Saturday, July 17, 2004

Today I am a fountain pen

There's nothing quite like a Bat Mitzvah. Not even a wedding. Nothing like seeing an early-adolescent kid officially coming of age up there on what's essentially a stage, strutting her intellectual and Jewish stuff, reading a scroll in a few-thousand-year-old language and then spouting some theory she wrote herself, surrounded by beaming relatives all the while.

In this morning's case the Bat Mitzvah girl was N., a smart, no-nonsense kid I've known since she was 7. Just a few weeks ago I heard her mouthing off to her friends on how she didn't believe in God. This morning she accepted ownership of the family Torah, which was brought to this country by her great-great grandfather when he was 17. There were 4 Rabbis up on the bimah [stage, basically]: her grandfather, her uncle, and her aunt, all in from out of town, who did a sort of round-robbin officiation, with the synagogue's official rabbi diplomatically laying low until near the end of the service. Her grandmother made a moving speech about the Torah's history, N's special place in the family as the oldest grandchild and first Bat Mitzvah ever to read from it, and the honor and responsibility being passed on to her. Then they passed it across the Bimah, from one family member to the next, down to N., who held it and brought it over to the podium for the reading. It looked heavy in her arms.

Half the congregation, including me, got all choked up. Wow, I thought. What an honor. What a burden for a kid who doesn't even believe in God. Doesn't really matter, though, come to think of it; her family believes in her. God is sort of a side issue, really.

In nine years or so, if Sarah hasn't thrown the whole thing over, we'll be having one of these. I hope we do. Only two of her ten [count 'em, ten] grandparents/great-grandparents are Jewish, but they're schmaltzy enough to carry the whole thing themselves.

I have to admit there's this little part of me that doesn't want to be "alternative," doesn't want to be trailblazing, doesn't want to be the sole conveyor of Jewish identity to my kid. Way back in college psychology, I learned that people are hard-wired to think in archetypes; i.e. if you say "bird," the average person will immediately think of, say, a robin redbreast, not a penguin. Sometimes, like at the travelling-Rabbi show this morning, this sissy corner of my brain gets tired of being a penguin. It would be kind of nice, I can't help thinking, to be that archetypical family: 2 Jewish parents, Jewish-looking kids [not that I'd want to change a hair on Sarah's blond little head or one bit of pigment of her sea-blue eyes], no awkward conversion or Christmas-tree issues.

I think Sarah feels kind of the same sometimes: not about Judaism specifically [she occasionally tosses off comments like "I don't want to be Jewish, I want to be like Mama[RW, that is]," and I get all worked up and have to remind myself that she's just 3 and I should breathe calmly], but she's a kid who recognizes and gloms onto archetypes.  I think there might be a part of her that wants that regular mom-dad family so she doesn't have to field questions about it all the time; not that she'd trade me for a dad any more than I'd trade her for some brown-haired kid. I mean, I know it's true that no one is purely archetypical when you dig down, that the point is to live your own life, not fit into some mold, to thine own self be true, etc.  Like a lot of dumb-sounding pop-psych bromides this kind of thing is hard to actually keep in mind continually. I hope RW's example*--not to mention her own "I-am-the-Queen" entitlement--will help Sarah maintain a more insouciant attitude about it all than I seem to have at the moment.
*RW, like most of her family, doesn't think much of organized religion of any sort and feels in general like wanting to fit in is, in fact, for sissies.
P. S. In non-introspective news, I have solved my Blogger-editing problems by updating my version of Internet Explorer! All by myself! O Techno-goddess moi! [Actually I just scrabble along the surface of technological literacy, so this is a really big deal.]


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