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Sunday, January 28, 2007

THE BAR-MITZVAH AS A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

I strongly identify as Jewish and even say prayers in my head every night before going to bed (usually just the Shema, although I also try to get through the Ashrai before I fall asleep). This goes back to my limited experience as a student at a Yeshiva called the Hebrew Academy from nursery school through 2nd grade. A teacher, Mrs. Burger, told us to say the prayers every night before bed and, since I loved her and wanted to make her proud of me, I started what became a lifelong habit. I even generally enjoy going to services (even if it is only 3x a year). I like the sense of community and of knowing the words to prayers that have been said for hundreds of years. There is something comforting, to me anyway, of holding a prayer book and reading the words.

Husband, on the other hand, is an atheist. He is Jewish by birth and went to Hebrew School until 13, when he became a Bar Mitzvah, but since then he has stepped in a Synagogue a total of 5 times – all for Bar Mitzvahs and weddings. Husband’s family is not very religious either, but despite some push and pull over Rosh Hashana, we have worked things out nicely in this respect with compromises on both sides. And, Husband has agreed to a unified front on religious matters (with me leading the charge) when we have kids, so I am not concerned.

I bring all this us because yesterday, Husband’s cousin was called to the torah as a Bar Mitzvah. The affair was wonderful (more food I have never seen!) and the Bar Mitzvah boy did a spectacular job with his Haftorah. And, if two specific incidents had not occurred yesterday, this post would be all about how every event should be capped off with freshly made cotton candy.

First, Husband was called to the Torah for an aliya during the service. This is a huge honor (one you usually know about in advance although we did not) where the person says the prayer before and after the reading of a certain portion of the Torah. Husband’s response to being tapped for this honor was to respond in horror, “Are you kidding me?” but the rabbi assured him the words were transliterated and he would be guided along. They allowed me to come up and accompany him. Now, poor Husband had never had such an honor and has no clue as to the prayers. I know them by heart. So, I joined in and sung in my loud, but off key voice, while Husband mumbled next to me. At the end, the rabbi shook my hand and told me I was wonderful. Then he turned to Husband and admonished him that he needed work. If my insisting on refraining from bread during Passover made me the most religious member of my new family, this sealed me as “super Jew.”

Then, during the reception, Husband’s cousin and mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy asked me if she should ask Husband’s uncle to say the ha-motzi (usual prayer over bread and often done to begin a meal) since he was the oldest male family member. See, one good aliya and I am already the go to person. I told her this was customary but when she asked him, he refused since he did not know the prayer. She then asked me if I would do it. I told her I would be honored, but since I was the newest family member, if she gave me 5 minutes, I would teach it to Husband and he could do it. Husband agreed and I began in Hebrew. “Barukh atah Adonai Elohaynu melekh ha-olam
ha-motzi…” when suddenly Husband exclaimed, “lechem min ha-aretz! I know this one!!!!” He did the prayer in front of everyone and I was so proud.

And see, that’s the thing. Despite Husband’s atheism, tradition is important. Being called to the Torah is an honor and someone should be able to say a prayer over bread and begin a meal at a religious event. Before yesterday, I looked at religion in my family all wrong. I had always been nervous because Husband would never lead a Seder or take the lead in religious events, but that doesn’t mater because I can do it just like I did the aliya. Just because my father led any family services does not mean my husband has to do the same. And, in those rare circumstances where it is more appropriate for Husband to take the lead, it is nice to know he is willing and that in some cases he even remembers the words.

5 comments:

BROTHER said...

ahhh... you spent all weekend building up the jewish religon, while i spent all weekend destroying the catholic one. notre dame will think twice before they allow miami's hockey team into their building again. you should've seen the locks on their faces when we did our sex and condom cheers.

BROTHER said...

ahhh... you spent all weekend building up the jewish religon, while i spent all weekend destroying the catholic one. notre dame will think twice before they allow miami's hockey team into their building again. you should've seen the locks on their faces when we did our sex and condom cheers.

Peg said...

It's interesting, my husband also has what I would call, "Atheistic tendencies", and I think you are right--tradition and honor are a big part of certain elements to organized religions--how touching that when it came right down to it, beliefs or no, your husband stepped up to the task--for you! He sounds like a great guy!

Anonymous said...

And you call yourself a secular jew?

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