any concrete answers. 

Anyway, the service went on, and Edden did a great job through to the end. Everyone there congratulated him and told him what a great job he did. The kiddush was very nice as well. Edden had to leave part way through his own kiddush to go play percussion in the junior high marching band for the Butter and Egg Days parade downtown.  He switched off between snare and crash cymbals. 

When the kiddush was over, we all had some free time before the party started at 6 that evening. We spent it talking at home and then bringing some food and drinks over to the Women's Club for the party. 

Unlike Elliane's and my bar mitzvahs, Edden's was much more focussed on him and his friends. Mine was at our house and featured some speeches by my parents, grandparents, and uncle. Also, I had a small performance where my band teacher, Mr. Bailey, played piano while I played saxophone. 

Elliane's was at a rented hall up in Rohnert Park. She had a catered dinner and a DJ. Hers, like mine, had many more adults than kids, and was very similar to mine in that respect. 

Edden's, however, was pretty different. He also had a rented hall, the Women's Club, and a DJ, the same as Elliane had. The big difference was that there must have been 20 or 30 junior high friends of his and significantly fewer adults. Neither me nor Elliane had such a large friend group at the end of 7th grade. At Elliane's, everyone was dancing and celebrating, but at Edden's I think almost all the adults were scared off of the dance floor by the kids. It was probably one of the social events of the year for his friend group. They danced for hours to Edden's choice of top 40 and classic rock and dance hits. And Edden clearly loved being the center of attention and the life of the party. 

One of the funniest things to watch was when they did the line dances they learn in 7th grade PE. Edden must have picked more than half the dances from PE class to do at his bar mitzvah, and they all had a great time doing them. 

During the party, Elliane and I also put together a sort of roast for Edden. We got up with the microphone and started by giving a pretty serious speech about how proud we were of him today. We then moved to start telling everyone at the party all the most embarrassing stories we could remember from Edden's life. We had spent a few hours brainstorming the list of stories, and ended up just putting it all together in a mostly improvised way. We already embarrassed Edden enough, so I won't publish all the stories online. Most kids Edden's age would not have taken it as well as he did. He stood up there next to us while we roasted him, and he took it all in stride. Even though we told all his most embarrassing stories in front of all his closest friends, he was smiling and laughing for the most part. It just goes to show that he really is a tough and happy person. But we knew that already, which is why we roasted him. And everyone seemed to love it. Also, we ended it on a more serious note, again telling him how proud we were of him and how much we loved him. 

The party ended eventually, with most of the adults beating the kids out the door. Some of Edden's friends stayed there to the very end, even after the DJ turned off the music and we started cleaning up. 

Anyway, that was a great day and one that I am sure Edden will remember as one of the best days in his life so far. 

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