Wednesday, May 5, 2010

108 days to Bar Mitzvah: adios, family education

Sometimes, when you least expect it, the minutae of a Bar Mitzvah will rise up and slap you across the face.

I'm not talking about a series of Sunday meetings, during which you eat pita and hummus, drink white wine and design return envelopes. Nor do I mean the finale of a three-part series of "Family Education" programs, during which you watch a few scenes from "My Man Godfrey" to demonstrate the concept of tzedakah which, you might not know, does not simply mean "charity." A true act of tzedakah restores balance to an unbalanced situation.

So yes, Annikin Skywalker as Darth Vader performs the ultimate act of tzedakah by returning balance to the force.

As a side note, let me say that I am completely flummoxed by the circumstances in which Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan is parting company with Temple Emanu-El. Given that the guy just had a heart attack, it couldn't possibly be that they gave him the axe. First of all, that would be like releasing someone while they're on the disabled list, which is verboten in baseball, always resulting in a drawn-out battle between the team and the players' union, which filed a suit the minute the injured player got his walking papers.

Secondly, I can't imagine, from my seat in the peanut gallery, what Rabbi Wolf-Prusan, he of the infectious humor, thunderous charisma and interesting educational programs, could have done to get himself fired. For Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, I will wake up several consecutive Saturdays at eight am for the priviledge of attending his Shabbat Exchange class for 90 minutes begining at nine. I didn't say anything, but I did do a mental eye-roll that one time when, while running down another rabbi for "loving the sound of his own voice," I was interrupted by a fellow congregant who sniffed, "Well, Peretz loves the sound of his own voice, too." I don't care. I love the sound of Peretz' voice.

Was this a classic case of "creative differences?" Did the other rabbis want to go in a more jazz fusion direction while Peretz stubbornly clung to rock and roll? Were there heated discussions where other rabbis proposed classes and rites that struck Rabbi Wolf-Prusan as objectional, frivolous or simply unnecessary?

One thing's for sure: he's not talking. Tonight, when we saw him before class, I asked, "So what's next for you?"

"I'm going upstairs to teach seventh grade family ed!" he roared back.

Something's not right here. I'm afraid we'll never know what happened. Instead, several plausible scenarios will filter down to us via gossip and we will unconsciously choose the one that makes the most potential sense.

But there he was, right before cuing up "My Man Godfrey," pleading with us to NOT interrupt anything they'd begun at temple due to his absence. Any classes they'd expected him to teach were still worthwhile taught by someone else, perhaps the always neatly turned-out Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe, presently guiding our Jawa down the road to his Bar Mitzvah via weekly meetings to discuss his Torah portion.

Jaffe, known both for his rapid speech patterns and sleek North Face jacket, gave a short pitch tonight for his "Rabbi Honors" class. "Your Jewish education doesn't end with your Bar Mitzvah," he said. "Actually, it is only beginning." The several Brandeis Hillel seventh-graders in the room exchanged curious glances. A few of their parents (not me) chuckled as if to say, "If the last eight years is the beginning of our education, we're not sure what comes next? Rabbinical school?"

Rabbi honors class sounds like a pretty good deal to me, despite the weekly cross-town Sunday morning trips it entails. A terrifying scenario imagined while stalled in traffic on the 101 at 4:18: I die and don't go to heaven, instead spending eternity stuck in traffic somewhere in San Francisco, trying to get to Temple Emanu-el in time for a 4:45 class.

Jaffe's plea had a little bit of the desperation to it. He cited a statistic showing that only 25% of B'nai Mitzvot continue to attend religious classes following their Bar at Bat Mitzvahs. That figure sounds high. What I remember most about my Bar Mitzvah was that it spelled the end of any commmitment to Temple Beth Sholom. I was free.

Is that a good thing? Not if you're a young Rabbi trying to spark some interest in a room full of slouching pre-adolescents whose attention spans long ago gave up the ghost. Jaffe offered a "one-month-free" program. "Come for the first month. If you don't like it, come back in ninth grade," he said.

"Eighth grade is an incredibly busy time," added Rabbi Wolf-Prusan, one of the few people in the world able to make the word "incredible" sound truly incredible when spoken aloud. "But don't look at it as though you don't have time for class. Don't make the mistake of 'getting back to it' when you have more time." Then he cited some Torah or Talmud passage, or maybe an early important Jew.

Look at me. I'm three days short of 45 years old and I still can't pay attention in class.

Back to the minutae and an interesting peek in the workings of my wife's mind. Understand that this woman is completely overloaded right now. She works 60 hours a week -- and God keeps a secret how many other hours she spends thinking about work -- deals with the challenges of an almost-teenage Jawa (which are proving to be awesome) and, I have to admit, still does way more than half of the everyday administrative tasks required to operate as a family.

But not laundry. No way. Laundry is mine. I am the Lord of Laundry, the Friar of Folding, the Wizard of Wisk.

Lately here very active mind, usually organized and linear, has developed eccentric cracks. The cracks hold small Bar Mitzvah details. That's it. Nothing else.

Unlike her normal brain functions, the cracks are unpredictable and random. You never know when something's going to come bubbling up. One minute she's idly browsing ponytail holders at Walgreens; the next her eyes are drilling holes into a small cardboard sheet holding a dozen little metal hair clips. "Oh, only $1.29," she murmurs.

"What for?" I ask, since my mind doesn't work right and isn't attuned to never missing a chance to cross one more item from the Bar Mitzvah preparation list.

"The Bar Mitzvah. To use with the kippahs."

That's why our Bar Mitzvah is going to work. The Jawa will provide the flash, of course, but what's going to get the whole thing from point A to point B with no hiccups or visible seams will be one woman's unusual skillset.

And my awesome public speaking ability. Sort of.

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