I attended my first in-person Mitzvah ever this weekend, a Bat Mitzvah. I attended at Bar Mitzvah a couple of years ago, but it was on Zoom because it was during COVID. I’m not even sure if I’m supposed to use the word “Mitzvah” alone? Is it only correct if I say it with the “bar” or the “bat” in front of it? I don’t know. Wikipedia’s definition looks like this:
A bar mitzvah (masc.) or bat mitzvah (fem.) is a coming-of-age ritual in Judaism. According to Jewish law, before children reach a certain age, the parents are responsible for their child’s actions. Once Jewish children reach that age, they are said to “become” b’nai mitzvah, at which point they begin to be held accountable for their own actions. Traditionally, the father of a bar or bat mitzvah offers thanks to God that he is no longer punished for his child’s sins.
Why or how it took almost 52 years for me to attend one of these is a question in and of itself. Perhaps it should be tackled in another blog post? Does it signal a lack of culture on my part? A lack of friends, maybe? Don’t answer either one of those questions, thank you.
The service itself was really quite nice. I might even say it was uplifting. As a child, I attended a Greek Orthodox church, but those trips were very much few and far between. My immediate family was not particularly religious at all. I’d have to ask my parents, but I sense that maybe we went a few times when I was very young because my dad felt some sort of obligation or pull, as his parents were devoted. And as I got to be 7 or 8 years old and older, Sunday mornings found me at another church of sorts – a hockey rink. Our weekly games or practices were often right at the same time as church service. A kid my age did not mind that at all.
Back to the Bat Mitzvah. I must say I found myself very interested in the whole thing. The cantor, playing guitar and singing, and the Rabbi, both working together in a comfortable synagogue on this happy occasion. The focus was on the 13-year-old girl, who is a family member on my wife’s side and just a tremendously impressive person. I admired her ability to stand up in front of a fairly large group of people and recite all kinds of things, sing in Hebrew, and inject her own perspectives and thoughts into some of the Torah passages she was reading. I can’t even imagine myself at 51 being able to handle that.
But funny things happen to me when I am at a church service of any kind. I am, as mentioned above, an outside observer. Not religious. I have my issues with organized religion. But I do seem to have very specific memories of certain services I’ve gone to as a tag-along. I distinctly recall going to a church service with my then-girlfriend in 1989, when I was 18. I remember being so struck by the…collective harmony. There was a peace in being there, a calmness. That a large collection of people gathered together, unrelated, from all walks of life, could leave whatever issues they had outside the door and share some kind of oneness inside a church was something that really resonated with me. I felt the same this weekend. I’ve been to a few services in between these two, and have felt the same. I still haven’t really figured out why it strikes me so much.
While it does make me occasionally wonder if there’s a religion out there for me, it would have to be something different than mainstream, organized religion. I find myself believing more in something and becoming more open. But I don’t yet know how that is going to formulate itself. Time will tell. It’s more the community and togetherness aspect for me that I’m after, not the specific beliefs and rules.