Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Big Dunk and a Little Prick

Sometime in December it occurred to me that my son was quickly approaching his 13th birthday. Now, there is no thought, just yet anyway, of his bar mitzvah because he didn't start his Jewish education until he was 9 and he's only halfway through the second year of Hebrew School...and we require starting the fourth year before they can even consider bar mitzvah training.

But in December, at an oneg, people started coming up to me and asking me really strange questions. At least I thought they were strange.

I mean here we were, full members for the past three years and change...ever since my bet dein and mikveh on 30 Sivan 5763. Ever since, we had dutifully enrolled the Boy into Sunday School and when the time came, Hebrew School, and fully participated, with him, in synagogue life.

We chaperoned Hebrew School trips to Squirrel Hill and made shalach manot baskets and delivered them on Purim. It was well known that we constructed a sukkah every single Sukkot. The rabbi had always made sure we were invited somewhere for first seder and we always attended the community second seder. We didn't miss a second of High Holidays since we joined and you could count on us for Kabbalat Shabbat services every.single.week. Our son had perfect attendance in Sunday School as well as service attendance.

It wasn't like we were invisible.

So when three DIFFERENT people came up to me in December and asked me if Evan was being raised as a Jew...well, to put it frankly, it blew my mind. I had thought our decision to be pretty obvious. I mean, when we enrolled him in Sunday School one of the commitments we had to agree to was to raise him AS A JEW. So when the Director of Education came over during an oneg and asked me if we were raising him as a Jew...well, yeah, I was a little lost for words.

When I converted I had wanted to bring my son with me. Convert the both of us at the same time. But my rabbi didn't want to do it that way. She said to wait. So we waited. And waited. And waited. And now here we are and Evan is going to be 13 and he needs to go to the mikveh and have the hatafat dam brit.

The Big Dunk and a Little Prick.

I spoke to more than one of my friends about it. And they all agreed, it was something that needs to be done and done soon.

But oy, have you ever contemplated telling a 13 year old boy with autism what a hatafat dam brit is?

The answer is...why yes, he did freak out!

Because he freaked out so badly, we tabled that discussion for a while. Maybe the rabbi, when she gets back from Israel, can explain it in more delicate terms than I did because when I was done, my son was absolutely convinced we were going to cut his penis right off his body.

Now the mikveh, that was easy. I explained to him that he would need to go to the mikveh. I said it in Jewish terms using real Hebrew words to explain...I said "mikveh" not "bathtub" for example. I told him he would go into the mikveh which is filled chest high with very warm water and that he would go under three times and recite special prayers and when he comes out he will be a REAL Jewish boy.

And I was sure he understood it because he talked about it quite a bit after I had told him what it was and he always was so excited becausee it was what would make him, finally, a REAL JEWISH BOY...which is what he thinks he is anyway. And which is why completing his conversion is so critical right now. I shudder to think when someone may dare to challenge his internal Jewishness because the final steps have yet to be taken.

It would really do him in I think.

Well, I told him not to discuss it with his Hebrew class or the teacher or the rabbi because it was private and when the time was right, we could all discuss it together. And I was sure he'd listen to me. He's a good boy. He usually does.

Until the very evening when I had told him NOT to discuss it and I dropped him off for Hebrew School and then came back an hour and a half later and ran into the rabbi as she was going into her office between bar mitzvah students.

"You will never believe what your son asked me," she said.

A million things went through my mind. With my son? It could be anything from the properness of escorting a Catholic girl to the school dance to debating whether it really WAS Eve's fault that she and Adam got thrown out of Gan Eden.

"Really?" I said, following her to her office.

"Yeah, he wanted to know when he was being baptized."

Evan's Hebrew teacher who is from Israel fell over chuckling about it. She said the rabbi handled it very well when Evan asked...even though *I* was mortified.

Hopefully this all will be taken care of soon and then we can ALL laugh.

(crossposted at Matzah and Marinara)

4 comments:

Ger Tzadik said...

Boy, I can identify with that far too well, and I've had plenty of life experience behind me at this point. It can still be unnerving no matter how sure of yourself you are. I can't even begin to imagine what it might be like for a 13 year old. How frustrating for them to doubt it now as well.

Yetta said...

My understanding is that when a child of a mother who has converted (after the child was born) will be given the option of converting himself when he is of bar mitzvah age. Until that time, he really can't make that decision. I have many, many friends who have converted and are raising (for lack of a better word) their children Jewish. The children's conversions will be mere formalities. Oh, and really, for a boy to be "bar mitzvahed" he just needs to put on tefillin.

ralphie said...

Actually, for a boy to be Bar Mitzvah, he just needs to turn thirteen. Then he is obligated to do mitzvot. So, laying tefillin is just one thing he must do. Laying tefillin is not an act that somehow "makes" him bar mitzvah. It is, of course, a very potent symbol of the fact that he is now bar mitzvah (or, actually, that he is soon to be bar mitzvah, since it is customary to begin learning how to do it a month or so in advance).

None of the above paragraph has to do with conversion, of course. On the topic of the "prick" - it needn't be an actual prick at all. When I had mine done (not for conversion, but because I did not have a proper brit milah, as opposed to a plain ol' circumcision), the mohel (arguably the most respected and widely used mohel in Los Angeles) just kinda scraped a little and checked every now and then to see if a gauze pad pressed to the spot would produce the tiniest pinkish dot you could (barely) see with the human eye. Not comfortable by a long shot, but not a puncture or a prick, either.

ralphie said...

Actually, for a boy to be Bar Mitzvah, he just needs to turn thirteen. Then he is obligated to do mitzvot. So, laying tefillin is just one thing he must do. Laying tefillin is not an act that somehow "makes" him bar mitzvah. It is, of course, a very potent symbol of the fact that he is now bar mitzvah (or, actually, that he is soon to be bar mitzvah, since it is customary to begin learning how to do it a month or so in advance).

None of the above paragraph has to do with conversion, of course. On the topic of the "prick" - it needn't be an actual prick at all. When I had mine done (not for conversion, but because I did not have a proper brit milah, as opposed to a plain ol' circumcision), the mohel (arguably the most respected and widely used mohel in Los Angeles) just kinda scraped a little and checked every now and then to see if a gauze pad pressed to the spot would produce the tiniest pinkish dot you could (barely) see with the human eye. Not comfortable by a long shot, but not a puncture or a prick, either.