I have to say, there are some cool things about living in Seattle. It doesn’t ever reach 120 degrees, the greenery is amazing and nobody ever cares what you wear, how fancy your car is or what label is on your newest handbag. That said, bar mitzvah planning is a totally different animal out here.
We’ve never been the “keep up with the Joneses” kind of folks. But I was raised on Chicago’s North Shore and my ingrained vision of a bar mitzvah involves printed invites, professional photographs and a splashy, sweets table complete with personalized candy bars and a Ghirardelli dark-chocolate fountain.
We loved every aspect of our older son Levi’s bar mitzvah in Arizona. It was all about him: unique, creative, culinary. The meaning of the affair was deep and important. Our families were together – along with many of our nearest and dearest – and the service was led by rabbis we considered family and a cantor who had watched Levi grow up from two houses away.
Being in a new place, not knowing anyone and being members of a synagogue where we don’t have the comfort of clergy connections developed over decades makes this a challenging time for us. However, I distinctly remember the advice I got from my dear friend, Rabbi Mari Chernow, the senior rabbi at Temple Chai in Phoenix, about four years ago when Levi was becoming a bar mitzvah. She encouraged me to make sure the bar mitzvah process and the event itself celebrated Levi. It isn’t about what parents want or the accoutrements. It’s about families appreciating the process of watching a son or daughter step into this new stage of maturity and adulthood. She said to include the child in the planning and to focus on the personal and relevant message in your child’s Torah portion.
So with less than five months for planning, I reached out to our new temple with the absurd request for a spring date for my comic-book-obsessed son, Eli. Somehow, they arranged it. It was on Purim, March 11. They assigned Eli’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh. A beautifully detailed description of the priestly garments, the colors of the Kohen Gadol’s efod (or apron) and the specific stones in the breastplates. Eli worked hard to understand his parsha and to master the skills necessary to fulfill this awesome mitzvah.
I kept thinking about Rabbi Chernow’s advice to share a meaningful and relevant lesson with my son. I read about the intricate details of clergy garb countless times, but meaningful conclusions seemed elusive. Then, suddenly, it all made perfect sense to me and I wrote the following, which I read on the bimah on March 11:
Eli, your Torah portion is in part about costumes and how G-d sometimes gives specific directions to people about how to dress and how what they wear is an important component of spiritual, psychic and metaphysical power. G-d details every aspect of priestly garb, even mentioning the “urim and thummim” – the stones in the priests’ breastplates that gave them supernatural powers to make the right decisions and remain true to their spiritual mission.
We are a family a little obsessed with costumes and special items that give powers. Our obsession is mostly due to your unwavering allegiance to your comic book heroes. Most people don’t know that we have actually seen every superhero movie, both Marvel and DC, and have watched every season of “The Flash,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” “Supergirl,” “The Arrow” and “Legends of Tomorrow.” But these stories about people who wear costumes and who are endowed with extraordinary powers to save the world give hope. Hope that heroes are still out there and that they might be living next door to us or even under our very own roof. But maybe we just can’t see them for all that they are.
Eli, you are a superhero. And even though your costume of orange and black basketball shorts and a red and yellow Flash hoodie might seem odd or ill-matched to us, you stand up for your own style. You always claim pride in your unique perspective and original take on the world. So Eli, today on your bar mitzvah, we wish for you:
• Strength – To always know and trust who you are.
• Knowledge – That you don’t need a cape or a hoodie to claim your amazing power and individuality.
• Passion – To guide your heart through the winding and sometimes scary passages of life.
• Trust – That we – your family, your friends and your Jewish community – are your Justice League and that we will always be there, always believe in you and always have your back. “With great power comes great responsibility.” (So says Spiderman’s Uncle Ben.) Always own the power within.
It was a simple, small celebration with only our families from Arizona, California, Chicago and Kansas City. Eli doesn’t like crowds anyway. He wanted an intimate event. We sponsored a community oneg at the temple after the service and we all headed out to a microbrewery Saturday night to honor Eli and enjoy time together. Oh, and since it was Purim, Eli talked us into having a superhero Purim celebration at the brewery. Yes, we all went in costume. Levi created a twitter version of the megillah.
We let Eli select our costumes. My husband, Eli’s father Mark, went as The Joker and I was his beloved Harley Quinn. Oy, the things we do for our children!
Debra Rich Gettleman is a mother, blogger, actor and playwright. For more of her work, visit unmotherlyinsights.com