Well folks, I’m pleased to tell you that the whole bar mitzvah thing is officially over – Bailey has sent out his very last thank you note. What I found fascinating, was that when appropriate, my American son wrote his thank you notes at least partially in Japanese. This particular one here is special because it is to his private Japanese sensei with whom he has been working for four years. Sensei bought Bailey the most appropriate and wonderful gift for his bar mitzvah: a Hanko. A Hanko is a Japanese signature stamp. It can be registered with the ward office when Bailey is fifteen, and he will be able to sign legal documents with it. Marc and I have never bothered to get one; foreigners don’t have to, but Bailey has been given one. Sensei also designed a kanji for him, and assigned it meaning as only she could, using the characters for Bay-Re and Rice, symbolic of an American, but talking about how the combination of the letters connotes ideas like bright and clever, which are very much in line with Bailey’s personality, according to her. Our sensei is a very special person in our lives and this was an exciting coming-of-age gift for him. It was no wonder that he wanted to write to her in a combination of the languages that they share.
This week I want to share with you my latest post on the e-zine “A Hopeful Sign.” If you don’t know it, the site is truly beautiful, with posts from across the globe written by an interesting and dedicated group of people who think positively. I have been writing for them and receiving their posts daily for about 18 months now, and every day I am awed by the incredible photography, hopeful messages, and fascinating ideas the writers share.
This piece is about Bailey’s bar mitzvah, and the way it connected us all to the past while allowing us to glimpse the future. I look forward to hearing your comments.
Here’s the link to the site: http://ahopefulsign.com/making_a_difference/the-bar-mitzvah-boy
Please click the link, but if you would really prefer, the text is here:
Strangely enough it was indeed my child up there. Bailey, age thirteen, recently celebrated his bar mitzvah. Literally translated, it means “son of the commandments” and it’s the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony that recognizes a boy’s entrance into adulthood in the eyes of world Jewry. It generally involves leading a service and reading from the Torah, all in Hebrew. So this is something for which Bailey had been studying for months.
The unusual part of Bailey’s bar mitzvah, however, is that he is doing it twice. The first one was in August in the U.S. with our entire family, and the second one is in October with our Tokyo community. It was important to Bailey to have this celebration with his extended family, all of whom are in the U.S., but also with his own friends, at his own synagogue, with the rabbi who had been teaching him for the past three years, even though that place was halfway across the globe. So while I kept on him to study, he was largely self-motivated, wanting to please his grandparents in the U.S. and his beloved rabbi in Tokyo, even if that meant learning two different services.
One of the beauties of Judaism is that the readings from the Torah are cyclical and proscribed. I feel very comfortable knowing that every Jew around the world is reading the same section of the Torah on any given Saturday. But given that parameter, it meant that Bailey would have to learn a different portion for the October bar mitzvah than the August one. And still, he never batted an eyelash.
On this special day, Bailey carried with him, on his person, proof of his heritage. He was wearing my grandfather’s mezuzah, a casing containing a special prayer, around his neck; he wore my other grandfather’s watch. He wore my husband’s grandfather’s tie-tack, and as the icing on the cake, he wore his grandfather’s tallis, or prayer shawl, which his grandfather’s grandfather had worn to his bar mitzvah. Bailey had a piece of ceremonial regalia from his great-great-grandfather.
Only moments before starting the service, Bailey had dragged me away from the gathering crowd to a private room where no one could see us. “I can’t do it,” he said, and started to cry. My first reaction, which thankfully I didn’t show, was panic. Luckily rationality took over and I just held him and let him cry for a moment. Any mother would tell you that sometimes all a kid needs is a good hug, not words or even treats. Just a hug. “It’s a lot of pressure,” I told him, hoping to validate his feelings. “Do you want to do a quick run-through right this second?”
Bailey nodded and dried his eyes while I snuck out and retrieved his study materials. We had a quick, ten-minute, last-second rehearsal right there. When he was through, he stood up and looked straight at me. He looked so dapper, that boy of mine. He wore his first full-on suit, a blue striped shirt and a snazzy tie. The shoes, straight from Nordstrom’s, tied the whole outfit together.
I searched his eyes as he looked at me. “You’re okay,” I said to him and he nodded. I repeated it. “You are okay.”
This boy, this baby of my heart, as I used to call him when he was little, stood up in front of 120 of our closest friends and family members and performed like a champ. No one would know that he had had a little meltdown only moments prior. He sang with a rich, strong tone and spoke clearly without a waver to his voice. He delivered his d’var Torah, a word of Torah that explained what he read and his interpretations of it, without missing a beat. He bantered lightly with the rabbi, and hugged his grandparents when they went up to share the sweet moment with him.
At times like these, it’s hard to recognize the sometimes-surly child who makes an appearance at the breakfast table each morning, or the scatterbrained kid who can never find all of the elements of a homework assignment at one time. But it is moments like these that give us hope. It is moments like these that connect us to the past, yet I could see a glimpse of the man my son has the potential to become. In an increasingly cynical world where religion sometimes takes a backseat to other, more modern activities, watching a child take his place next to his ancestors as a young man proud of his heritage and ready to take on all of the rights and responsibilities thereof, is like receiving a gift of a vision of the future.
After the service, there was dinner and dancing, and Bailey danced like a brick wall had been lifted from his shoulders, as well he should have. Joy, hope and pride all mixed together to form a twinkle in his eye and he whirled and played. I have a feeling that I will recognize that twinkle many times in the years to come. I cannot wait to watch.