I love people’s stories. They say not only much about them, of course, but also about the nature today of the liberal American Jewish community in all its diversity.
This past Shabbat was no exception. I officiated at the b’nai mitzvah of two outstanding young people; smart, curious, thoughtful, empathetic, and wise beyond their years. They not only chanted Torah and Haftarah beautifully, but they delivered divrei Torah (reflections on the Torah portion) that were sophisticated and poignant.
The bar mitzvah is a jazz and classical music trumpeter and trombonist, serious and witty, who not only is graced with a high IQ but has a high emotional IQ. His mother’s grandfather was a strong Zionist who was intimately involved in the establishment of the state of Israel. His father comes from Irish stock as well as from Mexican and native American heritage. His parents are comedy writers who met at Second City in Chicago.
The bat mitzvah reads everything she can get her hands on, is a creative, imaginative and thoughtful writer who has read publicly her work at Barnes and Noble and other book venues. Her father is a second generation American Jew who grew up in an orthodox family in Brooklyn, NY, and whose parents are Holocaust survivors from Polish and German background. Her mother is a first generation Armenian.
After the b’nai mitzvah read Torah and delivered their divrei Torah, I spoke openly to them about who they are as individuals and what becoming bar and bat mitzvah means today.
I first noted their family backgrounds saying:
“You represent the modern liberal Jewish community. Where else but here in the United States could your parents have found each other and then brought you into the world. You are together proof positive that immigration to America is good, that we are a nation of immigrants and that all this talk about the threat of the ‘other’ is nonsense. We benefit from the world wanting to live here and you are primary examples of why this is so.”
This was only the third time in my 37 years as a congregational rabbi that the congregation broke out into applause, clearly a reflection of how disturbed we are by the nativist, ethno-nationalist, exclusionary, bigoted, and hateful movement that has given rise to both Brexit and Donald Trump.
I was glad for our community’s response, and I pray that it may sweep over the dark side of the American psyche and bring this nation back to its fundamentally decent core in November.