Today, our son took another step on his path towards Jewish manhood. It’s a month until he becomes a bar mitzvah and this morning, he put on tefillin to daven, for the first time. This event, called hanachat tefillin, takes place at some point in the few months before the barmitzvah depending on family custom and is marked, in some circles with a great fanfare, and in others more quietly. Having no particular family minhag on which to fall back, I did some research among friends and online on how people celebrate.
In Israel, it is common to see boys and their families at the Kotel, marking this occasion. Other people daven with their son’s school class and treat them to breakfast afterwards. Our son chose to daven in our own shul, with my husband, this morning. A few of his friends, and his younger brother, joined him and there was a small l’chaim afterwards. We felt that it was a significant enough occasion that it should not go unmarked, but we wanted to keep it low-key.
Shortly after these young boys joined with their community to share their joy in being able to play a larger part in its religious life, some other young men rode motorcycles into our local shopping mall. Armed with axes and possibly guns (according to some reports) they terrified shoppers as they smashed into a jewellery shop and made off with some of the goods. The police were on the scene very quickly and the helicopter is up searching for the culprits. B”H no-one appears to have been hurt and there is no major damage.
The contrast between the two groups of young men could hardly be greater. Our son and his friends learn Torah, both at school and in their spare time. They play tennis and ride their bikes. One of their primary school friends organises a rota each week for the boys to spend time on Shabbos with another former classmate who has special needs. This year, they are spending many Shabbosos walking around our area so that they can be there for each other at their barmitzvahs, sometimes visiting 2 or 3 shuls in one morning, to congratulate and share in the simcha of as many friends as possible.
Our son and his friends have a sense of self-worth, not based on physical possessions, or on how tough they are, but based on the knowledge that they are valued for themselves, both as individuals and as contributing members of the community. My bracha to our son, on this special day, is that he should always wear his tefillin with the enthusiasm that he did today and that he and his friends always remember how precious they are to us, and continue to behave in a way which makes us proud.