The youngest bar mitzvah—Part 3
And so the day has come. Our youngest child. Our last family bar mitzvah. I’m thinking less and less about what I’ll say to my son, more and more about remembering every moment as deeply as possible, because events like these don’t come around again. They are bookmarks, reference points, times that are easy to look back to and say yes, I recall that time in our lives.
Gabriel will do just fine. He’s ready. Now all he has to do is be himself, enjoy the celebration along with his friends and family. For him, the culmination of his efforts will be a weekend of fun and recognition. For his mother and me, it will be that and something else altogether.
There’s something different about that last child, when you know everything you do and experience with them will be for the last time. There will soon be no more homework, no more extracurricular activities, no more family events on the horizon that bring everyone together once we go through it all with Gabriel. Sure, there will be weddings, but those aren’t dates on a calendar. They happen when they will or not. A bar mitzvah is a rite, set in stone, something to plan for. And perhaps because of that, because it’s the last, it’s both joyful and bittersweet.
It’s joyful to think of family traveling to be with us, Shabbat dinner, good wine, great company coming together for a common purpose—the recognition of a young man’s growth, accomplishments and commitment to his faith.
It’s bittersweet to understand how quickly the next five years will pass, when he leaves for college and we move into the empty next phase of our lives—the last child departs and the parents become who they once were again, lovers united by themselves.
It’s joyful to imagine the scene at our synagogue, and it will be bittersweet to acknowledge, this time, how many friends from far away couldn’t be here. Joyful to read Torah and speak to him from the bimah, and bittersweet as all those words will represent the conclusion, in part, of decades of parenting.
But mostly it will be joyful and bittersweet to look at our son and see him on the cusp of adulthood, one part child and one part man, and this awkward, fragile time in his life is also one that will never come again.
Gabriel, what I have come to understand after having gone through this twice before, is that time does fly, and you will grow up quickly from here, but you’ll never really leave us, nor will we ever leave you, because our lives are wound together in the most wondrous ways possible. Everything important, everything meaningful, everything significant will be shared by us as our lives progress. And you, my amazing youngest child, will not just be pulling up the rear. You’ll be anchoring it. It was said by more than one person when you were born, and it continues to be said today, that you have an old soul. What is meant by that, I think, is that there are some people whose depth belies their age, and you are one of those, a child with adult understanding, and so, in a way, you’ve been ready for this moment from the first day of your life.
I could take this opportunity to send you a message, to try to convey something deep and profound and heartfelt, but this being the last time, and you being the last of the litter, I choose a different tact. I choose to let you be you. No, I expect that of you, and I so look forward to watching you become. For your life from this point forward is yours, and while we may always be here to help guide you, the direction you take will be all your own. So breathe, and live, and love being Jewish and being you. There is nothing more anyone can do.
Y’va-reh’ha Adonai v’yish-m-reha. May the Lord bless you and protect you. Ya-eyr Adonai panav eyle-ha vi-huneka. May the Lord show you kindness and be gracious to you. Yisa Adonai panav ehle-ha v’ya-seym l’ha shalom. May the Lord bestow favor upon you and grant you peace. Amen.
And that’s the good word until next time. The opinions expressed in this column are the writer’s, and not those of the Heritage or any other Jewish organization. Write the Heritage, or email your comments, critiques and concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.