Friday, October 21, 2011

Hebrew School by Robin Gorman Newman

My son started Hebrew school this fall.

I didn't become Bat Mitzvah. In fact, I was a young Hebrew School dropout.  Until I had my tonsils removed, I had so many sore throats that attending became nearly impossible...or at least that's my recollection of why Hebrew School fell by the waistside.  True or not, I never thought twice about it.  I didn't have any girlfriends who attended, and I didn't know the difference.

As a family, we celebrated the primary Jewish holidays at home, and went to temple for the High Holidays. We exchanged Hanukkah gifts and lit the menorah.  We ate matzoh during Passover. My parents lit Yahrzeit candles for their parents, something you do in honor of the deceased.  That was pretty much the extent of religious observance in our household.

Fast foward some decades, and my son is now 8, and on the road to a Bar Mitzvah.  I'd like to think Seth, Marc and I are all on the path to an amazing trip to Jerusalem, where Seth partakes in a service at the Wall, and we later celebrate by floating in the Dead Sea and take in all the beauty, history and spirituality that is Israel. This is my dream Bar Mitzvah.  It would be hugely memorable.  But, I'm not at all certain that my husband and I are on the same page.

Marc was raised in a household by a mother born in Germany and rasied in Israel.  She speaks and writes Hebrew.  I do neither.  My husband and his brother both became Bar Mitvah.  And, my son's brother has already Bar Mitzvahed two of his three sons, with the third not far behind.

The Bar Mitvah for his middle son was lavish, to say the least. It was a swanky black tie county club affair, with separate dining and party areas for the kids and teens. A retired baseball player signed balls.  Multiple bands.  No doubt it cost a pretty penny, and was over in a flash, despite months of arduous planning and expense.

It was not at all my style. At this point in my life, I treasure the people I feel connected to, and to have a huge event to "keep up with the Jones" isn't something I care to host.  Yet, it is what many Jewish families do. Do we have to follow the pack?  Would the temple we belong to expect us to Bar Mitzvah there?  It brings in good money to synagogues, and fundraising is always important for them.  I suppose we could do a small kiddush after the Bar Mitzvah, but then Seth might compare it to friends of his who might have their own swanky party.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, we have to get through Hebrew school or some sort of Jewish study so he is capable of a Bar Mitzvah.  He attends on Tuesdays after school.  Our preference was a Sunday morning, but the Reformed temple we joined didn't offer that.  After school isn't ideal.  It's a lot of concentration to expect after a full day in third grade, followed by homework, bath, dinner, etc.  The evening takes on a bit of a frenzy.  I agreed to try out the school and see how Seth does, with the understanding that if it doesn't work for me, we'll explore private studies.  So far, he's been a trooper, though a reluctant one at times. 

I know that attending synagogue is very important to some people.  I have a non-Jewish friend whose son attends Hebrew school (his father is Jewish), and she has embraced the religion and gets much out of Torah study with the rabbi.  She loves to learn and share the wisdom she takes in with her son.  I admire that. I do believe in spirituality and have yet to integrate the temple into my regular activities, but who knows?!  Maybe it will take on greater meaning to me?  I am making an effort to be present for special activities there, to show my son that this can be a fun family experience.

Ultimately, Seth will know way more than I about Judaism. He'll share that understanding with his father.  How he chooses to apply it to his life and future family will be his own decision.  We'll know that we raised him with some level of tradition, and what's important about a Bar Mitzvah is that he will be a young man recognized in the Jewish community, and that, alone, makes the occasion momentous, regardless of how or where it's performed.. My little buddy (who will always be little in my eyes) will be growing up.  He's come a long way since his Bris, and I treasure witnessing his development every day.

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