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Tempo Story: The Bar Mitzvah That Almost Wasn’t

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A year before his bar mitzvah, our son Shalom said he didn’t want one.

“Not even a modest kiddush, where you just lein the haftarah and maftir?” No.

“Not even on a weekday, with a minyan, family members, bagels and lox?” No.

“Just an aliyah?” No, not even that.

“Do you want a new suit? No? A hat?” Nooooo.

“A party with your friends?” NO!

We looked at our blue-eyed boy with wonder.

“Don’t push,” my husband and I reminded each other. We knew our son. He didn’t usually change his mind. Pushing would only cause tension and anxiety.

We knew he loathed being the center of attention. I remembered how he barely raised his eyes to look at the Pre-1A rebbi who ever so gently offered him a lick of honey in exchange for reciting the alef-beis the morning of his upsheren.

We held our tongues when he came up with various impossible solutions. “Let’s have it at the Kosel” (not in the budget). “In Houston” (where good friends had just moved, but we knew not one other soul). “In the tristate area” (all we have there are a few distant relatives and a couple of friends).

We’d hit a stalemate, but that was okay. We had time.

Summer ended and the chagim rolled around. It was nearing the six-month mark, and although his tefillin were completed and he was excited to wear them, no other plans were in the making. Distant relatives (not to mention my mother) began querying about locations, Shabbos hospitality, and the best airport to use — otherwise normal questions for someone planning a simchah. Only I wasn’t planning a simchah, but staring at the looming date on my calendar with a pounding heart.

“We’re working things out,” I answered. “Sure you can come for Shabbos… I’m looking into places… I’ll get back to you soon....”

Meanwhile, my husband was busy negotiating with Shalom. He’d already gained some ground; for a nice prize, Shalom agreed to have a bar mitzvah in our town, with people he actually knew. None of his friends were to be invited, but family was permitted to attend.

Second step: where? Shalom decided to have it at a shul (Shul B, let’s say) with which we have some connection, but that we attend only two or three times a year.

I made the call to Shul B to ask the rabbi if the date was open. A warm and friendly personality, he was happy to oblige, but asked the simple question: “Why here? Your husband and son don’t daven here regularly, wouldn’t he be more comfortable in Shul A?”

A good question.

We asked Shalom, who balked, saying he liked Shul B (like I said, warm, friendly rabbi), especially their cholent.

Right, he’s a 12-year-old boy, not quite a man yet.

But as the months passed, we persuaded Shalom to celebrate his bar mitzvah in Shul A. Although I had nervously assumed that in Shul A all bar mitzvah boys leined at least part of the parshah, the shul’s rabbi assured us, “Whatever he decides to do is okay. There are no rules.”

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 614)

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