This past Saturday I attended my first Bat Mitzvah. It was for the daughter of some good people that Tanya and I met down here in LA.
Because of my curiosity, when Tanya asked if I wanted to go to the actual ceremony I opened my big fat mouth and said “yeah, of course, I think it would be fascinating to actually attend a Jewish temple service!”
And then I learned that the ceremony was going to take two and a half hours. Too late, the RSVP had been sent. We had to go. But it was actually fascinating – for about the first hour and a half. If you’ve never been to temple, you have to know that the first part of the service is spent singing. The last half of the service is spent…well…singing. But the singing takes on a more specific purpose in the later part of the service. They’ve got a Cantor up there near the Bima and a little book to follow along with to make it look like you actually know how to speak Hebrew, well, sing it anyway (I sing Hebrew like a champ! I’ve got that “ch” thing down, baby!). Plus, they made me wear a kippa (yarmulke thingie) so I fit right in.
(A little note about the Cantor. The Cantor for the service was a woman who also played the guitar. Imagine if Yentil and Joan Baez had a baby. With her folksy cantoring, she would have rocked Jewish Woodstock.)
Somehow, even though my head was covered with the kippa, the others seemed to be able to tell that Tanya and I weren’t really Jews. Maybe it was the lost expressions on our faces. Maybe it was Tanya’s “Gentile” pronunciation of the word “amen.” Maybe it was the fact that not once did I say the word Amen. I mean, I’m an atheist and I have my convictions.
Sure, I’ll sing a song about the glory of god and his awesome love and power, but only if the song is in Hebrew (or it’s Cristmas). Singing about god in Hebrew is very meaningful if you’re Jewish, but when you’re not, it’s like singing gibberish children’s songs. And I like to sing gibberish children’s songs. Plus, and this always happens to me, I felt like it was my duty to sing along. Especially since most of the others there seemed like they weren’t even paying attention.
That’s another thing that was unexpected about the Jewish service. Just how relaxed the whole thing was. People seemed to show up whenever the hell they felt like. Of course by the end of the marathon service I understood why. They also let you bring in snacks. I was raised Catholic and you don’t bring snacks to a Catholic mass. I’m pretty sure that it’s a deadly sin. Yeah, people still do it, but if you get caught there’s big trouble. Evidently, the Catholics feel that snacks infringe on their traditional “concessions.”
“What are you eating?! Good and Plentys?! Put them away! Can’t you wait?! You’re going to ruin your appetite! We’re having the body and blood of Christ later!”
So no Good and Plentys. Catholic God loves him some bingo though.
But because none of the others were singing (except for a couple older people and one real tone deaf guy sitting right behind me), I felt a lot of pressure to let the Rabbi know that we were paying attention to her (yes, the Rabbi was a woman. Take that Catholics!). Most of the time though, I was forced to just mouth the words. At least I looked like I was contributing.
As the morning wore on however, I became less and less concerned about what the Rabbi thought. My ass was starting to hurt. And as far as I could tell, it was the Rabbi’s fault for not getting to the damned point.
Sadly, though, the point could be summed up in the first three seconds (as long as you don’t count the 50,000 rules for being a good Jew as “the point.”).
My biggest discovery about Judaism was that it’s pretty much the same as Christianity. The Jews seemed to be friendlier, Judaism isn’t afraid to point out its hypocrisies and of course there’s no Jesus or the New Testament. But other than that (and dietary restrictions and the whole Kippa thing), Christianity and Judaism are pretty much the same. I suspect that if I were to go to most major religion’s services, I’d discover that they’re pretty much all the same (maybe not Buddhism).
God is great. We need to worship him or he’ll get mad.
I really enjoyed my brief stint as a Jew impersonator, but I think I’ll stick with atheism. Atheism is fantastic. You never have to drink anybody’s blood or eat anyone’s body, but you can enjoy plenty of wine and bread. You still get all of the guilt associated with religion, but with Atheism, you know that if you fell guilty, you probably actually did something pretty wrong. Judgment doesn’t come from some ethereal force, it comes from the jerk-asses around you based on personal biases and prejudice. There aren’t long services to sit through. If you ever get a sore ass, it’s not because you had to sit through hours of worship, it’s probably because you’re just really lazy – or you’re some kind of hedonist…
…which is totally cool if that’s what you want to be.
Fun Fact: Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have a Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah ceremony to become a Jewish man or woman. It’s just happens to you around 12 or 13 depending on whether you’re a boy or girl. Like puberty. And it’s something that every Jew has to go through. There’s no shame in it. So you’re the only boy or girl in your class who reads from the Torah. So what? Your friends will all eventually read from the Torah too. Don’t let them tease you.
Let’s get some ice cream, huh?
Oh, and mazel tov again, Rachel!