The High Holidays are always a good time to look back on the past year and the year ahead. But I have a reason to look back on the past quarter century, and the quarter century ahead. This month is the 25th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah.
That’s right, 25 years since, in the eyes of our faith, I became a man. (I’ll have to wait another three years for the other 25 year anniversary of me “becoming a man”, but that is a different blog for a different day, and probably a different website.)
So I’m asking myself, just how am I doing at being a “Jewish man”?Here’s my perspective.
Quick checklist… I was confirmed, married in a synagogue, have been to synagogue for high holidays every year, occasionally wear a kippah, have a slightly bigger nose, actually like Gefilte Fish, and never got a tattoo. On the other hand I don’t study Torah, don’t keep the Sabbath, don’t keep kosher, have never been to Israel, didn’t become a doctor or lawyer, and my daughter wears skirts and shorts that end above the knee.
But what about the big ones, the things that are really supposed to define us as Jews. First a disclaimer – this is written from the perspective of someone who is and always has been a reform Jew, and my list of “big ones” completely lacks awareness of the tenants of our religion. Lucky for us, you, wiser reader, are welcome to add your “big ones” to the comments section below.
As a people, our caring for each other, the ability to take care of our own, showing respect, and caring for the world at large has always been impressive. With money and effort, part of who we are is how we help others. It’s hard for anyone to ever say they’ve “done enough”, because there is so much to do, but I really haven’t done enough. I’ve volunteered, I give money to the Federation every year, I was part of a Jewish conference that spent a day helping rebuild a community center in New Orleans, but I haven’t done enough. Twenty five years since my Bar Mitzvah, and I’m probably still too wrapped up in my own life and the life of my family to give back more then I‘ve been given. Overall I’ll give myself a C+. Fortunately, I’m anticipating much stronger grades over the next 25 years as my free time and disposable income grow (I am an optimist).
Raising the Tribe
The key to our survival, it has been said, is to instill the values and importance of Judaism to the next generation. As a people we generally don’t try to convert others, but we can strongly encourage our children not to switch teams. Jewish day school gets me points, along with my kids’ enthusiasm and knowledge of Hebrew, Judaica, and prayers/rituals. But, not keeping a very Jewish home balances out the good stuff. I give myself a B for this one.
Well, this is a tricky one, but considering a belief in a single God is vital to our religion, even if my definition of God may not match up perfect, the belief is still there. And despite my recent exposure and appreciation for other world religions, Hinduism in particular, I really haven’t strayed too much from my reform upbringing. So despite that exposure and appreciation, I still give myself a B+ for maintaining the monotheistic belief.
The idea of lifelong learning is another great part of who we are. I’ll take that to be more broader then a learning of Torah to include any continued learning. Like many, I’ve done post-graduate work, I’ve taken adult education classes and picked up new hobbies, I’ve tried to keep an open mind and allow myself to be exposed to new ideas. But, like the others, there is room for improvement here too, and there is always the battle against becoming routine, stable, and lazy. Here I get a B-, because I have become routine at times, and hope I turn this one around over these next couple decades.
Overall, my first quarter century as a Jewish man gets mixed reviews, maybe a B or B-, or in business speak…. Needs Improvement. But what’s important is the next quarter century, and how I will live as a Jewish man going forward. This time of reflection has been good, and useful, and hopefully has centered me for what’s to come.
So my questions to you are…
- Have you become the Jewish adult you stood on the bimah and promised to be that day of your bar or bat Miztzvah?
- How does one celebrate a 25-year Bar Mitzvah anniversary? 80’s music, a skinny tie, an awkward speech relating to my Torah portion, a sip of the famous Bar Mitzvah drink (this time with alcohol)?