Columns - 2005

    State of the Rite

    By Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    Today I become a bar mitzvah.

    No, I don't become the actual ceremony itself. Though, if you've been to most bar mitzvahs in recent times, you might think there is no difference.

    Today's service is not about me. It's about the service. I just happen to be leading parts of it. Even my first aliyah, the moment in which I become a bar mitzvah, is not about me. It's about the reading. There's a small blessing that's about me, and that's all I need.

    I and my family are grateful to be welcomed into this service, with all of you, for this special day. We don't need to take over the temple for the day.

    I'm leading what I can, and doing what I know. It's not about competition, and I'm not saying that just because I've done more than my brother did at his bar mitzvah.

    If anything, I'm competing against myself, to demonstrate my education and abilities as well as I can on this day, with as few mistakes as possible. And I'm not saying that just because I've made fewer mistakes today than my classmates. I really wouldn't know. After all, I haven't sat there and counted their mistakes at their bar mitzvahs. At least, not if they passed ten in the haftarah alone.

    But this is not about intellectual snobbery. It's not about being a goodie-two-shoes. The bar mitzvah is about much more important things than the bar mitzvah party.

    When you think of a bar mitzvah, do you remember the party first? When you plan for a bar mitzvah, do you plan the party first? Does the party planning and invitations, registry, and thank you notes, take more time than the actual training? Do you remember how many aliyahs you read, or how much money you received, after the percentage you gave to your designated charity?

    I remember how bar mitzvahs once were. Not because I was there, but because some people told me and made me feel like I was. Like Mr. Whitman told me one day after minyan. His bar mitzvah was on a Monday morning. He had an aliyah, was given a kiddush cup, and that was the ceremony. And there were sometimes two or three on the same day.

    We celebrate that the Passover Seder hasn't changed too much in thousands of years, though lately people even bring it new life (and sometimes a need for life support). So why does it seem so many of us forget what a bar mitzvah was about even fifty years ago?

    It's okay to do more, to have a party. But I didn't want to forget what it's really supposed to mean to become a bar mitzvah. If I forget it now, I'd never remember it later in life. At least now, I have a fighting chance.

    And I will carry forward in my life with the many skills and principles which brought me to this day. People say this in every speech, they just find clever ways to word it differently, if they bother. But I really will.

    Yes, I will continue to attend classes at temple through high school. I will attend services, and not merely on the High Holy Days. No, it won't be every week. I'll admit that up front.

    I will even wear a jacket and tie, and actually participate, in the sanctuary. I already do this now. I realize it means I can hang out with my friends a little less, but I see them at the bar mitzvah parties on Saturday nights. We're all young, there's time.

    But I won't stop there. I'm planning ahead. Much farther ahead than you probably expect from someone my age.

    I'm young, but I know enough to make a face when I drink the Manischewitz for kiddush after this service today. Nonetheless, when I get to college, I pledge to be responsible and become a bar mitzvah in an all new way, by being the designated driver.

    And it won't stop there. Studies show that there's a seventy-eight percent likelihood of what two possible careers I will ultimately pursue. Because I'm queasy around blood and afraid of needles, we can narrow this down to one.

    So, needless to say, a little over ten years from now I intend to become a bar mitzvah all over again by becoming a true rarity, an honest lawyer.

    Of course, I will make a nice Jewish home. I don't say that I hope to, or that I wish to. I say that I will. And it's not just because my mother edited this speech. Six times. Including late yesterday.

    I will marry an intelligent, talented woman. Perhaps she will be a women's clothing designer. I, the successful honest lawyer, could even help her start her own business. She could design her own line of tasteful apparel, with my initial support, which you could say would become a bra mitzvah.

    I will raise nice Jewish children who, despite my mother's frequently expressed desire, will not behave to me just like I do to her. I will raise them to learn respect, but will not push them needlessly hard.

    I will give them with the opportunity to have broad experiences, without crowding their lives with too much. This could even lead me to once more become a bar mitzvah, by having my daughter become a strong ballet student.

    Or, if she's more interested in athletics, I could sit in the stands for the fast-pitch World Series, as my daughter helps her team win a championship, thus herself again becoming a bat mitzvah.

    In conclusion, there's so many possibilities for my future. They extend far beyond how popular my party is tonight (which it will be). But I will stop myself from any more of these ironically stated speculations, which you might by now decide is the greatest bar mitzvah of all.

    Doug Brook is a senior technical writer in Silicon Valley who twenty years ago became a bar mitzvah. Scary? He has yet to hear a speech quite like this one, though that might be because he often naps during them. For more information, past columns, and other writings, theatre, and current events, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.