Not Mitzvah: An Improvised Rite of Passage

How my teenage son opened the door to adulthood

| September-October 1999

Three weeks before my son, Will, turned 13, he received his first bar mitzvah invitation. It was elegantly engraved on paper the color and texture of crème fraîche and came in an envelope professionally addressed in $5-a-pop calligraphy. He opened it with an expression of awe.

Most of Will's socializing prior to this point had consisted of birthday parties that featured those giant, inflatable bouncy things you can rent for the backyard by the hour, or a trip to Magic Mountain plus a sleepover. The bar mitzvah invitation indicated a whole new universe of social intercourse. "I'm supposed to mark whether I want steak or salmon for dinner," he noted as he held the reply card delicately by its corners.

"I think I'd like a bar mitzvah," he announced the next day, when I picked him up from school. As far as I knew, he'd barely heard the term, and even now had only the wooziest idea of what such an event entailed.

"Honey," I said, "if you wanted a bar mitzvah, you should have planned a lot further ahead." He shot me a suspicious look. "You should have worked it out to get yourself born into a Jewish family."



"You have to be Jewish?" he asked, narrowing his eyes as if he thought I might be manufacturing this restriction just to torment him.

"Well, yeah," I told him. "It's kind of a religious thing."