Well, I made it through my son’s bar mitzvah without killing a single member of my family. Mazel Tov! Not only did my husband’s back go out two days before the blessed event, rendering him completely useless in all the last-minute shlepping, but my older daughter, who had volunteered to put together the slide show as well as chant one of the Torah portions–all while studying for finals–had a total meltdown the day before. I thought it was my turn to fall apart, after a week of uninspiring detail work (filling candy jars, personalizing chocolate bar wrappers, purchasing plastic forks for the kid party). But I had to hold it together to keep everyone else from losing it– including the bar mitzvah boy, who fell into a nervous silence, punctuated only with such loving sentiments as, “Mom, stop talking.” My eight-year-old was the only one not under stress, so she spent the week making unreasonable requests like, “Can we go to Target to buy a new Pet Shop?”
In the end, my boy pulled it off. Looking stiff but proud in his new suit, he did an excellent job chanting and reading the speech that I “helped” him with (ie fleshed out considerably and removed all plagiarism). I decided the ceremony itself really has nothing to do with him affirming his Jewish identity or becoming a man, and everything to do with we, his parents, feeling utterly sentimental about his growing up. This reading from Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet” always resonates with every parent in the house:Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bow from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
But everyone’s favorite part of the ceremony is the parents’ speech, which in our synagogue at least involves the parents talking directly to their children. I believe these talks are most effective when they are honest, funny, and as specific as possible. To see how I succeeded on that score, read My BM speech.
Five years until the next one.