Like (I suspect) most people, the significance of ritual consecration of my Bar Mitzvah was pretty much lost on me at 13. My recollection of my Bar Mitzvah primarily involves the material things: buying a three-piece Pierre wool Cardin suit, the novelty of drinking ginger ale, and later, sitting in my room watching a rotating fiber optic lamp while listening to Exile on Main Street and eating a tray of extra hors d’oeuvres while counting my savings bonds—all great fun, but I didn’t think too hard about why any of it was happening. Youth, obviously, is wasted on the young, and even though Jews decided on adulthood at 13, it’s a rare kid who has any sort of developed spiritual consciousness and isn’t focused on boners and toys. So it was mostly a big birthday party, and the only part I recall from being on the bimah was worrying about screwing up my haftorah portion.
Now that I have had a few decades to spend my time in scholarly contemplation, I’d like to report that I have somehow evolved, that I no longer am stuck in the material realm, and spend my time dedicated to something useful. But that’s not even a little bit true. For one thing, I didn’t spend much time in contemplation, scholarly or otherwise. For another, I don’t know that I have done much useful. That’s not to say that things haven’t shifted for me. Back then, on my big day, I had a much shorter attention span. Pretty much as soon as I cut the Mazel Tov cake, I had forgotten the whole experience. Nowadays, if a car merges into my lane in a way I didn’t like, I can easily spend the rest of my day stewing about it. So I guess that means I have developed something? Not patience, certainly. But maybe something like persistence. Not the good kind, but the kind that lets me nurse a grudge.
I also find myself, somewhat amazingly, only a few years out from hosting my own son’s Bar Mitzvah. So now I think about that, and what I have to pass on to him. And the whole impenetrably dense, confusing spool of life that I had in front of me then, now seems to offer, if not quite renewal for me, at least a chance to see what promise might be held for him. So I feel the (vicarious) version of the momentous ritual approaching, and, like my bris, don’t quite know what to make of it, only that I know it feels important, kind of thrilling, and thinking about it makes me wince in a kind of anticipatory pain.
Gregor Ehrlich is a writer and producer.