As soon as I heard that sixteen family members were coming from overseas to Amir’s bar mitzvah, I knew we had to do something special.
First of all, sixteen people coming to Israel in these days when the country is still perceived as a threat to life and limb is worth celebrating with a significant dose of joy and appreciation.
But once they got here, what would we do with everyone?
Sure, the main event – the bar mitzvah itself – was a good start. And there was a party the following night.
But I wanted to create something that would provide our visitors – some of whom were on their first ever trip to Israel – more of a taste into why we love it here, why raising a bar mitzvah boy in Israel is so meaningful to us, and why we stay...despite all the difficulties (and make no mistake about it, life here is difficult).
In short, I wanted to give our guests an A-Ha Moment...you know what I mean: that point when a click goes off in your head and you just “get it.”
And so my wife Jody and I began planning.
We organized several days of day trips around the country. There were group meals to order for the days we were in town. Kugels and herring to buy for the Kiddush on Shabbat.
I worked with the band to play just the right mix of bar mitzvah music and rock and roll at the party. I built a PowerPoint presentation of embarrassing baby photos while Amir practiced reading his parsha (the Torah portion of the week).
All this while staying on top of airport arrivals that spanned a full week, then dealing with the crusty bed and breakfast proprietor who routinely botched most of our reservations.
This was one serious logistical operation.
As the week progressed, though, our planning paid off. The parade of pre-bar mitzvah events proceeded without a hitch and I began to hear what I had dreamed of for so long: those tell-tale sighs, murmurs and oohs. Little by little, the magic of this place was working. Our guests were really “getting it.”
The only problem was: I wasn’t getting mine.
You see, I had been so busy with all the planning and the coordinating that I got lost in the details. The bus driver needed directions. Restaurant reservations had to be confirmed. The band didn’t know if they could work Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi into the rock set. Deadlines…timelines...
Where was my A-Ha Moment?
Shabbat morning finally came. The big day: the reason for all of this. We arrived in shul on time (for once). But I was still in host mode.
The gabbai needed to know who to call up for aliyot to the Torah, and in what order. Did everyone have a tallit? Had all the herring been properly toothpicked?
And so I wasn’t at all ready for the wave of emotion that practically bowled me over when Amir finally took to the bima to say the blessings on his own aliyah for the very first time.
I had imagined this as just another event among the many that had taken place or were still to come. But it wasn’t. When he concluded his final blessings and everyone started throwing Hershey’s kisses and other sweets at him, I felt like he had crossed a threshold.
During dinner the night before, Amir asked if he could lead the zimun, the invitation to the benching – the grace after meals – that you’re only able to do if you’re thirteen or over.
I was unsure.
“Why not?” Amir asked. “I’m thirteen already.”
The truth was, I didn’t know what the Jewish law said in this case. Could he do this before the bar mitzvah ceremony itself? Or was this something that needed to wait?
Ultimately, I decided I wanted to do it myself, one time at least, as our entire family was gathered for the festive meal.
The next morning, as Amir ducked under his tallit to avoid the hailstorm of projectile candy, I realized why I had hesitated.
His becoming bar mitzvah wasn’t just another event. He had, in a single instant, been transformed. Like at a wedding. One minute you’re single, the next you’re married. He had gone from boy to man with the utterance of a word.
And I was so proud of him. It wasn’t the same feeling I’d have if he’d studied hard and aced an exam. Rather it was because he had joined me in the world of adults. He’d become my equal in the responsibilities placed on him by the Jewish community.
And that’s how I finally got my own very personal, very special, quite extraordinary A-Ha Moment.