Friday, January 8, 2010

Eight months and thirteen days: to Bar or not to Bar

If it weren't for Brandeis Hillel Day School, I'm not sure we'd be having a Bar Mitzvah in eight months and thirteen days. I can't promise you I had it high on my list of priorities back in 2002, before the Jawa entered kindergarten at BHDS. At that time, I was probably mulling over which sport my son would choose as he entered his teens.

We've answered that question: none.

A Bar Mitzvah is a big deal. It's a traditional rite of passage. While we San Franciscans don't do them up the way they do on Long Island, we're dropping the equivalent of a medium-sized wedding on this.

My cousin David had one of those real Bar Mitzvah's, the year before I had mine. They had a huge party at Leonard's of Great Neck, and I remember they introduced the family they way they introduce the starters before tip-off. Very impressive. One year later, I had mine in our backyard. We went swimming.

This time, we don't have a backyard, so that's out. Nor do we have Leonard's of Great Neck, thankfully. Why don't we go overboard like they do on the east coast? Well, we're San Franciscans, so it probably has something to do with the environment or understanding other people's cultural values. I don't know.

Like I said, if it weren't for Brandeis, I can't promise you we'd be doing this at all. Prior to our BHDS hitch, I was one of those vaguely cultural Jews. I'm not sure I've changed much, but I know this: the Bar Mitzvah's are the social highlights of seventh grade at Brandeis Hillel Day School, so my kid's having a Bar Mitzvah. Besides, he's had eight years of Hebrew; he needs to put that to practical use.

Going back further, I had no intention of giving him a bris -- the Jewish ceremony celebrating an 8-day-old boy's unkindest cut of all. It came about when the anti-circumcision activist I was married to decided that my options were either go for the bris or leave the kid intact. Call me old-fashioned, call me a bad San Franciscan. My kid will never come up to me, point down and say, "Daddy, what's this?" Only to have me say, "You know, I have no idea."

I didn't think anyone would come all the way to Seattle for a bris. I just figured he'd get the thing snipped post-birth and go merrily on his (old-school) way. I was wrong. It wasn't easy to get the necessary Jews together for a minyan (no kidding -- our minyan included an education professor from Seattle University, my editor at "Washington Law & Politics" and the mailroom lady from work), but my parents and grandparents enthusiastically flew into Seattle for the event.

It was mid-August, 1997. The average temperature that month was 100 degrees F.

The morning of the bris, I woke up at around six-thirty with the worst headache I'd ever had. I'm a guy who gets headaches, so that's saying something. I mean, I seriously could barely see straight. And here I'm primed to host a holy event for twenty-something people in a few hours.

We lived in a one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill, in Seattle. If you know the area, you'll know that there are plenty of places to get aspirin at any point in the day. You'll also know that it's not unusual to see someone weaving down the street at seven in the morning. For them, however, seven a.m. is usually the tail end of the previous evening.

Whatever. So I stumbled down the street to Safeway, where I buy a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol, a Coke and a donut. I'm taking a three-pronged approach to this, see? Before I get home I've had three of the Tylenol, the donut and half of the Coke. I get home and do a little pathetic prayer, not to anyone specific, just to the people who control things like headaches: "Please, just let it go away enough so that I can get through this day."

Then I fall back asleep.

I wake up a couple of hours later. No headache, but I am jittery as someone accused of a major crime. Everyone arrives and we get into the ceremony. The Jawa tips the mohel, my mom makes a speech, everyone eats. Thirteen years later he has a Bar Mitzvah.

He has been to eight of them since the first week of October. We've gone to a couple. This weekend is the Bar Mitzvah of this best friend, Josh K., so we're on board for the entire program. It starts tonight at 5:30. Josh K.'s mother, The Hammer, is so organized and frenetic that she makes my wife seem like, well, like me. I know they will have a brand of beer I like, because Josh's mom called me three months ago to ask me what kind of beer I like.

This should be interesting.

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