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Beholding Jerusalem
By Gregg - 19 Sep, 1999

Page 2 of 3

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I quickly built up a kind of addiction to the wall and visited almost everyday that we were in Jerusalem. Monday is a Bar Mitzvah day. In a sporadic stream, groups of men emerge from the inner sanctum into the plaza area in front of the wall. Walking joyously and singing prayers they proceed to an assigned table. The Bar Mitzvah boy and his father in the lead—and someone carrying the Torah. Once they reach the table, they gather around singing and after the Torah is opened, hoisted and turned for all to see, they get right down to business. The Bar Mitzvah boy reads from the Torah for the first time, thus being initiated into the adult world. The women members of the family strain to see from the other side of the gender-dividing partition or watch from the viewers area slightly above the men's prayer area. When the reading is completed the women shower the boy with candy and uulations.

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I was quite moved by this scene—tears came to my eyes as I moved amongst the proliferation of celebrations. I was surprised by the festiveness. Men danced in circles, holding hands, singing boisterously. Beaming old men with long gray beards threw their arms in the air gleefully.

Each of these satellite ceremonies was pretty quick. I imagine following this there would be a party elsewhere rounding out the event but the religious part—assuming it was all done at the wall—was pretty short.

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I thought back to my own Bar Mitzvah—months of preparation. In our tradition, there was much more to it than reading from the Torah. The Bar Mitzvah boy lead the congregation in prayer, read from the Haftarah and gave the midrash—a lesson drawing from that week's Torah reading. For me personally, this last part was the most significant. Although a bit off the mark, I like to think of my own Bar Mitzvah as part religious and part secular. The former being represented by the Torah reading and the latter by the writing and delivering of the midrash. The Torah reading is in Hebrew while ýýthe midrash of course, was done in English. The reading was ritual while the midrash was a first experience with teaching and public speaking.

Most of my Jewish friends at the time—in suburban New England—had Bar Mitzvahs. Many of these families would be considered secular. My recollection is that most Bar Mitzvahs that I attended were less religious than my own. In other words, Bar Mitzvahs were not only for the religious.



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dispatches
  O'Jerusalem: a play in six acts
  Living with Terror
Beholding Jerusalem
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