Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

‘Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America’

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Salon reviews Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America. It’s the next best thing to actually having one:

Oppenheimer, who holds a doctorate in religious history from Yale and hails from secular Jewish stock — his Jewish mother was raised by atheist communists; his father, by irreligious German-American Jews — never had a bar mitzvah. “Leftism, not Torah or Zionism, was what mattered” in his family, while growing up in the predominantly Catholic town of Springfield, Mass. But, as he got to know more Jewish people at Yale, and had his first encounters with Jewish rituals like Sabbath dinners and the blowing of the ram’s horn (the shofar), Oppenheimer experienced something like a cultural awakening. “I felt as if I were meeting other Jews for the first time … Jews who had been to Israel, Jews who could read Hebrew, Jews who planned to be rabbis, Jews who, with a kitschy irony, still wore T-shirts received as Bar Mitzvah party favors.”Years later, when Oppenheimer took a job as a religion writer for the Hartford Courant, he absorbed even more knowledge about Judaism from rabbis and Jewish scholars, further whetting his appetite as a “journalist, historian, Jew.” It was then he decided he “wanted to investigate the wild and growing popularity of b’nai mitzvah.” That is not to say, as he is careful to note, that he wanted to study to become a bar mitzvah. Why would he? When Oppenheimer’s journey begins in New York, he’s sneaking into swank Scarsdale synagogues and ritzy receptions at Manhattan hotels — gaudy, excessive spectacles thrown by parents who seem more intent on impressing friends and colleagues than celebrating their Jewish children’s rites of passage into adulthood. Not exactly the stuff of religious inspiration.

Written by gerrycanavan

July 6, 2005 at 3:06 pm

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