Last Friday we headed off to O’Hare International Airport for our first flight east to Philadelphia since 2007. That was the year we discovered that the girls were old enough that we could drive that trip and arrive with whatever sanity we had when we set out, and given the draconian nature of air travel in modern America that was a switch we never regretted. But sometimes you have a schedule to keep, one that does not allow the two-day drive, and so you fly.
Naturally, this is the day that Philadelphia gets six inches of heavy, wet snow.
We had no idea that this was happening when we set off. It was 50F and sunny in Wisconsin. And the other four days we were in Philadelphia it would be 50F and sunny there too, so by the time we left pretty much all of the snow was gone. But that day was a mess in the airport, with canceled flights, delayed flights, and a general sense that the weather gods were not happy about the notion that we wanted to be in Philadelphia.
Recall that our last planned trip out there – a drive scheduled for Thanksgiving – was canceled because of an unusual snowstorm too. And note also that while we were there it snowed here in Wisconsin. We are the Snow Gods. We could rent ourselves out to ski resorts and retire on the proceeds.
We made it out there safe and sound, though, drove the rental car to my parents’ house, and immediately had cheesesteaks, because that’s what you do in Philadelphia. I have no idea why Wisconsin – a state full of beef and cheese – cannot produce anything approaching a decent cheesesteak, but there you have it. It is a mystery.
This gave us the vim and vigor necessary for that weekend’s Event.
Saturday was my nephew Josh’s bar mitzvah. For those of you who are not Jewish or who did not – as I did – grow up in an area that was inhabited by a majority Jewish population and thus learn early that the notion that the US is a “Christian nation” is remarkably ignorant of both historical and current reality, a bar mitzvah is quite a significant event. It marks the transition from childhood to adulthood in the life of a Jewish male. It is something to put on your calendar, in other words.
We thought it was worth pulling the girls out of school for a few days.
The ceremony was lovely. It was in what would be called a side chapel if the synagogue were a church (I’m not sure what term they use for it in the synagogue), one that was big enough for the lot of us but still felt nicely cozy and bright. We found the synagogue with no problems and quickly got our assignments blocked out – one of the thoughtful parts about the ceremony was that it involved many family members in supporting roles, a trend that was even more apparent afterward at the reception. Kim and I shared a short reading, for example, and Tabitha and Lauren went up with their cousins Matthew and Aaron to open and shut the ark. Most of the time, though, the ceremony went along the way most religious ceremonies do – prayers and exhortations, lessons and song, and there was enough page shuffling and bobbing up and down from seated to standing to make the Episcopalian contingent feel right at home. Much of it was in Hebrew, but the books did come with English translations for the newcomers and you have to appreciate that.
The star of the show was, of course, Josh. He read and chanted, and we were all suitably impressed. He did a marvelous job of it. My personal favorite moment of the ceremony was when his maternal grandfather presented him with the prayer shawl that he used for his own bar mitzvah – as a historian, that sort of family tradition always makes me happy.
There was a period of picture taking after the service, since no photos were allowed during the actual ceremony and you have to let people take their pictures afterward or they’ll just explode. I would, anyway.
And then there was lunch.
Well, first there was a period of mingling and snacking, during which the kids disappeared off to the side to take full advantage of the foosball table and basketball set-up that had been carefully placed there to burn off their energy – a masterpiece of planning, actually.
There was also music, provided by a family friend and her fellow musicians.
And before there was lunch there was a lovely little candle-lighting ceremony that involved a wide spectrum of family members. I have no idea what the actual significance of the ceremony was, but it was a nicely inclusive sort of thing and we all had a good time.
Before lunch there was also the bit where you carry people around in chairs. I remember this from Keith and Lori’s wedding, but I don’t recall ever having done this at any of the thousands of bar mitzvahs I went to during what seemed like every waking moment of 7th-grade. Of course, things may have changed since 1979. We had a grand time hoisting the folks up into the air and carrying them about, though I cannot speak for the people in the chairs.
And THEN there was lunch.
One thing that really does deserve special mention is that everything at that reception – from the hors d’oeuvres to the main dishes to the cake – was safe for Tabitha to eat. That kind of anticipatory thoughtfulness is hard to find and even harder to implement with a catered affair, but it made the event just so much easier and more pleasant. So we owe a big thank you to Rolane and Steve, Josh’s maternal grandparents, who made that happen. Thank you!
Eventually, having eaten everything there was to eat and drank everything there was to drink, we rolled back to our various vehicles, wedged ourselves in, and headed over to Rolane and Steve’s house, where we hung out in a rather more relaxed atmosphere and continued to eat and drink. Because food, that’s why.
I understand that there was actually dinner served after we left to go back to my parents’ house. For our part, we didn’t eat anything again until the next morning, when we went back to Rolane and Steve’s for a brunch. There was food, family, and conversation, and really what more can you ask of life?
After that we went back to my parents’ and had hung out for a while. It was a warm day by then and the kids mostly spent their time on the roof of the family room, the way I used to do back when I was their age, but eventually we celebrated Josh’s bar-mitzvah with ravioli because my side of the family is Italian and once you get past the theology the primary difference between Italian and Jewish culture is that the carbs come in different shapes and sizes. With a family event of this magnitude, you have to honor the whole family.
There was more to our trip – more food, more fun, more family, more friends – and perhaps I’ll get to it here soon. But the main event was about Josh.
Mazel Tov, nephew!