Save Me from My Bar Mitzvah
It was a Saturday morning. I stared at the clock, dreading what would take place at the synagogue in a couple of hours.
I opened the closet, removing my Glen Plaid bar mitzvah suit, and tossed it on my bed.
It’s so much to bear for one kid, I moaned. I’m never going to wear it again.
The necktie dangled from a hook in the closet. It’s blue with tiny gold stars. Mom told me to choose the one I liked. It didn’t matter. I didn’t like any of them.
Dad said, “You’ll learn later that a suit makes the man.”
It was hard to be a man when I’m forced to wear a monkey suit and a tie that gave me a rash. I preferred cut-off jeans and an old raggedy t-shirt.
I scrutinized the tie as if I were looking at a dead spider. It was long, slender, and broad at the bottom. It would have been a whole lot easier if it were a clip-on.
“Today, you’re thirteen,” dad said, “and soon you’ll be a Jewish man inducted into a wonderful community. You want people to respect you like a man, not a kid with a clip-on.”
Funny, I thought, I didn’t feel like a grownup. I still had skinny arms and legs, slightly over five feet, and no muscle tone. I could barely do ten pushups in gym class.
Maybe I can get away without wearing a tie. They’ll never notice because they’ll be so excited that I’m reading from the Torah; they’ll focus only on my mouth moving and not what’s wrapped around my throat.
Before I placed the tie back on the hook, I looked at its Navy blue color, how boldly it stood out against the gray suit. Somehow it didn’t feel right to wear a suit without a tie. It was like wearing pants with no underwear.
In slow motion, I put on each piece of clothing. A pair of new boxers, knee-high Ban-Lon socks, tightening my belt to the last hole, and slipping on a pair of cordovan loafers, stiff from not wearing. I wished the suit pants weren’t so baggy and the sleeves so long. Mom’s tailor did a terrible job with the alterations. He must hate kids.
“Steven!” mom yelled from the kitchen. “Are you dressed yet? Have breakfast before we leave.”
I remained glued to the floor of my room, anxious about speaking in front of a large group and cousins from Pittsburgh I’ve never met. Will they like my haircut? Will they think I’m a dork whose reading of Hebrew sucks? And, worst of all, will they laugh at the way my suit fits?
It boggles my mind that my parents would subject me to such torture. Just because they suffered through this ceremony doesn’t mean I have to. I’d rather eat liver.
Like a zombie with chains attached to my ankles, I staggered into the kitchen, inhaling my mother’s homemade blintzes frying on the skillet.
Dad looked up from his plate of gefilte fish. “There’s my boy! Aren’t you the handsome one?” He does a double-take and notices something’s missing.
“Don’t play dumb, Steven.”
“You know you’re supposed to wear a tie to your bar mitzvah. That’s why we took you to Klein’s Bargain Basement so you could choose one.”
“Oh, I must have forgotten.”
I retreated to my bedroom, grabbed the tie, and wrapped it around my neck like the way dad taught me. “Two wrap a-rounds,” I mumbled to myself. “Then tuck it through like this and pull.”
It took me five attempts, but I finally got the knot to my chin. Unfortunately, the tie pushed my Adam’s apple to the back of my throat, cutting off my wind supply. My father came in and loosened it so I could breathe.
“There,” dad said, “you look like a real mensch.”
Mom served me two blintzes and squeezed my cheeks with both hands like grandma.
“I’m so proud of you.”
“Yeah, thanks. Can I take my shorts and sneakers with me so that I can change after the service?”
“No, Steven,” mom said. “We’re going to the Blue Bell Diner afterward, and I want you to look nice for your aunts and uncles from Schenectady.”
The phone rang. Mom acted like something tragic happened, gasping at what she heard on the other end. I imagined the rabbi in a terrible car accident. He doesn’t die, thank God, but has a few broken bones. He apologizes to my mother and reschedules the bar mitzvah until after he heals. I prepared to change clothes, and race to my friend’s house for a game of stickball.
No such luck. It was only Aunt Ethel. She called to say that she burnt the prune hamantasch she planned on bringing to the bar mitzvah service.
There’s no getting out of this predicament. Sometimes a man has to face up to his responsibilities, like becoming a member of his family’s religion. I finished my last blintz and wiped the sour cream from my lips. I straightened my tie and walked courageously with my parents to their station wagon. It would be a half-hour ride to the synagogue, giving me enough time to rehearse the lines of Hebrew I forgot, knowing I would be in front of a tough crowd, and I didn’t want to make an ass out of myself.