Posts tagged “bar mitzvah”.

Who Wants Extra Credit?

The Bar Mitzvah is an important rite of passage–that most secular Jewish boys in America do not really like. Most secular Jewish boys wind up pressed into religious instruction as an additional commitment after school and on Sundays, possibly to keep us from watching more TV. Most parents have to strike up a deal that you HAVE to go to Hebrew school at least until you are bar mitzvahed.



Bar mitzvah has somehow become a verb when it’s really a noun.

I had a b’nai mitzvah. As a tail end of the baby boom, I had to share my bar mitzvah, because there were a LOT of kids at Temple Israel. There was a Friday night bat mitzvah, my b’nai mitzvah, followed by a kid whose parents opted to use the Temple’s caterers, so his was Saturday afternoon. All they had to do was walk down the hall to the catering hall. We drove to a country club that is now a gated community.

Anyway, our temple had a Hebrew High School. Originally, it was in a former private residence that had fallen to ruin. Behind it, they built, in 1973, the Youth House. It is a testament to the intersection of poured concrete and 1970s colors. I recall a very large gimmel adorning a red or orange door. To make it hip, there was a kitchen with kosher pizza and Coke cans with Hebrew writing, to lure us into Judaism. Or lure us further.

For some reason, I actually went to Hebrew High School, beyond the mandated bar mitzvah. A lot of us did. I enjoyed this more than the horrible two years with Rabbi Mayerfeld, who clearly hated children with a passion (see previous blog post for my vitriol).

Although, for some reason, I also grew weary of it and skipped a year. I was “welcomed back” with the notion that I would somehow make up that year by writing a special paper about Ethiopian Jews. That was a lovely fiction. I never wrote the paper, and I graduated with my classmates anyway. Frankly… they needed me a lot more than I needed them. This was extra credit time. Were they really going to turn away a nerdy kid who took Hebrew AND Yiddish classes?

The t-shirt is from this era. It was sold around Great Neck. The spelling, to me, is more Yiddish than Hebrew, actually. I think they even allowed this as gym wear. It’s a collector’s item nobody wants. Today in Great Neck, it is much more likely that kids would wear this shirt in Farsi, which I now hear every single day. A fascinating and foreign language I shall never learn.

The Hebrew High School was a good experience, though. We had teachers who clearly were too young to teach mixed in with kindlier older teachers, none of whom I wanted to see harmed in any way. Except for the time when one old idiot insisted that my Aunt Mary was really Aunt Miriam. Hello! No one ever calledher thatn. He though Mary was “too Christian.” It turns out her Hebrew name was Marya or MIriam, but she thought that sounded too Jewish. Even her legal English name, Molly, was “too Jewish.”

We had one earnest young woman who taught us about Jewish thought. Another was a no-nukes hippy who taught the class, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Jesus But Were Afraid to Ask.” Because many Jews never learn anything about Jesus outside of Ben Hur (a great Jewish movie, about a gay Roman, his Jewish boyfriend, and Jesus). We also had a comparative religion class in which we almost brought a Roman Catholic priest to tears. We decided that the Holy Trinity and statures didn’t make sense if you claim to be a monotheistic, non-idolotrous religion.

Over all, it was a good experience. I am still not very observant, but I hvae a lot of Jewish thought in my head because of the place. My brother couldn’t be bothered with anything past bar mitzvah. My mother, of a good orthodox family, was never given any Hebrew education. My father forgot a lot of stuff. I am a nerd who reads, so Dad declared me the “religious authority” because I know that you pray for rain on Shmini Atzertet. I also know which sauces go best on falafel.