Bar Mitzvah and Jewish Maturity Rites


Bar Mitzvah and Jewish Maturity Rites


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The Day My Son Killed the Lion

By Ted Roberts

Deep in the Northern Malaysian jungles where ant hills outnumber synagogues, there’s a maturity rite in which the young Malaysian male must track down and kill by hand the giant non-kosher Poison Quilled Porcupine, an irritable creature cursed by nature with a one-day mating season. And the ceremonial hunt must take place on THAT day. A period of intense concentration for the Poison Quilled Porcupine.

Sociologists tell us that this custom only exists among the tribes of the Northwest. Further South they do the “lion thing“. Armed only with his 6-foot spear, the candidate must bring home a lion skin. And it better not have a price tag from one of those tourist shops.

Of course, we Jews have the Bar Mitzvah Ceremony - the gateway to adult status for the Jewish male. How clever of us! No need of a $1500 flight to Kenya, a trek into the interior fording streams full of anti-semitic crocodiles and then a gory contest with a lion who views a 12 year old, plump Jewish kid like we see a breaded veal chop. And have you ever seen the laundry bill for a two-week safari? Know what it costs to fuel and maintain a Land Rover? Believe me - even a Marriott Bar Mitzvah with five carving stations, salad, sorbet and a Peking duck entree is cheaper.

“So, Teddy,” my friends said. “Today, young Joseph is a man - whatta Bar Mitzvah. Those chopped liver statues of Joe - and you and Shirley - all three of you with hard boiled eggs for eyes and an orange carrot nose! So beautiful. It almost made us forget the stale bagel and generic brand cream cheese you served as the entree.”

“Thank you, thank you,” I mutter modestly.

Yes, the Bar Mitzvah is the conventional measure of manhood. But in my book, there’s one more wicket to maturity. Bar mitzvahs are a religious milestone, OK, but listen, even after the kid’s so called maturation he’s an economic dependent. Right? I’m waiting for the second maturation rite; the big day when the economic liability you’ve borne for a couple of decades turns to his patient papa and says the four magic words - “POP, IT’S ON ME”.

For years you’re the paymaster. You know how it goes. You sit at the head of a large table at the ritziest Kosher restaurant in town. It’s a food orgy scene out of a Fellini movie and you’re buying the grapes and wine and roasted exotic fowl.

Glasses full of cola, milk and unidentifiable but expensive liquids crowd the table. Is that 7-Up in front of my oldest grandson or a triple champagne cocktail? MY glass contains water, which I need to flush down aspirins between each course. Nobody’s paying any attention to the right side of the menu. But everybody’s talking. Ordering, or even worse, replenishing their initial order with seconds. But when the check arrives - as thick as a paperback of Gone With The Wind - a hush falls over the room. Even the waitress, who lugs in the book with both hands is reverentially silent. But her eyes say, “Here you are, Sucker”.

It’s that final dramatic moment of the auction when chatter and sneezes and coughs stop - for fear that any sound can mean “over here”. So, my smiling messenger of financial death brings the bill to me. How strangely this culinary circus contrasts with the last meal I enjoyed with my oldest son.

The stage for our father-son drama was an elegant establishment with a menu full of dazzling poetic descriptions. We were having a great time reading the menu (“Bo Peep Lamb Chops grazed on Devonshire Clover”) when finally we were aware of the waitress awaiting our pleasure. I hope she’s rude, I was thinking. There’s nothing like a shrew of a waitress to make a man feel good about a lousy tip.

We were at a trendy new kosher restaurant he had chosen. My son and his new wife ordered first. And with abandon - unlike their usual modest taste and tender concern for my retirement years. Then when I ordered - he even urged upgrading. And his thoughtful wife, when the meal was over, suggested a cordial for her loving and long suffering father-in-law. (Why hadn’t I noticed before how beautiful she was. A splendid addition to our family.) It was only then, that I noticed the strange new light in my son’s eyes. The day had come - it was time for the ceremony. The maturity rites - the Lion hunt - the dive into the blue lagoon seeking the perfect pearl. It was graduation day and he was valedictorian of the wallet.

As the waitress approached with the check, I kept both hands on the table. The check - a document of many pages - came to rest in front of my son. He had pre-instructed the waitress.

Somewhere over the chatter of the dining room conversation I could hear a lion roar - mortally wounded.

Ted Roberts is a Jewish humorist and commentator whose work appears in the Jewish Press, as well as in Disney Magazine, Hadassah, Wall Street Journal, and others. He lives in Huntsville, Alabama.


from the July 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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