A boy becomes an adult and reclaims his family’s place on the soil from which his ancestors fled two generations ago. Berlin’s former Jewish orphanage, with its historic prayer hall, marks the first bar mitzvah since the Shoah. Ohel Hachidusch, a congregation outside Berlin’s mainstream Jewish community, embraces its first son of the commandments. A father weeps to see his first-born step with confidence into adulthood. A mother aches with joy as she stands on the bima, the living link between the father she’s lost and her son who is his namesake.
These were the heavy layers of symbolic meaning that enveloped Avery’s bar mitzvah last weekend. But the deep significance of the occasion didn’t keep us from having a fun and rowdy celebration. Avery got hammered with German and American candy at the end, and sustained a pretty strong hit on the forehead from a rock hard treat thrown by his little brother. I think Avery and one of his buddies also got hammered with a secretly made potion of wine and iced tea!
Avery chose to have his coming of age on the anniversary of my father’s bar mitzvah. He wore the tallit (prayer shawl) my father wore 69 years ago when he was first called to the Torah. But as the service drew to a close Olivia dazzled us all by presenting her brother with a beautiful silk tallit she made by hand for him. As Cantor Jalda said, “Avery should step into the future wearing his own tallit, not schlepping the burden of his grandfather on his shoulders!”
It was a day of profound peace and joy for me. As my son chanted his Torah portion in a clear and resonant Hebrew that apparently carried no trace of an American accent, I saw the beauty of a ritual that ties all Jews together. Sharing that ritual with our mostly non-Jewish friends from Berlin (as well as our family from Amsterdam and two dear friends from the U.S.) gave us a sense of belonging in our new community so far away from Montana. We are indeed a “German American Jewish family” that is comfortable following our beliefs in both countries that we call home.
Photos courtesy of Bill Slaton.