The Mother of the Man (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 8, August 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. I promised myself I would not choose the color of the napkins. At my son's bar mitzva, I said to my heart, I would not let myself be relegated to the role of event planner, the one who designs invitations and calls the caterer. I wanted something more - I wanted to be part of the content of the occasion, to participate in a meaningful way, and to be part of my son's inner life as he goes through this momentous occasion. "Now you're a man," was the recurring refrain from friends and relatives around the world. Being told you're a man at a stage in your life when your favorite pastimes are computers, basketball, and ignoring the dirty socks on the floor may explain why some men later in life continue to believe that these are indeed the icons of masculinity. "I would like to thank my wife" or " mother" is another refrain that has accompanied this year of bar mitzva parties. "This whole thing would have never happened without the woman of the house." The "this" of course could mean anything from giving birth to ensuring that the slacks he wore when he read the Torah fit. Like the bow of the stage manager among all the cast at the end of an opera, this is a gesture, reminding us all of those behind-the-scenes types who toil while everyone else plays. Of course nobody ever remembers the stage manager's name and would not recognize him if they passed him on the street. That is how the "thank the mother" speeches make me feel - like under-appreciated stage managers who happen to share a house with stage stars. I suppose it's better than the alternative of not being thanked at all. I'm not sure, though. From the outset, I told my family that we were doing things a little differently. For one thing, his 15-year-old sister taught my son how to read Torah. This was a lovely idea with a stressful execution, but to both of their credits, my kids did it. He did a fantastic job - and now, he is eternally stuck with the knowledge that the essence of the "becoming a man" ceremony was learning from a woman (and a young one to boot). In addition, my spouse and I both studied the text with him, and helped him write his speech. He was thus made aware that women should and can have equal access to the ritual and to the knowledge of Judaism. If we belonged to the Reform community, all this would be a no-brainer. But our bar mitzva was held in an Orthodox synagogue in Modi'in and my son goes to an all-boys' Orthodox yeshiva, where the presence of women is felt primarily in the secretary's office. When a woman comes in, all heads turn. The boys on the basketball court stop dribbling while they figure out who the poor sod is whose mother has obviously come to embarrass him. The yeshiva is a self-contained world where everything - eating, praying, learning and playing - is done with boys only. The boys may notice us when they get hungry or develop other desires later in life, but for now, women are external, foreigners, aberrations, or perhaps appendages. Extract of an article in Issue 8, August 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.