Daze Of My Life/High on the Holidays

by Ken Lourie

So I canít read Hebrew anymore, so what? At least when I pick up the prayer book in temple, I know what Iím not able to read goes from right to left. Also, I still know what Iím supposed to do when the Torah is paraded around the congregation, and I can still follow instructions from the rabbi: Please stand, please be seated, turn to page ... , and refer to your supplement to sing along, as well as I ever did.
However itís been a long time-37 years ago, in fact, since I stood on a bima in front of a congregation and sang my Haftorah portion on my bar mitzvah. Yikes. I remember it well. I was not alone. I was bar mitzvahíd with two other boys who were also becoming men that day, Barry Ruben, with whom I would later play high-school baseball, and Howie Smith, with whom I would later play countless hours of street hockey on the tennis courts at Weeks Junior High School. (These are all references from Newton, Mass. from the mid-í60s to the early í70s. Ancient history, I know, but I digress.)
My bar mitzvah teacher, Mr. Cohen, had me singing my part at a prepubescent pitch. Sure enough, as I stood my ground alone, in the temple filled to capacity with hundreds of attendees, singing my way to manhood, my voice cracked, not once but twice, before I gathered myself and adjusted my tune to a more baritone-like tone and made it through the rest of the service without further ado. But the damage was already done. It wasnít exactly a laughing matter, but it was an embarrassing one. Nevertheless, as a 13-year-old boy who hated singing publicly, I was happy to have survived the day with my dignity still intact and extremely proud that I was finally a man.
As Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and our most holy day (when, among other activities, we fast for 24 hours to atone for our sins of the past year, and no, I donít need more than 24 hours), are celebrated, it gives me pause to remember. And though I donít deserve any awards for my participation (I understand very little of what I am hearing, the Hebrew, and even less of what I am attempting to read, again, the Hebrew), still I am always excited at the opportunity to reconnect with my faith and my feelings and to consider who I am, what I believe in, and what a long strange trip it hasnít been.
And once a year (well, actually twice a year, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays), I am able to travel back in time, sort of, and remember how my formative years shaped me and how my 5 1/2 years of attending Hebrew school, six hours per week, prepared me for the present.
For lots of reasons then, attending High Holiday services are very important to me. Itís not much, what I do, believe me, I realize that, but itís something, and given who Iíve become and the life that Iíve led, Iím never more myself then when Iím wearing a yarmulke and a prayer shawl and sitting in temple, rediscovering Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. LíShana Tova and Good Yontif to you, too!
Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.