Mightier Than The Pen

Making The World A Bitter Place

Mazel Tov. Today You Are a Mockery

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Dear friends, family, and honored guests:

That’s how Rabbi Stein wanted me to begin this bar mitzva speech. Out of deference to him I kept the opening line, but the rest, well, you’ll understand in a minute.

Let’s face it: today is not about my becoming a man. I’m this little pipsqueak whose voice hasn’t even started to change. My parents’ friends routinely describe me as “cute,” and they don’t mean it in a Ricky Martin kind of way. I’m not even old enough for Ricky Martin to mean anything to me, for crying out loud. How can anyone expect someone who hasn’t even hit the pimply-faced stage to answer to manhood? It’s time to stop pretending that’s what this is about.

It’s also not about celebrating some milestone. You want a milestone? On Thursday I managed to restrain myself from running away and playing Grand Theft Auto when I was supposed to be preparing the reading in the synagogue. First time that’s ever happened. But don’t attribute that to any onset of maturity – attribute it to Dad threatening to ground me for a month and take away my iPhone if I didn’t buckle down and practice.

Alternatively, you might think this celebration has something to do with my ability to read a text in ancient Hebrew and recite a few benedictions, as if I didn’t simply get a recording and memorize it. A budding star, the ladies all cooed. A real ear for tune and rhythm and trope, the men declared. A real load of garbage, I say. A parrot could do the same. Would you celebrate a parrot with a lavish party, maybe force him to wear an ill-fitting suit and a tie too big for his neck? Wait, don’t answer that. I’m not sure I want to know.

So let’s give the honest answer to why we’re all here today. We’re all here because Mom and Dad want to show off, or at least make the social statement that they can throw a shindig like the next assimilated couple. Keeping up with the Schwartzes – no offense, Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz; I like you a lot – is the great temple-centered pastime. We bar mitzva boys are just pieces in this glorified board game our parents and grandparents feel compelled to play.

I asked Rabbi Stein how bar mitzvas were celebrated when he turned thirteen. He said they weren’t. You turned thirteen, you assumed some new responsibilities and went on with your life. If you were lucky, your parents could arrange a bit of herring and schnapps after services one morning. But hey, since the goyim always knew how to party, why couldn’t we Jews learn to do the same? After all, trying to blend in with the surrounding societies has worked so well over the last twenty centuries or so. They love us by now, right? Show the neighbors you can hire some dancing waitresses and they’ll forget all about your reputation as a Christ-killer, or a blood-in-the-matza murderer, or an imperialist Zionist, or whatever the epithet du jour happens to be this century.

It’s pretty convenient that you celebrate this occasion, or whatever it is, when your kid is as likely as not to be years away from facial hair of any significant quantity. He’s not really a teenager yet, so you can get him to cooperate with your hedonistic, consumerist bash without a major risk of adolescent rebellion upsetting your big plans. Mom? Dad? How’s that working out for you?

Honored guests, if you want this event to be about maturity, I suggest you so-called grown-ups exhibit some. I want to be proud of my heritage, but the only message I get from you is that my heritage is only important if it doesn’t interfere with a business opportunity, or trips to Aruba, or social climbing. Somehow I get the feeling that’s not the message in the ancient Hebrew text you all say I – and I quote every last one of you – “read so beautifully.” I shouldn’t even know the word “travesty” at my age. So how about “bitter irony.” Will that do?

Mazel tov. You’re now ready to become grown-ups.



Written by Thag

September 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm

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