Sitting at the end of the table, with the tutor on my right and my grandson to my left, I watch and listen as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. It’s time to prepare the Torah portion. He’s a serious child, always has been, and he attends to the singing and the reading with concentration. He surprises us by his sweet voice. He’s 12 ½ and that voice may change by the time of the event, but now the notes are soft and clear. My heart turns.
I feel my father’s presence at the table. My dad was dead long before Benji was born. In fact, he died just months before Benji’s father’s Bar Mitzvah. I remember telling my son Josh’s tutor, a rabbinic student, that my dad was on the brink of death. She suggested that we could do a quick ceremony in the Coronary ICU while my father was still alive. Of course not. Josh must have a proper service and a party.
I remember thinking, as we drove home after that sweet, but sad (for me) ceremony and the party, “We did it!” I knew then that my life and the life of our family would suffer pain and change. I feared for my future. But my son’s future I began to imagine with joy.
Now, 35 years later, I see how things worked out. In some way, my grandchildren feel like the gifts I received in recognition of surviving those years.
We are at the table. Benji is chanting the first section of his Parsha, struggling to bind together the melody and the words. My father, a man who knew the entire Torah by heart and sat in synagogue shaking his head when he heard a mistake from the Torah reader, is sitting beside me. He’s not judging Benji’s errors. He’s singing softly with him. He knows that this beautiful boy has a soul he would embrace.