While the majority of young people preparing for a bar or bat mitzvah might not skip merrily into every tutoring appointment and eagerly look forward to the hours upon hours of studying (iPod tuned to the haftarah blessings rather their favorite playlist), they at least recognize that the preparations are part of the expectation that parents, family and community have of them. And other than some parental nagging (“Did you go over your Torah portion today?”) or a call from the tutor suggesting that he or she may need to ramp things up, progress is made, preparations are on schedule and a pride-filled service takes place.
When I was a kid, I was a very important person in shul. My dad was not at all prominent in the greater society -- he merely worked for his brother, selling toys and stationery as a wholesaler in Manhattan's Lower East Side, starting his workday at 7 a.m. and working through 7 p.m. every day, including Sunday. (Sabbath-observant, he got to leave midafternoon on Fridays.) But at shul, he was well liked, even loved, and was the vice president of the local Young Israel. He was very important there, and I got treated great.
Then he died -- cut down by leukemia at age 45. At his funeral, everyone from shul attended and promised to love our family, to remain close. In time, though, the bonds loosened. There were fewer visits on Shabbat to our home; fewer invitations to others' homes. And then it happened. One Shabbat, amid 20 talking boys, I was singled out to be chastised -- to be quiet. That had never before happened to me.
In this era of school violence and body piercing, teenagers, never the most applauded demographic segment of our society, have been getting some amazingly bad press. To hear the media tell it, adolescents who aren't destroying themselves or others are just too lazy and apathetic to be bothered.And if Jewish teens aren't filling up juvie hall, they're not filling up the synagogues, either. After Bar and Bat Mitzvah, we're led to believe, you never see them again. Why would Jewish kids hang out at shul when they can be cruising around in their parents' Beemers, downloading porn from the Internet, turning their brains into Swiss cheese with drugs?
Once again we are faced with the annual dilemma of what to doabout Halloween. Should we let the kids "trick or treat" or not? Weknow that Halloween is not a Jewish holiday; that is not the problem.We celebrate Thanksgiving and Presidents Day, both American holidayswhich reflect good values. Halloween, on the other hand, does notreflect a value system that we would like to pass on to our children.It focuses on taking, greed and violence, not to mention theconsequences, a nasty trick, played on those who refuse to give.