The flowers are dying, the flood of presents has slowed to a trickle, the visitors have gone home – the bar mitzvah is over! It was an amazing week, which we will always remember. The seudas mitzvah was great and our son did an amazing job on Shabbos, leyning, reading the haftorah and davenning musaf. The last was quite an achievement in such a large shul with so many people and he took it very much in his stride. He was nearly outshone, though, by an incredible rendition of Anim Zemiros by one of his friends, who although rather short, belted it out to a lively modern tune, and had the whole place rocking!
Although it was lovely – touching and warming, to share our simcha with so many friends, both personal and communal, the highlight for me was our son’s first aliyah on the Thursday morning. Having struggled to control my emotions when I heard him practising in the shul in the weeks prior to the bar mitzvah, when he made the brachos on the Torah for the first time as an adult, I gave up the struggle. I think that that moment epitomised for me, more than the drasha or the leyning, the fact that he is now a Jewish adult. (Although as I said in my speech at the seuda – that’s halachically an adult, and in no other context!).
I can’t decide whether to be amused or offended that as a thirteen year old boy, our son counts as part of a minyan and can lead the davenning, whilst as a grown-up woman, I can’t. We’ve already worked out that when my husband is away for Shabbos, I will continue to make Kiddush, but our son will make havdalah. This seems like a good balance of halacha and role-modelling.
We both said over the festivities that we feel very blessed to see another of our children reaching Jewish adulthood and as I write this, I can’t help thinking of those parents in Newtown, who will never see their children reach any more milestones in their lives. One of our children asked me “Was that man mad?” and the only response I could give was “Yes, I think so.” Mental illness is a concept which the older children at least are aware of, but it’s hard to explain to a younger one and I don’t think any of us could grapple with the concept that a sane, healthy person could cold-bloodedly murder 20 small children. Our children are all in gated schools with security men outside, but even so, the tragic events in Toulouse earlier in the year showed the devastation which could be caused when the children are entering or leaving school. I hope that this terrible tragedy will finally result in changing the gun laws in the US – surely the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” of the Declaration of Independence trumps the right of citizens to bear arms, in an amendment drafted at a time of great national and civil unrest. May this be the last time we see such poignant scenes and may all parents be able to celebrate their children reaching their own milestones.