Friday, July 25, 2008

The Bar Mitzvah Speech, Act I

One the one hand, the Torah portion for September 13th is the shortest of the year. On the other hand, it has 74 out of the 613 mitzvot, more than any other in the Torah. Bad for me and bad for Bar Mitzvahzilla, but good for the Torah.

I work hard at this raising kid thing and I'm a really good student so I go about helping BZ the way I'd want to be helped if I was the BZ. I sign him up for study sessions with the Cantor, with the Rabbi, with his Hebrew Tutor. I even let him go to his teenaged female tutor, who happens to be Muslim, at his academic tutoring facility and work on his speech there because I figure a speech is a speech and has certain immutable components, right? Wrong.

Bar Mitzvahzilla and the academic tutor come away with the worst draft ever. There's this theme of compassion running through the Torah portion so the tutor has him make up instances in which he's seen compassion displayed in his life. Let's ignore for a moment the idea that he doesn't remember ever seeing me or Husband displaying compassion - that's troubling enough. But let's just imagine the horror of BZ standing up in front of the congregation at his Bar Mitzvah, a full member of the Jewish community now, and LYING. Does this bother him? In response, BZ hems and haws, "Well, yeah. I was thinking about that."

So now I'm on a mission, trying to solve the problem of why he's not inspired enough by his Torah portion to write about it and about what it means to him to be a Bar Mitzvah. I think if I just find the right source, he'll feel the enthusiasm I feel. We go on and listen to Rebbetzin Jungreis' explanation of the portion, which is about 8 hours long. We make it through half an hour before he has to go to bed. We go to and find a mitzvot by mitzvot parsing of the parshah, which I print. Now I have it in for Bar Mitzvahzilla. On the cruise he's going to be studying this and then writing the speech. There. I'll show him the meaning of compassion.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My - oops, I mean his - Mitzvah project is done...

I'd like to say that Bar Mitzvahzilla painstakingly designed his own Mitzvah Project, carefully alligning it with his Torah portion, with his inclinations, and with the causes that are near and dear to him in the world. Right. Weeks and then months went by with Husband and I nagging more and more loudly, "What about your Mitzvah project?" and Bar Mitzvahzilla alternating between two responses: 1) "I don't know, what do you think, Mom?", and 2) "How come the Israeli kids never do Mitzvah projects?" (he based this on a one-friend survey.)

So, to cut to the chase, I just want to say that there's the theory, the image in the mind, and then there's the reality. He finally chose collecting for a homeless shelter that moves families into independent housing. This involved setting up collection boxes at three central locations and figuring out how to get word out that they were standing there waiting for donations. I, it turns out, have a flair for public relations. Bar Mitzvahzilla is now locally famous, with notices appearing in the Phoenix paper, the local Jewish paper, in our synagogue newletter, and emails sent to everyone we know. In 115 degree Phoenix, we've been schlepping a lot of donations.

But there had to be an end date and a haul-it-in-to-the-shelter date. In our safe little world, we had an image of what this looked like, somewhat based on their website. We imagined some Horatio Alger thing, families struggling to right themselves, and us, patronizingly swooping in from above, carrying bags of stuff, like a family of Jewish Santa Clauses. I imagined a photo of Bar Mitzvahzilla with the director as he handed over all this stuff he collected, shaking hands, and maybe a certificate of some type, like those really big checks they make up for photo opportunities.

Here's what happened instead. We drive to a very scary part of town where there are gang members strolling the street. The evening attendant is in an office that has an inner gate and an outer gate to protect her, layers of security. There are kids of every age running wild everywhere, screaming and swearing, and calling each other names that, if anyone else used them, would get them killed. We deliver a truck and SUV-load of stuff. It is unloaded into an empty storage bin, then locked. We drive away.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Can I just write the &@#$ Bar Mitzvah speech?

Since it's summertime, Bar Mitzvahzilla's head has neatly emptied out of all its contents so that it can be filled back up with this stuff: swimming, video games, and TV. We're not even lenient parents but when he's not kept on a schedule, he just oozes down into a blob of primordial ooze, rising now and then from his comic books and Star Wars books (how can there even BE so many Star Wars books?) to eat all the food in the house.

But now we must write the Bar Mitzvah speech and I'm a writer so he thinks I'm going to write it for him. Not that I've ever done that before. And just because complete public humiliation looms before us if he makes one of those shuffling feet, monotone, tedious, "Today I Am a Man" speeches, don't think I'm worried about that.

So we sit down this morning with all his rough material - the stuff from his Torah study with the Rabbi and the stuff the Cantor gave him and the stuff I've previously brainstormed with him. And like most of the Torah, his parsha has a bit of archaic language - something about stoning one's son to death if he is sacriligious, and minutaie along the lines of "thou shall not take the bird's eggs from her nest till she flies away" etc. Luckily it all boils down to laws of compassionate living.

I say, "Give me some examples of compassion you've seen shown in the world around you."

He says, "Uh..."

And this is how our conversation goes because he thinks that if he does this over and over again I'll finally just get aggravated enough to write the speech myself. But it's his surprise. I'll edit the hell out of it, but I won't write it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Envelope Stuffing

The invitations went out on Wednesday. My best friend was willing to sit around for a couple hours and stuff envelopes with me despite being in daily radiation treatment for highly treatable cancer, which I didn't take her up on. I somehow knew that 1) When someone has cancer it's time for them to impose on you, not vice versa, and, 2) it would be a nightmare that would require intimate knowledge of the addressees to accomplish. There were envelopes that had to be pulled aside because people are moving and I need some lag time, envelopes that need the "Kosher food available" insert, and there are envelopes for the people I'm still rebelling against inviting but somehow Husband invited them because they wandered in the carpet store in the last 6 months. No helper possible.

So the invitations are out and now all I have to worry about is whether anyone will come or if it'll be like the old Mary Tyler Moore show where she'd have a party and just Ted Baxter would come and she'd stand around for hour after agonizing hour talking to him. And, assuming people will come, I have to worry about whether any of the kids will dance, whether we'll go bankrupt paying for it, whether it's going to look like some garish American idiocy instead of the Jewish event I want it to look like. I can figure out a lot of things to worry about.

Instead, here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to keep bringing food to my best friend since she doesn't feel like eating and it turns out that all the garbage I feed my kids is exactly what she wants right now and what will keep her from wasting away to nothing, and then, somehow in the middle of her second infusion of chemotherapy, I am going to leave on a cruise with my family. Great timing.