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October 3, 2011

One Bar Mitzvah, a Funeral and a Wedding

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/one_bar_mitzvah_a_funeral_and_a_wedding_20111002/

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I’m not gonna lie… I have wasted Forty billion hours watching Disney channel, which has drilled headaches through my brain,  falsely taught my children lessons that all adults are stupid and had me witness an awful amount of over acting because my kid had surgery and we seized all activity for ten days. And so I was starving for some real stories to wrap my head around. I couldn’t read because I needed to keep my kid company while he watched TV and the noise of the tube distracted my novel reading. I couldn’t write because when you don’t leave the house for many days in a row, nothing really new happens, so material is scarce. Aside from spending hours surfing the net, using the blender more times than I’d like to remember pressing pulse, and folding laundry that sometimes smelled of throw up despite the extra dispensary of Tide, there was less excitement to report on other than watching a tomato grow. That was until my brother called to share a pretty great story with me. If there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s a great juicy tale.  No I do not think Disney channel has figured out a way to capture this ability, hence the ever growing headache seething from my temples. Alex Russo breaking up with her wearwolf boyfriend on Wizards of Waverly Place is NOT epic storytelling.
My brother’s best friend was scheduled to be married in Livermore, California, so he and eight of his buddies decided to make a road trip out of it.  What happens when nine yeshiva guys head up in a sixteen passenger van towards San Francisco looking to party? They end up making a bar mitzvah. 
Of course a series of accidents followed in their wake.  They got there and had no where to stay, their clothes were stuffed in their suitcases and they had no where to hang their suits. I was surprised they found a place to shower.  A few hours before the wedding they realized their clothes needed a good pressing. The wedding was set in this remote area where very few Jews lived and where most of the sprawling topography were lined with vineyards. With very little time to spare, the boys decided to send their suits to the one cleaners in town. Time was not on their side and of course, they had the groom in their possession. It’s funny how one small inconvenience can turn into a series of fortunate events that can literally change a person’s life in an instant.
The groom was pacing wondering how long it would take before his friends’s suits arrived. Time was passing and the delivery had still not been made as was promised. These guys began to sweat it out.  Blake was their first friend to get married. They surely didn’t want to disappoint him or ruin his special day, or mess things up to the point that their friendship would no longer be allowed by the newcomer bride.  Suddenly flashbacks of the movie Due Date and Hangover 1 and 2 crept up on them until a run down pick up truck drove its way through the dusty road.
A stern face fellow with a sluggish stride approached the group carrying their coveted suits. He wore tattered jeans and flip flops like he hadn’t a care in the world. The burden of life had weathered his skin and his eyes drooped as if to say that life had taken a weighty turn for the man of middle age.  Upon the boys grabbing their suits in a hurry as wedding bells rang in the distance, one boy took a heart slowed down the moment and asked the faceless man if he was Jewish. 
“The only Jew I know about in my family was my mother.”
“Chris, that makes you Jewish. Just wonderin, have you ever had a bar mitzvah,” asked the eager twenty year old boy who had just earned his Rabbinical degree.  To which Chris exclaimed, “No….I didn’t even know I was Jewish till now.”
The boys stood in their tracks taking in the weight of the moment. They counted themselves and looked around noticing there were nine of them. Chris, the delivery man who had only delivered these items as a favor to his friend who owned the cleaners would make the group an even ten, the exact amount of men needed to create a “Minyan”  for the age old tradition of anointing this middle aged man into the ritual ceremony that was his right.  Ten men stood in the middle of the road as Chris wrapped himself with tefillin and reiterated the words of the Shema exclaiming that he indeed was part of a collective consciousness that declared God was one and that he was part of this greater claim to a heritage he never knew he owned. 
That day that Chris became Chaim a tear welled inside his eye as he turned to the boys with a heavy heart proclaiming that his mother would have been proud to see him carry on her heritage. My brother only too familiar with the past tense phrase, an indication of mourning that Chaim grappled with, put his hand on his shoulder and said…”Your mother-”
“Oh she died four months ago. I’ve been driving this pick up truck around with her belongings for the past eight weeks. Got all her possessions. Haven’t been able to get rid of ‘em. She was everything to me, my ma.”
Chris’s mother had been sent to a Jewish orphanage after her parents died when she was a child, which explained why Chris wasn’t too knowledgeable about his faith.  When the young Rabbi asked him if he had ever said kaddish for his mom, he stared back confused with a blank look of “no” etched in his expression.  Six boys, one groom, a rabbi and a brand new found Jew all looked at each other realizing that a moment had been given to them with profound providence. The lack of knowledge and experience that hung over the group came to light as the young boys began to wonder how they would be able to offer the recitation of the Kaddish words by heart when no one had ever said it before. To which my brother only too familiar with the prayer as a result of losing our dad piped up and said,
“This is one prayer, I know by heart.”
For the very first time since his mother’s burial, the invocation that would have been the final ode of respect Chris now named Chaim would have the opportunity to declare for her was said with a minyan of nine fellow Jews by his side.  A tear fell from the newly comforted Jew as the daunting realization crept on him of the series of events that was surely staged by The One Above. As Chris walked away and climbed into his pick up truck carrying the many material possessions that represented his mother’s life, I imagine a new calm probably engulfed him as he was finally able to say goodbye to the soul that bore him and that probably helped orchestrate a group of eight yeshiva boys to wrinkle their suits.

One bar mitzvah, a funeral and a wedding was celebrated that day in Livermore, California. And I finally had a good blog to write without the aid of channel 35 or the stupid parents from “Good Luck Charlie”.

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