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My Bar Mitzvah Year

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Erez Mirer and Jesse Green
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Erez Mirer is having his bar mitzvah. Now that he's thirteen, the bar mitzvah means that according to tradition he's becoming a man with all the rights and responsibilities of Jewish adulthood. But what about his parents? How do they cope with the year long preparations to the big day? Jesse Green is an author and journalist and has been documenting the months leading up to his son's big day. While he and his partner, Andy Mirer wrangle over the menu, music and their son's predilection for velvet suits, larger questions around their own faith have been raised. Sure, this is Erez's big day, but the real rite of passage belongs to the parents.

"God Is in the Details: After Months of Avoiding the big Decisions, we Finally Began Making the Small Ones."

By Jesse Green

Though I do not, as some have claimed, alphabetize my sock drawer, I'm organized enough that I certainly could. (Argyle, bouclé, cashmere.) And yet the problem of organizing Erez's bar mitzvah has stymied me for months. People, it turns out, are not socks. Neither they nor their unruly feelings will go neatly into the compartments you've picked for them.

A year ago, when we first began thinking seriously about the big date in March, we were certainly aware of our differing opinions about how it should be celebrated. Andy wanted a giant party and was willing to decrease the quality of what we offered in order to accommodate as many guests as possible; I wanted a smaller, nicer event. Andy wanted a disc jockey spinning rock favorites, or, better, a live band; I recoiled at the image of 60-year-olds doing the hustle and preferred either something more dignified or no music at all. We both sought to avoid the grotesquerie of some b'not mitzvah we'd seen, but Andy wanted to do so by dialing down the pretension, I by restricting spending. Even smaller, seemingly petty issues, like how Erez should dress for the occasion, turned out to be obstacles. Still, we imagined that these obstacles would dissolve on their own, like snow melting, as we moved through the list of things to decide.

Instead, they just sat there, immovable boulders, blocking any deeper consideration of the event looming closer behind them. The überproblem was the guest list. Andy's initial survey, last March, brought forth a goodly host of more than 250 would-be celebrants. For one thing, he has a huge family, with some 18 first cousins. But it wasn't just them; he wanted to cast a wider and deeper net of kin, so that even the grandchildren of distant great aunts were included. Of course he planned to invite his old buddies, but also his "old biddies"a€"friends of his mother, who had died when Erez was too young to notice. And then there were his colleagues: other guidance counselors, administrators, and support staff at the school where he worked. His mantra was a phrase I have never really understood: The more the merrier.

My own survey netted perhaps 20 potential guests. Not only do I have a much smaller family (only three first cousins, whom I rarely see) but also I was loath to invite many friends. To me, the impending milestone felt private, almost internal, and the idea of dragging my every last acquaintance and coworker to an event they would likely only attend as a duty seemed crass, little better than fishing for gifts. And what did they really know of Erez? How would their attendance promote or support his manhood, his covenant with God? Erez himself was not troubled by such concerns; he wanted to invite the entire seventh gradea€"some 45 kidsa€"as if his bar mitzvah were a pep rally...

Excerpt from Jesse Green's "My bar mitzvah Year" column for Nextbook.org


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