You may have noticed we’ve had a few B’nai Mitzvah-related posts lately. We are at the start of celebrating our 13th year and in that spirit we’re launching an occasional series of B’nai Mitzvah reflections.
Explaining the idea behind a bar/bat mitzvah isn’t terribly difficult. When talking to someone about this Jewish life cycle moment, most people can relate to a coming of age ceremony, whether it’s a Quinceañera, debutante ball, or in this neck of the woods, the time you killed your first deer. They understand that, at a certain age, a young person comes to be seen as an adult in his or her community, and begins to take on adult responsibilities.
People don’t immediately understand, however, what David Duchovny has to do with it.
At thirteen I was devoted to Special Agents Mulder and Scully, dedicated to searching for the truth and committed to trusting no one. So much so that I knew these ideals had to be included in this important life event. And that’s how, while I was stuck studying Haftorah, my totally cool mother ended up planning my elaborate X-Files themed Bat Mitzvah party.
My favorite elements of the theme, to this day, are probably the life size cardboard cutouts of Special Agents Mulder and Scully that stood beside me as I sang a medley of show tunes to family and friends. They lived in my room for about three years after the party.
Explaining this circus of a bat mitzvah to non-Jewish friends, I often encounter a cultural divide. I have to backtrack and explain that, even though having a thoroughly themed party is pretty common where I grew up, it’s certainly not the rule. These celebrations come in all shapes and sizes, much like Jews themselves! While a lot about this Jewish rite of passage is mysterious to to the general public, I know my thirteen year old self is awfully glad that after this post, the truth is finally out there.
Because the Jewish population of the Deep South is small and spread out, it is common for Jews in the region to be the single source of Jewish information for Christian friends and acquaintances. When my son was in school and any Jewish holiday came around, I would make sure he had had enough information to reply to the inevitable questions of his friends: Why do Jews celebrate_____? What does it mean? Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus? Why did “you” kill Jesus? Aren’t you afraid of going to hell? Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?
And the truth is that the questions are wonderful! I believe it is our responsibility to be informed and have an understanding of the basics of our faith not only for ourselves but also for the friends and neighbors who—with the utmost respect—want to understand more about our religion. Down here, each of us has to act as an ambassador of Judaism, which means doing our best to answer questions, even “while standing on one foot.”
Just last month I was getting my nails done, when the woman in the chair next to me noticed my Star of David and started overflowing with questions. I could barely answer one before the next one came. It was for her a rare opportunity to ask, and for me it was an honor to answer.
I think the most common misconception about Jewish life in the South is that we are faced with a tremendous amount of Anti-Semitism. The reality is that we are faced with a lot of folks who know little about Judaism and most of the time, they simply want to be better and closer friends and neighbors! The only way to deepen friendships is through understanding and respect. I also believe it is our responsibility to have a basic understanding of what Christians believe. Outreach is a two-way street!
What is your most memorable “While standing on one foot” experience?
By 2nd year Education Fellow Rachel Blume.
It’s the height of the fall season. Football is in full swing, Barack Obama was just re-elected as President of the United States, people are starting to make preparations for Thanksgiving, and, as an ISJL Education Fellow, my schedule is filled to the max with fall community visits!
This means early morning airport trips, late night drives, and not much time spent in the comfort of my own home. As a creature of habit, the hectic travel of fall can be stressful to me. In addition to that, it’s the longest stretch of the year between visits home to my family. (Being from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I have it easier than most of my co-fellows on this count). One of the wonderful things about this job, though, is that certain congregations provide that same sense of comfort and community that I get with friends and family, which more than compensates for the time on the road. In particular, Shreveport, Louisiana has become my home away from home.
Just a couple of weekends ago, I was packing my bags to make the short (at least by ISJL standards) 3 and ½ hour drive over to Shreveport. Even though I knew I had a full weekend of leading services and programs, each mile that I drove it felt less and less like a business trip and more like a trip to visit my “other family.” I don’t even need my GPS to find Helaine and Bill Braunig’s home because I now know it so well; sometimes I even get the chance to hang out with their adorable grandson Billy (see above). I don’t have to worry about getting a tour of anything, because I already know where everything is. When I go to Shreveport, the usual anxieties of a work trip melt away. I feel at home.