Alan Klien: I suck! They’re gonna take away my Yamulkha!
Rabbi Jacob “Jake” Schram: No you don’t. You don’t suck.
Alan Klien: I suck.
Rabbi Jacob “Jake” Schram: Yes, all right, you do. You suck. But that’s ok, you’re supposed to suck. This isn’t a talent contest, it’s a rite of passage
Keeping the Faith, 2000
For the past year, I have been taking Hebrew lessons. Bet you didn’t know that I was Jewish did you? Until I decided to join a Synagogue and take Hebrew lessons, I wasn’t sure if I was really Jewish either. Currently, I can still recite the Lord’s Prayer faster than I can come up with the proper words for the Shema.
A little background on my situation: I was raised “without religion.” My mother did insist that I attend the High Holiday services at the local Synagogue every year in an effort to please my grandmother. So, year after year, I dressed up in my finest to sit, stand, sit again and recite prayers in an ancient language that I neither spoke nor understood. I knew why I was going (to please my grandmother) but was anxious for what I perceived as an annual form of torture to end. And it did when I was in the 8th grade and REFUSED to get a Bat Mitzvah (coming of age celebration in Judaism). Of course I came up with a valid reason: the only reason that people get a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is for the massive number of presents and the party. Being a declared Quaker (no joke), I reasoned that NOT getting the Bat Mitzvah was my way to turning my back on materialism and embracing the “simple life”.
PULEASE! If you think that I actually believed that crap then you don’t know me very well. The truth? I was lazy and scared of failure. So, I opted for the so-called moral high ground and refused to do the work. Lucky me right?
Fast forward 20+ years and I am married (to a Jewish man) and have a child who is preparing to start Hebrew school in the fall. As I stood watching my 13 year old nephew read his Torah portion last June, I was hit with remorse: Remorse that I didn’t learn Hebrew, remorse that my husband had to recite certain prayers on my behalf because I could not read the language and remorse that I had missed this rite of passage. I knew that it was time for me to reclaim my faith. (How dramatic, right?)
Back to reality and I now understand why we “force” our children to start Hebrew school when they are 8 years old or earlier: Hebrew is just plain hard to learn. It’s almost impossible to learn as an adult. I also have a learning disability that makes it even harder to differentiate similar appearing letters from each other. So why do I put myself through this torture?
Because it is NOT a talent contest. It is a rite of passage and one that I desperately want. Unlike in my teens when I went to services to please my grandmother, I am going because I feel an intrinsic need to belong to something that is greater than me. I want to be an active participant and I don’t want my daughter to call me a hypocrite. My child is now old enough to understand that I am struggling to learn Hebrew. When it is her turn to study, memorize, recall and recite, perhaps she will remember that she is not alone in her struggles to succeed. That I recently stood in those shoes, faced my fears of failure and worked through them.
In any case, the Bat Mitzvah is scheduled for May 26, 2012, which incidentally is also my 40th birthday. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Do you?