Day #12: Becoming a Man – Revisiting my Bar Mitzvah 11 years Later

Eleven years ago today I became a man in the eyes of Judaism.

My b’nai mitzvah was on October 24, 2009, in conjunction with my best friend (and still my best friend) Leo Fargotstein. If you can imagine the most chaotic, fun, and interesting Jewish family event possible, that was my bar mitzvah.

I really think there could even be a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode on the day. Some of the highlights were hiccups during the ceremony from the rabbi, pre-teen nerves, family dramas, and even a Party with the Crew.

Hiccups

It was Rabbi Adam Grossman’s first-ever bar mitzvah, and because of this fact, he lost his place in the torah for at least 20 minutes (possibly longer). I had never seen anything like it (and still haven’t) to see a rabbi completely fumble his way through finding the correct section in the torah.

Sorry Rabbi Adam, I don’t mean to throw you under the bus; it was honestly pretty hilarious, and I’m glad it happened. He was able to connect with us as children better than any teacher or adult I had ever met. He had a major impact on me during this stage in my life, helped me write a killer bar mitzvah speech, and gave me the confidence I needed to go out on the bimah (the Jewish “stage” in the sanctuary) and recite all of the prayers.

Pre-Teen Nerves

Speaking of my speech, I was super self-cautious of my ridiculously high-pitched, 12-year old voice at the time. A lot of my friends were starting to get deeper voices, and I just wasn’t there yet. I was super self-cautious about this and thought I was supposed to have a deep, manly voice by this point. Because of this, I decided to make my voice sound MUCH deeper on stage than it actually was. People noticed and were coming up to me afterwards saying things like “Jonahhhh, when did your voice get so deep?” knowing full well that my voice did not sound like that.

I’m not sure where my bar mitzvah DVD is but I’d love to find it just to hear what I made my voice sound like. I’m sure it’s probably deeper than my voice even is now at twenty-three years old.

Family Drama (and what I learned from it)

I won’t dive into the details here for privacy reasons, but there was health-related family drama on my side. While this crisis was tough on me and my family, it’s something that made all of us stronger in the face of adversity (especially for me at such a young age). It reminded me of the fleetingness of life and the importance of bringing our family together on a regular basis, because you never know what can happen.

Party with the Crew

On a lighter note, I can say with confidence that we had one of the (if not THE) best b’nai mitzvah party out of anyone I knew. We partnered up with four other friends for the party (in reality, we were all acquaintances at the time but we all happened to be the same age and Jewish). We teamed up and called it Party with the Crew.

The craziest part about it: we all went to different middle schools so the party was many different worlds colliding into one huge party. It was a legendary, and I think anyone who was there would tell you the same thing. We had everything you could possibly want: a live DJ with dancers hired to pump the crowd up, some dirty middle school dancing, and even a couple 12 year olds getting caught in the bathroom with Mike’s Hard Lemonades in their hands. It was a blast.

(I’ve been searching for our photo shoot pictures from the Party with the Crew. When I find them, I will add them to the post.)


Some Reflection on my Jewish Identity

I had trouble with my Jewish identity for a long time. Originally, I did not want to have a Bar Mitzvah, not because I was nervous of standing in front of hundreds of my Jewish friends and family, but because I simply did not believe in my religion. I thought it was a bunch of made-up stories that never happened and that had no relation or impact on me as a kid in the 21st century. I remember complaining to my parents every week that I didn’t need to go to Hebrew School, that it was a waste of time for me and that I wasn’t getting anything out of it.

Then, my parents and Jewish teachers taught me an important lesson that comforted me (and still comforts me to this day): the stories in the torah aren’t necessarily meant to be true or taken at face-value; instead, you are supposed to extract some sort of morals or values from these stories in the torah. They are supposed to guide you throughout your life. That gave me solace and made me more willing to learn from my religion (although I was still a skeptic and always will be).

Today, I’m not religious in any sense but more spiritual. It’s become a cliche but I consider myself to be more of a cultural Jew – someone who wants to keep the traditions and customs alive and someone who wants to learn the key lessons and morals from our 2,000+ year old religion.

The torah portion that Leo and I read from eleven years ago today (October 24, 2009) was Noach, the story of Noah’s Arc. After I looked it up, I realized that today’s torah portion (October 24, 2020), is also Noach, eleven years to the date. In the torah portion, life starts over again after the Flood and God uses a rainbow to make a symbol of the first covenant. In a way, I think my life started over again after my bar mitzvah too from everything I learned and experienced. It really does all come full circle.

I’m so thankful for everything I learned from my bar mitzvah, all of the fun I had, and all of the amazing people, especially my parents, that helped make it happen.

Cheers to partying with the crew & Shabbat Shalom,

JB


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Thanks and I hope you have an amazing weekend doing the things you love with people you love.

Published by Jonah Baer

Florida State student | Memphis, TN native

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