Saturday, August 02, 2014

To The Pook, on the occasion of his bar mitzvah

You’ve always known who you are. When you were little, you introduced yourself to random strangers in the grocery store with your full name: “Hello. I’m Daniel Schwartz. Welcome to King Soopers.” So that – that was clearly a Schwartz move. Your father’s son, for sure. Extroverted to your very core.

But you’ve also always had your geek flag flying. One of the best days of your early childhood was the day Star Wars Episode III came out and we “finally” got to go see it, and you were jumping up and down on the couch excitedly for hours till it was time to go. And then, in a quiet theatre of 800 people, at the crucial moment, at the top of your lungs, “But Anakin Skywalker HATES the Dark Side!” I’d never been so proud in all my life. Mommy’s little fanboy.

So yes. A nerd and an extrovert. This has led you to the proper place now that you’re in middle school: the life of a theatre and choir geek. And again, I and many people in this room couldn’t be more proud.

And then there is this story that someone reminded me of recently: You were five. You had just started kindergarten. We were having dinner with some of your aunties, and one of them said, “So Daniel. You’re a kindergartener now?” And you looked at her very seriously and said, “No. I’m a Jew.”

It was kind of brilliant, honestly, an epic comedic moment, and I can’t wait to tell this same story fifteen years from now after you win your first Oscar.

But it was more than that. It’s always been more than that for you – more than just being about your heritage, about that touchstone through time to those who came before you. It was a faith at your core that being Jewish meant something. Something special.

Now, this is not to suggest that I and several other people in this room didn’t often despair of this day every happening. I think we can all agree that your early religious school career was not what we would call an auspicious start. It was a bit of rude awakening for you to realize that learning about being Jewish would actually require a bit of work on your part. And the Hebrew – oh, man, the Hebrew! It was like speaking a foreign language. But your teachers didn’t give up on you, even though you declared to me sometime around fourth grade, “I am NEVER getting my bar mitzvah. Don’t even think about it.”

So I was a little surprised in the spring of 5th grade when you decided you were going to JCC Ranch Camp that summer. But you were adamant. I’m sure at the time it was about getting away from all of us for two weeks more than it was about your religious faith. But every evening, I would anxiously pore over the camp photo galleries, looking for your face, and I remember seeing photos of you from the Shabbat service the first Friday evening – you were up on the stage as part of the group leading the service, looking for all the world like you were just meant to be there. And I was like, “WHOA. Look at my amazing son.”

(I would have made such a good Jewish mother.)

And when you came home, the conversion that we began when you were born, with your bris and your immersion in the mikvah, was really complete. There was no longer a question of whether or not you were going to have your bar mitzvah when you turned thirteen – it just was, from that point forward.

Which is still not to suggest that some of us in this room didn’t despair of ever seeing this day come to pass. Your teachers here – Sophie and Sandy and Michelle – and I’m sure I can add the young ladies of your b’nai mitzvah class to the list – and Karen and Daddy and me – we sometimes wondered if you would pull it off.

But you knew. You had unwavering faith in yourself, most of the time – there was that moment a few weeks ago but we’ll just chalk that up to being a dark night of the soul even though it was the middle of the day and you were like, “Forget it. I just can’t do this,” and there might have been stomping and a notebook thrown… maybe.

And by the way, for all the non-Jews in the room – this is how Daniel spent his summer vacation. Studying Torah. Chanting prayers. Mostly alone. Sometimes on the couch in his underwear. But just as often at the side of his tutor Sophie. It’s not exactly your usual 12-year-old’s summer vacation.

But to see you this morning, on this day – it’s really hard for me to put it into words without just breaking down in tears, because as you know, Mommy is a bit of a crier. But it’s pretty amazing. And you sounded way, way better than the kid from the Ben Stiller rabbi movie. And your Shabbat shalominess is a thing to behold. But you know this already.

Anyway. What I want to make sure you know is that I find your faith impressive. I have seen it make you a better person, a stronger person, a leader. I’ve seen it give you a voice, both at school and at home. I draw strength from it. And somewhere in the strength of your faith, I’ve found my own that I had lost for a time. And you’ve reminded me once again how much we learn from our children. And so I thank you. And I’m so proud of you. And I love you.


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