Being Jewish in a Non-Jewish Community – Reflecting on my Bar Mitzvah

By: Seth Finkle

Seventeen years ago, I became a Bar Mitzvah. Almost a Chai, I know, and such a reason to celebrate next year! 2014 has already been a year of reflecting. I turned 30 this past January, and for the first time since graduating college, I can truly say I feel very connected to the greater Jewish community here in Providence.

Currently I am working with a local temple and teaching theatre while integrating Judaism. I started working with the large class of Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, and this got me thinking about my experience of becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

As I mentioned in previous blogs, my hometown of Gloversville, N.Y., had very few Jewish families. My Bar Mitzvah class was a total of two, yes, two! Luckily Alex and I did not have our Bar Mitzvahs on the same weekend. They were months apart, and to be honest, we had the pick of any weekend we wanted. We did not have to share our day with anyone else or pick the date years in advance. I believe my family chose the date a year before the event. Again, hearing stories how people have had to pick a date YEARS in advance was such a foreign concept to me.

One of the stranger parts of my experience that year was the feeling that I was being forced to give up some of my other activities to become a Bar Mitzvah. Believe it or not, I was already into theatre in middle school. I remember not being able to participate in the shows because rehearsals would have interfered with Hebrew school. I thought it was unfair that I had to give up something I loved for Hebrew school. Rehearsals’ interference with Hebrew school wasn’t the only reason I couldn’t participate. I had to practice my Haftorah at night. I also missed several of our middle school Friday night dances called “Teen Town” because I was leading a Friday night service or had to be up early to go to Saturday services and lead those as well. It definitely felt like I was giving up my year to do this. None of my other friends had to work this hard outside of school. What was I doing this for?

The light I found came in the actual Bar Mitzvah. I had the opportunity to really make the service something special. Rabbi Sugarman and his wife were able to help me make it personal to me. Around my Bar Mitzvah, “Rent” was extremely popular. I remember Rabbi Sugarman and his wife doing a version of “Seasons of Love” on the guitar. They helped me find a connection between my Torah portion and my life, and helped me understand what becoming a Bar Mitzvah meant.

Then, of course, there was doing the service for my friends and family. It was such a source of pride for my family to see me do the service, and for my friends…well, it was like nothing they had experienced. I remember thanking them for coming to the service even though they did not understand a single word I had sung. It’s funny because they didn’t speak Hebrew!

Finally, there was the most important part…the PARTY. I remember my older cousin telling me that I should embrace the party and really enjoy it because no other time would a party like this be done exclusively for me. It is true. When else does a party like this get planned where EVERYONE is there to celebrate you at such a young age? I could ask for any song I wanted, any game and any food, and it was there FOR ME! It really was an amazing time.

As I get older and reflect on the experience, I may have been mad at my mom and dad for not letting me do the shows or go to “Teen Town” that year, but in reality, becoming a Bar Mitzvah made me unique. My friends may not have understood what I was doing or why I was doing it, but it is an experience that we Jews get to have. It brings us closer to our Jewish community and to G-d whether we realize it at the time or not. Growing up in an area that did not have a strong Jewish population allowed the day to be more special and more personal for me. I know that now.

It may have taken almost 17 years to realize it and say it, but thank you, mom and dad, for not letting up and sticking to the rules when it came to practicing and going to Hebrew school. I know now it was done in my best interest, and I am proud to be a Jew.

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