posted Thursday November 6th, 2014
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in synagogue.
No, I haven’t found religion. It’s bar/bat mitzvah season. Those kids my friends and family had 13 (or so) years ago are all grown up (sort of) and many are participating in the traditional coming-of-age ceremony for Jews.
I love watching these kids get up in front of dozens of people and practice what others have preached for centuries — continuing traditions, creating their own community, demonstrating pride in their heritage.
I want that for my own kids. Ray agrees. He was raised Catholic, but abandoned that ship long ago and we’ve raised our girls as Jews — if you count apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah and seders with themes like “Heavy Metal Seder” and “Passover on a Stick” at Passover. They’ve had no formal Jewish education; they are certainly not ready for bat mitzvahs.
And yet, if it’s going to happen, it’s time. Past due, actually.
So this afternoon, I have an appointment with a rabbi. I’m starting at the temple where I was bat mitzvahed. I called last week to get on the rabbi’s schedule and the receptionist asked me to spell my last name. I started very slowly then stopped and said, “I guess I don’t have to spell so slowly for you?”
She laughed. In Phoenix, one grows accustomed to spelling an “exotic” name like Silverman several times — no one ever gets it right. I often find myself translating Yiddish terms, explaining even the most basic Jewish holiday. My high school was lily white; as a Jew, I was the minority. I still am, most of the time. So are my girls.
Before Annabelle was born, Ray told me, “I want the girls to know they are Jewish. I don’t want someone else telling them.”
I loved that. But actually educating Annabelle about Judaism has been awkward, since she announced when she was a toddler that she doesn’t believe in god.
No surprise, springing from our firmly agnostic household. I stopped believing when I was in first grade — I remember where I was standing in the Temple Solel arts and crafts room, shellacking a challah or gluing macaroni into the shape of a Star of David, when I suddenly stopped and thought, “Oh, this is all supposed to be about god? Well, that’s ridiculous.”
I did enjoy the arts and crafts, though. And the music and feeling of community. But after my Bat Mitzvah, as I like to tell people, I took the Lucite and ran. (If you were around in the mid 70s, you’ll get the joke.) My religious education ended there — and I was guilty about that for a long time. I’m not anymore. I no longer went to services, and yet, my Jewish identity remained. I’m proud to be Jewish, and I still remember the words to the prayers, which I murmur along during all those bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, feeling connected — to something, if not a traditional sense of god.
It’s hard to imagine Sophie having a bona fide bat mitzvah, which is on my list of things to discuss with the rabbi today. I have talked about it with the girls, and they decided they’d rather have a b’nai mitzvah, which means two people doing it together — and I love that idea. Annabelle says she doesn’t want the spotlight all to herself, she’d rather be there to help Sophie. Sophie says she’ll leave the Hebrew to Annabelle. I think they will both find meaning in studying Judaism and learning a torah portion (a story from the Old Testament), and Sophie’s already planning her “mitzvah project,” which involves giving back to the community in some way.
For my part, I like the idea of educating our friends about our heritage, putting together a program that explains the meaning behind the traditions. I haven’t seen a copy in years but I still remember the program my mom made for my bat mitzvah; she cut out tiny illustrations from The New Yorker and put them between the prayers and it made me feel so special.
Ray has been okay with it so far. “Huh?” he asked, when I told him the latest plan. “A benign mitzvah?”
That sounds about right to me. This morning I called to confirm my meeting with the rabbi. “Wait a second,” his secretary said. “He wrote it his calendar himself. Amy Silverstein?”
I’m not religious but I’m big on signs, and that might be a sign that this won’t be the right place for us. We may go rogue — but we’re going to do it, one way or another. I’ll let you know when we have a date.