It’s July 23, 1988. I’m one part Michael Jackson, two parts The Coreys, and all about the jacket I chose as the centerpiece of my Bar Mitzvah outfit. My hydrogen peroxide bangs have faded from brownish red back to dark brown. My mothers’ comedic classic fumble of her speech is still fresh in our minds. My great grandma has been prepping me for years that she might not live to see this day, but she’s here. My best friends, my family, and every cute girl I could possibly invite is here as well. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for – shake with the right, take with the left – and yet despite the maturity I’ve been promised, my Bar Mitzvah did not make me a man.
It’s just past the crack of dawn in 2012 and I’m on set to shoot an Italian cheese spot for a French Canadian company. I’m clean shaven, dressed as a chef and practicing my one line. “MozzarelLIsima”. “MozzarelLIsima”. “MozzarelLIsima”. The director comes on set, acts like he’s never seen me before and without hesitation (or irony) shouts “Get this guy a man maker!” Seconds later a production assistant arrives with an apple box and stands staring at me, waiting for me to move. I move a few steps to my right and he puts the box down where I was standing and instructs me to step up on it. I do and in that moment I guess I became a man.
It’s early morning in 2000 and I am walking down a freezing cold street in Hamburg, Germany. I’m newly arrived in a country I never intended on visiting. I’m here with my band to play a show at a club called The Betty Ford Klinik. We’re staying on the fourth floor above the club in an apartment with no beds, only mattresses on the floor, and two DJs from Switzerland sleeping in the other room. That’s where I leave my band mates as I walk out the door that morning not knowing what I was looking for. I walk out onto the world-famous Reeperbahn, past the club where the Beatles had their start, past the brothels, and the bars, and the bratwurst stands that line the street. I step over broken glass, and feces, and walk amongst the guttural sounds of Germans still drunk from the night before. I walk on cobblestone streets that hold the stories of betrayal I have heard my whole life. Undoubtedly my grandparents have walked here too. With each step forward I go back, hearing my parents voices in my head, “Marry a Jewish girl. It’ll just be easier.” I’m not sure what that means. I don’t really know any Jewish girls and the ones I know annoy the shit out of me. And then I stop. Or am stopped by the sight of a huge building covered with a word I know I have heard before. Opperettenhaus. The Operrettenhaus is a 1400 seat theater my great grandparents owned before the war. And now its home to the German version of the musical Cats. That’s when it all hits me. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be alive. We weren’t supposed to survive. And then the swell starts, all the emotions of my past, my parents, my grandparents boils up in side of me. In that moment I know why it is important for me to be and to live Jewish, whatever that means. I want to put it into words but how do you articulate the moment when every fiber of your being knows why it’s on this planet? It’s an overwhelming feeling when your fate becomes clear. The moment when your culture and your creativity collide. I am alive. I’m a man. And so I did what came naturally to me. What I hope any of us would do in that moment. I shouted at the top of my lungs “Fuck you, I’m here!”
It’s after dark in 1992. I’m in Israel, the only time I’ve ever been. I’m sitting on the roof of our dormitory overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. I’m with my best female friend, the Rabbi’s daughter, and we’re drunk. We’re not supposed to be but we are. There had always been sexual tension between the two us but up until then we had remained friends. Maybe it was the Goldstars or the Maccabees but somehow the conversation moves into unknown territory. We start talking about kissing and sex and blowjobs. She mentions she’s always thought I was cute, I say the same thing about her. She says we should act on it someday. I say why not right now. She agrees. We start kissing and touching and before I know it she says she’ll ‘give me one’ if I promise to let her know before I’m done. I’m sure I agreed before the words even left her mouth. So there I was, over looking the holiest of holy getting the holiest of holy.
It’s 2008 and we’ve been up most of the night. My wife, pregnant with our first child, our son, is in labor. We’re moving from the bed to the bouncy ball to the floor and I’m tracking her contractions. Somewhere in the middle of the night my wife has an amazing 15-minute contraction. As it subsides she looks at me and says “I’m taking drugs when I get to the hospital.” Yes dear, I say, whatever you want. Somewhere in the next hours she looks at me and says “I need to push!” so we jump in the car and head to the hospital. As we check her in the nurse tells us she’s 10+ cm dilated and almost ready to go. The bad news – it's too late for drugs. The midwife arrives at the hospital and tells her she can start pushing. As the baby’s head starts to crown the midwife looks at me and asks me if I wanna catch the baby. I do! She tells me to wash my hands. I’m so excited I lather all the way up to my shoulders including my short sleeves on my t-shirt. I assume my position and catch the boy as he comes out. I cut his cord and lay him naked on my wife’s chest. I am now a dad.
It’s February 5, 2015. I’m working hard to create some sort of centrality to my life, a space where my work, my art, my family, and my spiritual practice melt into a cohesive whole. I did end up marrying a Jewish girl but that doesn’t really mean much. Although our upbringing is very similar our views are so different I often joke that I’m in an interfaith relationship. But it doesn't really matter because we love each other and have this amazing little family. But some days when I’m at home in the evening with my kids I get the feeling that we are all waiting for the adults to show up. Then I realize that no one is coming, and I wonder when did I become a man? I know now, it wasn’t in one big moment at my Bar Mitzvah. It was this series of small but monumental moments. I am now an adult. I am a man.
Dan Wolf, actor, rapper, playwright, director, producer and educator who is a founding member of the Hip Hop collective Felonious, adjunct faculty at A.C.T. and managing producer for JCCSF's 3200 Stories.