Sunday, May 1, 2016

Best Bar Mitzvah Speech... Oy!

Best Bar Mitzvah Speech 

This video was one of those that YouTube suggested to me I'd find interesting. At first I thought, "Yeah, Right! That's just up my alley... NOT!"  But to my surprise, by 20 seconds in, I was not only thoroughly hooked,  I was steamed. And by the time I had gotten through the first full viewing, I was ready to bark at the moon with fangs bared.

Just in case I get, not only some non-Jews to read this, but also some "Men from Mars", people who've never heard the word Bar Mitzvah and have no idea what it is, I'll start here with a little background info..

(According to Wikipedia) The Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בַּר מִצְוָה) is a Jewish coming of age ritual. Bar (בַּר) is a Jewish Babylonian Aramaic word literally meaning "son" (בֵּן), and mitzvah (מִצְוָה) means "commandment" or "law". Thus, bar mitzvah literally translates to "son of commandment". According to Jewish law, when Jewish boys become 13 years old, they become accountable for their actions and adult enough to function as full members of the community of worshipers that constitute a synagogue. The widespread practice of the Bar Mitzvah takes place on a Saturday (Jewish Sabbath), and the boy is called up in front of the congregation to read from the weekly portion of the Law (five books of Moses), and the Haftarah (selections from the books of the Prophets). He may also give a d'var Torah (a discussion of some Torah issue) and/or lead prayer services. This is not only a joyous rite of passage, but it is also a serious ritual.

Also, let me explain that I am a non-practicing Jew. But when I was 13 I had my own de rigueur Bar Mitzvah ceremony in the neighborhood Synagogue. In hindsight, this is something that I am neither ashamed nor proud of. It's just something I did back in the day. Although I do not participate in the religion at all, without hesitation I affirm that Jewish is my background. However, devout Jews sometimes see  my non-observant life style, one that is more common among Jews these days than theirs, as threatening and frustrating. Often they become confrontational with me about this if given the opportunity. These exchanges always leave both me and my brethren adversaries unsatisfied.  Commonly, as an argumentative device, they demand to know whether or not I was Bar Mitzvah'd as a kid, suspecting that if I had only been brought up properly and indoctrinated through that ritual I'd be playing on their team now. But with this question they leave themselves wide open.  I trump them by pointing out that it is BECAUSE I was Bar Mitzvah'd, and am intimately familiar with Jewish tradition and ritual,  that I am not at all religious. And I don't think I am exaggerating too much when I deliver this 'gotcha' coup de grace to those poor unthinking schmucks. 

Judaism is an ancient religion. It comes down to us from a time when stories, like that of Moses receiving the 10 commandments directly from G_D, who appeared to him in the form of a burning bush, made perfect sense to people. This was before the advent of science and any systematized form of thought or logic, long before philosophers like A. J. Ayer spent lifetimes pondering what it means to "know" things  and how we can determine whether or not we actually do know something or simply believe or think it (heady stuff from my college days, those Ayer books).  

Back to the video, a video that clearly has resonated with many folks for a variety of reasons. I say that because  as I write this I am roughly the half millionth incredulous soul to view it. I suppose that this video can pass for proof of a wide variety things. And I shudder to think what some folks project onto this remarkable moment that it preserves as they watch it. When I view it, I see a people who have  traveled  a great, great distance from the origins of their religion and who are currently stretching their legs at a bizarre highway rest stop. They've traveled for so long that they've lost connection to their jumping off place and have no idea of a destination, they simply cling to the familiar old vehicle that they've been riding in since they drew their first breath and whose motor will likely still be idling when they draw their last.

OK. To begin with, this kid's Bar Mitzvah, any kid's Bar Mitzvah for that matter, is supposed to be his first experience as a full member of a community of believers and worshipers of G_D. That's the same G_D, by the way, who told Abraham to kill his only son; a  powerful and not-to-be-trifled with supreme being who could not possibly be looking down at this little twerp smart-ass and be pleased with what's coming out of his mouth. Further, a Bar Mitzvah is not only a boy's first experience as a peer in a worshiping community, but it's his first experience taking the helm, as it were, leading that community in worship. Granted, being in love with his own brilliance and eloquence is as normal for a 13 year old boy of this milieu as is masturbating half a dozen times a day while drooling over porn sites on the laptop his parents bought him so that he could get into a great college some day (at least I hope that's what he's doing). What's astounding, though, is that the adults in this scene have provided him with the stage from which he delivers his little Bar Mitzvah Day "I'm smarter than G_D" soliloquey, as wll as permission to deliver it... Jesus, they even experience "naches" (Yiddish for parental pride) for his brilliant performance. 

Behind this boy sits a prominent member of the Synagogue dressed in a prayer shawl. It is he who brought our Bar Mitzvah boy up to the podium and turned him loose. We don't see any panicky look of regret on his face. If anything, he seems to be like  the rest of the congregation who are proud that THEY created such a perfectly self possessed, pompous  little snot. They, not god. A Century ago such a speech from a Bar Mitzvah boy would have precipitated extreme outrage. The rabbi probably would have led the congregation in a year's worth of penance rituals fearing that The Holy One, Blessed Is He, would thoroughly kick their souls' asses if they didn't offer at least prayers, if not dead animals, metal implements, and fire, as their distant Holy Land forebears would have done, knowing that The Almighty was about to make an example of their chapter of Young Israel by bringing down on their houses poxes and plagues that would have made the way he dealt with Pharaoh's army look like a token slap on the wrist. 

Instead, this little faggot got titters of laughter from aunts and uncles and neighbors who seem to be giving him a non-committal thumbs up for having the balls to say what they believe, too, even though they could never bring themselves to say it. 

But what is it that disturbs me so about this scene? After all, I can relate to this kid. He's kind of a smarter, more well-spoken, more confident version of the little turd I was at age 13 and he's definitely saying things I agree with. So what is it?

What it is, is institutionalized hypocrisy! Look, if you really believe that that there's a G_D, a living, conscious super being who demands worship and obedience to his irrational rules, then fine... do your thing... pray to your G_D, but leave me out of it, don't pester me with your need to have me conform to your ideas of the way the world is and what the rest of us should be doing so that you don't look like some sort of throw back to yourself.  Go,  if you must,  and satisfy your need to follow rituals set down by people who were trying to do their best at a time when germs, and atoms, and vitamins, and genes, and a long list of other things of that nature weren't part of what people could even imagine. And if you want to pray for me, too, hey, G_D bless you! :) But please, if you really don't believe (for instance) that you shouldn't eat a piece of bread without seeking god's blessing first, then why are you doing this? Why do you have to turn Sabbath morning into Halloween with prayer shawl and yarmulka as your costume and honey cake and red wine at the post Bar Mitzvah Kiddush as your treat? And why are you so committed to perpetuating the superficial trappings of primitive belief and ritual that you are willing, even, to bribe a confused little boy with permission to trash your religion so long as he's willing to go through the motions of kind of adhering to it?

Actually, my mother explained it to me years ago in her own fashion: no (she explained), it doesn't make any sense to do this stuff, but turning your back on it, as reason would dictate is... UNTHINKABLE. 

NOTE: Jews believe that it is wrong to write out G_D's name, so they represent it by leaving out the middle letter. And no, I am not personally afraid to keyboard his name, but I didn't want this piece to be construed as blasphemous in any way.These are simply the rantings of a struggling soul reacting to a YouTube video that mysteriously appeared as "Recommend for You" on his computer screen.


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