My son, who is now two and a half but was about 2 years old at the time when this story took place, may be the world’s youngest comedian. My wife, my son and I went to a bar-mitzvah of a son of a good friend of mine, who I went to school with years ago. As is customary in the Jewish tradition, when a boy turns 13, this ritual known as rite of passage celebrates his coming of age and becoming a man. It is a highly celebrated event and is often observed by families that wouldn’t come near a temple otherwise. Basically, it’s just as much of a cultural tradition as it is of religious nature.
Nevertheless, it is held in a temple or synagogue and involves an extensive amount of praying, singing, bowing, leafing through the Torah and often dancing. A very interesting event at that, even if you don’t speak or understand a word in Hebrew … like me.
This time, it was no different. Women were separated from men by a semi-transparent, fabric-covered hedge, men wore yarmulkes and the mood was celebratory and solemn. The celebrated youth smiled occasionally, revealing his braces, and I bet he couldn’t wait to get out of his suit and into something more comfortable.
My family was offered a place in the basement (it was a house converted to a synagogue). My son, being 2 years old, would’ve started going nuts after 10 minutes of the ceremony, let alone 3 hours that it actually took. So it was in fact a wise decision to keep him contained where he couldn’t interrupt the flow of the sacred ritual.
I had no idea what was going on in the basement, until after the ceremony when my wife told me. Apparently, it was a busy place, where people would come and go, food was prepared, service personnel moving things around. Like any other synagogue or temple, this is where people gathered, among other things, to discuss the latest news and gossip, but instead of meeting in the main hall upstairs, where the ceremony was in full swing, they’d come here unable to contain the desire to share everything that’s happened since last Saturday.
My son was moving freely around one of the rooms in the basement, staying close to my wife but making a few steps in every direction while exploring the room surroundings. He’d announce loudly if he wanted anything to eat or drink, in his somewhat distorted language that we could understand, and my wife was there, like a good mom, with a Tapas bar of food and drink options for him.
At some point, there was a group of Hassidic Jews, in traditional dress, standing not too far from where my family camped. They were completely involved in a brisk discussion, and weren’t paying much attention to my family.
On one of his rounds, my son stopped in the middle of the room, in relative proximity to them, and announced with much excitement, sort of waving his hand that could easily be misconstrued as pointing a finger: “Jews!!!” My wife, normally quick to react, kind of missed the first demand, and he went on insisting “Jews, jews!!” Only my wife knew that he was actually asking for JUICE. He repeated it a couple more times and the rabbis already started glancing at him before she got to him and gave him his well-deserved apple juice. The grave misunderstanding was averted!