Above: Sidney’s Bar Mitzvah Album, 1954
(by 2017 time worn, held together with duct tape)
Sidney Gross (1941–2016)
From Sidney: When a Jewish girl is born, the talk immediately turns to her wedding. With a boy, it’s the Bar Mitzvah, the formal entrance into manhood at the ripe age of thirteen. My mother had a sister and a brother, and each of them had two sons, so there was plenty of Bar Mitzvah talk in our family. The Bar Mitzvah is not one of those events which occur at a single moment like a snapshot. It is an occasion which is anticipated years in advance.
Almost from infancy on, I can remember my parents prefacing all remarks about my future with “when you get Bar Mitzvahed…” The ceremony was to be a gateway—to what I’m uncertain. All I knew was that even if the world were to end in a great ball of fire (those were the days of A-bomb tests and air raid drills at the elementary school) everything would be all right just as long as I got Bar Mitzvahed before it all happened. My Bar Mitzvah was my first philosophical experience with the concept of time. There was the big event looming years in the future; then months and days. Finally it happened, and now I am ruminating about it almost three decades later.
From Sue: At this point I feel obligated to interject a comment of my own into Sidney’s narrative. My late beloved Sidney was generally progressive in his views on the equality of the sexes. But, as happens with all of us, there are corners of our souls and psyches that cling to traditions that run counter to modern thinking. When you read this essay, it will be clear that Sidney believed being “mitzvahed” was only for boys. He would never admit that Bat Mitzvahs for girls were the “genuine article!” His family paid a photographer to record the event in a lavish picture album, the kind that one generally thinks of for weddings.
Sidney again: The Bar Mitzvah ceremony was usually held on a Saturday morning. I say “usually” because there were always some sinners whose parents didn’t send them to Hebrew school but insisted on a Bar Mitzvah nevertheless. In those instances the confirmation took place ignominiously on a Thursday evening in the beth h’midrash or study room in the basement of the synagogue–kind of like a pauper’s funeral. Naturally everyone in my family was “good,” and we were all Bar Mitzvahed upstairs on a Saturday. Traditionally a large party followed.
Since Shabbos went from sundown to sundown, if the party was scheduled for Saturday night it could include not only food and drink but music and dancing as well. If the party was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, there could be no music since it was still the Sabbath. Our family always held the party in the afternoon. Traditionally the festivities took place in a large banquet hall right in the synagogue building. In those days, I took things as they came and the immediate transition from the house of prayer to the house of mirth was natural. Now, being older and more skeptical, I am puzzled by the fact that an orthodox synagogue countenanced the “work” of putting on a party in its midst on the Sabbath itself, even without the music. Oh, I realize that all of the workers supplied by the caterer were goyim, in theory exempt from our strictures, but there seems to be a fundamental inconsistency lurking in the heart of the matter, like the snake in Eden…
A recipe for kishke.
From Sue: I thought quite a while about what recipe might accompany this section of Sidney’s Bar Mitzvah essay and I finally decided on kishke. Making kishke, as you will see, is an “elemental experience.” Raw chicken fat and beef intestines . . . with those for ingredients, I have a feeling you’ll spend the time it takes to make kishke meditating on the origins and meanings of things…
For the recipe, turn to page 2
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