Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Iyar 5766 - May 10, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

Today I am a Man
by Elana Horwitz

"He's asking us if he should buy the tie. What should I tell him?"

My husband, exasperated, holds the phone out to me. Our very- soon-to-be-thirteen-year-old son is calling from the men's store in Bnei Brak. It's the third men's store he has visited today.

"What color is it?" I ask my husband brightly, ignoring the proffered phone.

"Gold with wavy black diagonal lines, apparently, but there's a lot more to it than that," he explains patiently, again.

"I hear you. You explained before that it has to fit right; it has to tie right. But what do I know about it? This is one of those father-son things."

Getting back to serious negotiations with our son, my husband sighs. "How much does it cost?"

It's really happening. Tonight our oldest son is a bar mitzvah.

It's Friday night. The men are at shul. I'm home with our younger children and the women that have come to our town to celebrate this milestone with me, to affirm my mothering of thirteen years.

My mother-in-law, visiting from America, sits in the kitchen chatting with cousins. My sister-in-law gets acquainted with my friends, Suri and Rachel, who live in Yerushalayim with their families.

My eight-year-old niece scampers around the house with my eleven-year-old daughter, both giggling girlish secrets and delighting in their shared cousinhood. Both born on Succos, they have always shared a special bond. They last saw each other more than four years ago.

We have already davened Lecha Dodi. The Shabbos candles burn merrily as the preschoolers romp and the toddlers clamor for cookies, for juice, for a lap and a story. We're chatting pleasantly but all the women have one ear attuned to the window. We await my dear boy, the bar mitzvah bochur, who is the star of the evening. Tonight he is a man.

Faintly we hear the music winding its way to my home. Its volume increases. Suddenly the door opens. Half a dozen of my son's friends from his cheder in Bnei Brak escort him inside, all the while singing songs of Shabbos and Torah.

My handsome son appears grinning at the doorway, glowing in his brand new black suit, black hat, and gold tie with wavy black diagonal lines. My heart leaps up at the heavenly song the boys are harmonizing. My eyes swim at the sight of my beautiful baby, all dressed in black. The room fades and I am searching the clouds.

Searching, searching . . . where is she? It's time; she needs to be here now! I can't find her! She can't be gone; I need her here now! "Where's my mother?" I hear my voice call desperately.

I feel Suri's arms engulf me. I'm back in the kitchen. My mother-in-law and her cousins are whispering and darting strange glances in my direction. Rachel says meaningfully, "She's here. Your mother is here."

She's here. That's nice. But, Mommy, you have gone. I don't see you. Although you were so young, I accept that you have gone. But couldn't you have come back just for the bar mitzvah? Just for one special moment? Just so we could share one loving look as our beautiful baby is escorted home to his family on the wings of musical prayer?

Finally, all is quiet. All the men and boys have gone to the Clevelander Rebbe's tish for a brochoh. My friends and their young children have retired to their sleeping quarters at the neighbors'. My daughters remain with me.

My daughter's friend Temima, is here too. My friend Rachel brought Temima here with her family for the bar mitzvah because her younger sister is in the hospital. The little girl was recently diagnosed with a potentially fatal kidney disease.

We tidy up the house a little. My daughter moves the flowers to a safe spot. "Mommy," she inquires wistfully. "How long will it be until the flowers die?"

Temima, reading on the couch, tenses visibly at the word "die".

"It's not fair," my daughter complains tiredly. "These are gorgeous. Why do they have to die?"

No. We're not going there. Not now, with Temima listening in. I'll change the subject. Maybe bring out a bowl of popcorn. I'll . . .

"Mommy," she whines. "I'm asking you something."

Temima picks herself up from the couch and silently joins us in the kitchen. She finds a clean plastic cup, walks towards the water cooler for a drink. She moves slowly, very slowly. I avoid her eyes.

I take a deep breath. "Everything dies," I say, looking straight at my daughter, but my heart beating as one with Temima's. "If something won't die then it isn't alive. And if it's alive, it's precious. We appreciate it while we have it."

My daughter nods and goes to her room to sleep. Temima sits alone on the couch, sipping her water thoughtfully.

The kiddush after shul is a cacophony of talking women dressed in beautiful Shabbos outfits, laughing with me, kissing my cheek, wishing me Mazel Tov. On the men's side I get glimpses of the kollel avreichim's black and white attire, mingling with the more casual spring men's wear worn by the people in our kehillah.

I scan the tables to gauge the rate of food consumption. People are eating happily. The kollel wives are serving cholent. There is still plenty of cake out on platters. Perfect.

Our bar mitzvah bochur stands on a chair to give his dvar Torah. It's hard to hear from where I am standing but it looks like the men are amused.

"Do you know the difference between a bar mitzvah and a wedding?" one woman asks me.

I can think of several differences. I smile my "no" and wait for the punch line.

"After the wedding, your son won't be going home with you."

But he will still be my son.

"Wow, I can't imagine that," I offer, slightly jolted. Suddenly I feel the next few years slipping away. " I mean, look at him standing right here with us on that chair . . . "

"When he's a chosson, hopefully he won't need to stand on a chair," she winks.

Rachel is trying to fit the suitcases into her van. "I'm worried about Temima. All those presents she sees her sister getting . . . I'm worried that she'll think that the situation is really . . . you know . . . bad. I wanted to get her alone for a minute to tell her . . . " Her voice trails off uncertainly.

"What?" I ask.

"That's the problem. I don't know what to say."

My anxieties give vent.

"Rachel, if Temima's little sister has such a serious kidney disease, how do their parents know that their other children won't develop one?"

Her face registers shock and pain, visible even in the starry dark.

I press on. "B'ezras Hashem she will recover; the family will get past this scare. But I researched it a little, and I learned that the recurrence rate is so high for this type of problem. When can the parents know that their daughter will be okay?

Rachel stands tall now, her back to the van. Our haunted eyes lock.

"She can never know," my friend tells me honestly. "When do any of us know that our children will be okay? When they become bar mitzvah?"

We exchange a smirk. She really has to go. It's a long way to Yerushalayim. But my friend waits for my response.

The faint smell of smoke wafts through the air. Tonight is Lag Ba'omer. The neighbor's kids' bonfire is getting underway. Whom am I kidding with my claim of breathing difficulties and tiredness preventing me from attending? I face reality. I'm paralyzed by the thought of watching my children playing with fire.

I admit the truth. "We can never know if our children will be okay. We are mothers and fathers forever."

"Mommy, help! Get this crazy tie off me already! It's choking me!"

I try. I try to loosen my son's constraints, lovingly and sympathetically. "You did a great job today, kid," I compliment him playfully.

"Kid?" Unsuccessfully, he attempts a sophisticated lift of the eyebrows. He deepens his voice theatrically. "Today I am a man!"

You are, my dear son, one moonrise more of a man. As I am today a sunset's worth more of a woman.

We learn. We grow . . . we can't help it. Life is a perfect process.

My son sighs shortly with relief. With a definitive display of overload, he tosses the tie on the couch and without a backward glance, races the clock, runs breathlessly down the block, towards the safety of the children's bonfire.


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