Thursday, March 23, 2017

Here I Amn't

Image result for here i am jonathan safran foer

The night before my bar-mitzvah I opened my binder that contained all of the service's prayers and passages, highlighted everything in it that was mine to read, and removed the rest. I didn't feel the need for all the clutter. What I felt was its burden.

When, on the morning of the service, my rabbi figured out what I had done, he was not pleased. Something about how isolating the bar-mitzvah to only my sections really misses the point of what the day is about. I didn't really understand why he was so upset - I still knew when in the service to go on, when to come off. What would be the point of carrying back-and-forth from the seats to the bimah all that extra weight?

This book fills its pages with a lot of burden and a lot of extra weight. But instead of the burden of clutter it's the burden of context, of guilt, of repression, of history, of the things that should have been said but were not, of the things that were said but shouldn't have been, of relationships, of children, of dogs, of being Jewish. There is no story without everything else.

The rabbi, I think, was on to something. Perhaps prayers and passages in isolation are less meaningful in the absence of context. But while I agree with the premise, I'm still not sure I agree with the point. The act of a bar-mitzvah asks a thirteen-year-old boy to stand up in front of his congregation, read some prayers, interpret the Torah, and declare himself a man. The burden, as always, might have been too much to bear.