Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do Over

Shabbat #19

Guests: On the eve of my sister-in-law Tami's bat mitvzah, the family ... Tami, Brian, Alan, Carol, Pam, Mel, Melissa, Mark, David, Amy, Phil

Menu: a la French bistro en Glencoe, Il, c'est magnifique!

What I Learned:

Why? Why? Why?

The three opening words of Cal, a 76-year old bar mitzvah.

Why would a 76-year old guy decide to go back and do over what had been done some 63 years ago?

And for that matter, what would drive five other women -- all in various stages of motherhood -- to become bat mitzvahs?

They are the Am Shalom 2010 B'Nai Mitzvah class ... affectionately dubbed "Cal and His Gals."

And as I settled into my front row seat in the Am Shalom sanctuary last Saturday I thought I knew. A 37-year old bat mitzvah myself, I had stood where they were about to stand nearly three years ago. Motivated by motherhood. Inspired by children of friends I had watched experience the rite of passage. Eager for a new intellectual challenge. I expected to feel nostalgic as the women recounted the difficult balance of weekly Torah study and child care. The recorded prayers played endlessly in cars in the hope that the Hebrew would magically be ironed into memory. And I would share a connection with my sister-in-law and the other four women in the b'not whom I had never met. A commitment to something greater than ourselves to guide us through the perils of parenting and beyond.

And I did.

What I wasn't expecting was a 76-year old bar mitzvah. A man. Twice my age.

My first thought?


As I thought back to my b'not and our study with our rabbi - Rabbi Susan - I had a hard time imagining a man in this very female mix. What similarities would we have shared in our discussion of Vayetze, Jacob's Ladder? And what about the discussion in the temple lobby before our weekly meetings? Surely this man, with his mop of white hair, would not have been interested in the banter of thirty-something females ... chasing kids, celebrity botox,the tastiest frozen foods at Trader Joe's.

But from the moment Cal took to the dias I knew I was wrong.

They were lucky.

And so was I.

My words cannot begin to do justice to Cal's story or his delivery that day. But I will do my best to recount. Cal became a bar mitzvah at 13. His most vivid memory? The blue and white bar mitzvah cocktail napkins. No epiphany of manhood. Or added weight of responsibility that came with an independent Jewish identity. In fact, he didn't even have a service. Or read from the Torah. (Neither are required by Jewish law to attain the status of bar mitzvah.)

In 1960 Cal became the custodian of a Torah. A Torah from Russia passed down through the generations of his family. And he treasured it. But at some point he concluded the only way he could truly honor his legacy would be to read from the Torah as a true bar mitzvah.

And read he did.

From that very Torah that he inherited fifty years ago.

His voice ringing out in the sanctuary with the enthusiasm of a 13-year old and the insight of his 76 years.

After the service my sister-in-law told me that Cal had not originally planned to participate in a group service. And that only days before the b'nai mitzvah he had a devastating loss in his family which, perhaps, may have made him reconsider moving forward on that day at all. But on both counts, I feel blessed that he did.

I didn't get to talk with Cal about his experience. Or his study. So I don't know for sure the message he intended his story to convey.

But this is the message I took from it.

In life we don't always get it right the first time. Whether it's because the time isn't right or we have simply fallen short. But if we are vigilant and look for opportunities, sometimes life gives us a do over.

Like a bar mitzvah 63 years later.

And for someone like me looking through the lens of a life sprinkled with more than a few broken promises, shortcomings and regrets, that's a pretty hopeful message.

Mazel Tov to my beautiful sister-in-law Tami, Laura, Yumi, Beth, Jill


... Cal.

1 comment:

  1. Rebecca, what a lovely and inspiring message. I loved your phrase: "ironed into memory".
    Linda O'Connell