Sunday, February 7, 2021

Playing The Role Of My Grandfather, With Stops Along The Way

(~8 years later)
My bar mitzvah
Sixty years ago yesterday, I celebrated my bar mitzvah. As was customary in that time and place, I did the Torah reading, the Haftarah (from the prophets), gave a speech in both Hebrew and English and conducted the musaf. The first two people who were called to the Torah - the Kohen and the Levi - would not have been members of my family. The other five surely were and would have included my father. But the only one I remember specifically is my maternal grandfather Raymond (Yerachmiel ben Zvi) Gordon, who was called up third. (My other grandfather died when I was nine.)

My grandfather was a very old man at the time. Nearly seventy-five. Well maybe not so "very old."

I wore a tallit (prayer shawl) bought for me by Aunt Ethel and Uncle Kenny, whose story appears here. It has long been lost.

I was taught by an Israeli teacher from my school and it was several years before I realized how substandard the teaching was.

The tape 

A few days later, Wednesday or Thursday, my father sat me down at his desk and recorded me doing the readings and the speech. I had hoped that the tape was lost years ago, during one of my parents' moves, like the tallit. It would have been really bad according to my present standards and I surely would have found it embarrassing.

No such luck. It turned up three years ago. During this very week! As a genealogist who could never throw out such a thing, much as I didn't want anything to do with it, I had someone make it into an mp3. Only one person has heard it - my son Eliezer. He said "It wasn't as bad as I expected."

Thirty-four years ago in Arad, my sister Devorah walked over - maybe twenty minutes - to hear me read my bar mitzvah. That would have been typical for her. We spoke very briefly on that occasion. I never saw her alive again. She was killed three days later. Today is her yahrzeit. Her story is here.

Snow in Hevron
Then there was the Shabbat twenty-one years ago that my mother and I paid a surprise visit to my friend and one-time roommate Zvi Ofer (who died this past summer) and his wife Celia, in Kiryat Arba, near Hevron. It was my bar mitzvah week and I prevailed on Levi, who ran the service in Kiryat Arba and whom I have known for years, to let me read, which he did. I have seen him maybe fifteen times since and he always says 'You remember the last time I saw you, when it snowed and you read your bar mitzvah?

The story of that adventure is here.

There may be a few more memorable Shabbat Bar Mitzvah stories, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Yesterday was the bar mitzvah of my daughter Merav's third son Shelomo (aka Shloimie) Brand. My
With Yudi & Naomi
Torah reading. As is customary in his shul, he read only the Haftarah. He will be speaking at a small week-night affair this week.

(Before anyone asks, let me say that the masking was adequate.)

I quite like their shul, though I rather stick out in the crowd of black or round fur hats and big beards (mine is on hiatus). They always treat me respectfully and the rabbi makes a point of mentioning me by name when he has his mishebayrach. Some of them also know that I can teach them a thing or two about proper Torah reading.

I, the maternal grandfather, was called up third. And it was only at that moment that I realized that my own maternal grandfather was called up third for the exact same reading at my bar mitzvah sixty years ago.

Hasdei Ovos Synagogue, Upper Modiin
After the service there was a kiddush and just before the rabbi spoke, he told me that he would introduce me to say something. (I really dislike being put on the spot like that.)

So I spoke about the coincidence with the two maternal grandfathers doing the same thing sixty years apart and the significance of carrying on traditions, even unintentionally. We read the Ten Commandments yesterday and I referred to the first chapter in Ethics of the Fathers where it tells us that Moshe received Torah at Sinai, and passed it to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders and so on down the generations. But I pointed out that there are less formal traditions. It doesn't say anywhere that we are supposed to name our kids after our ancestors, but that has been a traditional Jewish practice for ages. etc etc. (Or - as an afterthought - like my sister walking across town to hear me read.)

Afterwards, the rabbi, the Torah reader and a few others hung around and we mixed it up discussing some intracacies of Torah reading. A great day all in all.

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