Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bar Mitzvah Blues (1)

My son's Bar Mitzvah celebration looms.

It's about three months away, and I must confess, the thought fills me, not with joy, but with deep disappointment. Anger, even.

Clearly I'm going to have to get over this by the time March rolls around, and indeed much sooner. But as long as I'm blogging, I might as well tell the truth.


My own Bar Mitzvah was a joke of epic proportions. I went into it eager to write a D'var; the rabbi, a pompous wretch, explained that he, not the boy, wrote the commentary. All I had to do was deliver it. I had no idea what the words coming out of my mouth meant; the service meant nothing; even the presents, aside from my first guitar (thanks, Uncle Fred!) were a disappointment. Coffee table books about Hawai'i, where we lived at the time. A few bonds. (Can you tell I'm still bitter?)


One good anecdote: guests from the mainland, at the Sunday brunch after, heaping their plates with sashimi, thinking it was lox. Not a bad metaphor for the whole process, I'd say, but I like sashimi too much to insult it that way.


But it's not the memory of my own Bar Mitzvah that sours me on my son's. What does? First off, I'd say it's disappointment. For years I tried to improve the religious school at my synagogue. I worked on the school committee; I wrote curricula; I intervened when my son got bored. None of it, I am sorry to say, made any lasting difference. Things are as bad now as they were six years ago, at least as my children report it to me. The religious school director who got sacked two years ago never managed to get buy-in from the teachers for the most interesting changes, which means that they've just kept chugging along doing what they've always done. And that's just not good enough.

One year, one of seven, was different. Last year he came home excited, wishing the classes were longer. He stopped doing the pullout extra Hebrew, joined the main class, loved the discussions (ethics, Jewish American history, etc.) . I helped one of his teachers write a curriculum unit on Jews and the counterculture in America, which he loved.

That experience sent him into this year's class eager to pick up where that left off. Oops. New teacher, oversized class, no classroom management, dull topics, no focus, complete disaster. "Looks like they've totally given up teaching us Hebrew," says he--this when, two years ago, he was starting to work with a college level textbook in pullout sessions.

It took me years to get over my own wasted time in supplementary school. I really thought I could spare my children that, but I haven't been able to, and that galls me.


Day school? Don't make me cry. I'm in an interfaith marriage, and I'm not sending my kids to a school where they'll be taught--directly or by implication--that their parents' marriage is a bad thing.

This means that I have to be my children's primary Jewish teacher. Which was fine with me, and I happily did, for many years. Then something happened. What? And how do I get it back in the next three months?

I'll post on that as this series goes on. Need to talk myself out of, back into something, and I don't have a whole lot of time.


Oh--here, to keep this relevant, a poem. Leonard Cohen, from Book of Mercy:
All my life is broken unto you, and all my glory soiled unto you. Do not let the spark of my soul go out in the even sadness. Let me raise the brokenness to you, to the world where the breaking is for love. Do not let the words be mine, but change them into truth. With these lips instruct my heart, and let fall into the world what is broken in the world. Lift me up to the wrestling of faith. Do not leave me where the sparks go out, and the jokes are told in the dark, and new things are called forth and appraised in the scale of the terror. Face me to the rays of love, O source of light, or face me to the majesty of your darkness, but not here, do not leave me here, where death is forgotten, and the new thing grins.

1 comment:

Modern Girl said...

Thank you so much for posting that honest account of your own experiences. As a Catholic who is dating a Jewish man, I've been thinking long and hard about how me and my boyfriend are going to overcome many of the challenges you and your family already have.

Your statment regarding day schools particularly hit a chord. I'm scared at the thought of my future hypothetical children learning that their mother is bad and that they should disrespect her.