Laughing At The Bar Mitzvah Chaos

stressed-to-laughterYou know how you can have something happen to you that is horribly stressful at the time, but mellows out into a funny story with time? Well, two of those things happened to us before NHL’s Bar Mitzvah. Each of these caused us much stress – and, I’m sure, a few extra grey hairs. However, looking back on it all, we can laugh about it.

Printing Brochures

It was the day before NHL’s big day. I was off of work and helping B by running a few errands. My first stop was a local office supply store whose name I don’t want to use for reasons that will soon be obvious. Let’s call them Scissors. Anyway, I went to Scissors to print out the brochures that would be available for family and friends to pick up. They gave such information as what NHL was doing, who was being called up, and why certain rituals were important. Since we had printed many things with them in the past, I walked into Scissors confident that I’d soon be on my way to my next destination.

The first snag occurred when they announced that the “e-mail to print” service was down. I was counting on using this since the file was on my phone and not a USB thumb drive. (Yes, I know. I should have had it on a thumb drive.) I went to my next stop – which was close by – in the hopes that the service would be back online when I was done. Unfortunately, when I called them back up post-second-stop, they said the service was still down. There was good news, though. They had a website that I could use to upload the document to them.


So I went to the site, created an account, uploaded my document, and went to select my local store. Problem Number Two. The website wouldn’t let me select a store. I went back into Scissors to see if they could help me. As the staff member was puzzling over my phone, trying to figure out why this wasn’t working, I glanced at their printers. I noted that their printers supported Google Drive. I could easily put the file on Google Drive and grab it from there!

Problem solved, right?


The printer let me log into Google Drive, but then hung. Eventually, another staff member told me that the Google Drive connection was down. And that the USB ports on the printers didn’t work either. The only way they could print was by connecting a USB thumb drive to their own computer behind the staff desk – and they refused to plug in my phone.

I left Scissors and drove to a nearby FedEx Office. At this point, I was nearing panic mode. I had a lot of other things to do and these programs were important. I needed to get them ready for the next day. Thankfully, the staff there were excellent and showed me exactly what to do. I e-mailed the file to an address they gave me and received a pick up code about half a minute later. After typing this into the printer, I could see my document on a small screen. (Very helpful in making sure I was printing the two-sided document so that folding it didn’t result in the center pages being upside down.) I ran off a quick test copy and then printed the rest of the copies. I thanked the staff members and then happily went on my way.

Do you think the story is over just yet?

Of course, it isn’t.

Later that day, B called me. Apparently, when I copied the file from the template we were given, I missed something. The template was from the previous Bar Mitzvah and I had missed one instance of the previous Bar Mitzvah boy’s name. Every single copy was saying the wrong name in this one spot. I was dumbstruck. I swore that I did a Search and Replace on the document and couldn’t believe I had missed that. FedEx Office had been reasonably priced, but the copies still cost over $100. I wasn’t looking forward to paying again for another set of copies.

Thankfully, our temple staff came to the rescue. They printed off a set of stickers with NHL’s name on them. B sat down on a tiny chair by a tiny table (meant for preschoolers), cutting out tiny NHL name stickers, to cover over the mistake.

The Morning Clothing Rush

On Friday night, we placed all of our clothing out so that we wouldn’t be rushing around early Saturday morning. Saturday morning, we woke up, ate a quick breakfast, and got our clothes to put on. I immediately noticed a problem. My pants were way too tight. I tried on the jacket and that, too, was too tight. Now, I had tried my suit on about three weeks prior and it fit fine. I wasn’t watching my weight at the time, but knew I couldn’t have gained THAT much weight THAT quickly. Still, I couldn’t wear these clothes. Tossing them aside, I rummaged through my closet. I found another suit, tried it on, but it was too small as well. Bigger than the first one, but still didn’t fit right. Finally, after much stress, I found dress pants and a jacket that fit and didn’t look horrible together. Resigned to wearing a less-than-ideal outfit, I went to help the boys get dressed.

NHL was having a particularly hard time. He declared that he needed a belt, but his belts were nowhere to be found. Finally, exasperated, I told him that the pants had fit him fine when he tried them on before and he shouldn’t need a belt. He replied that the pants were way too big on him.

Now you know those sitcoms where something happens that all of the characters realize except for the one dumb one? You know how all action stops, the other characters look at the dumb guy, and wait a few seconds for him to catch up? Well, that was me at that moment.

I was flabbergasted at that moment. What else was going to go wrong? First my clothes were too small and then NHL’s clothes were too big…. Wait a second…

Yes, I had put on NHL’s dress clothes and NHL had put on my suit. NHL is big enough now that his clothes look like they might fit me, but he’s not so big that they actually fit. In hindsight, we’re just lucky I didn’t rip NHL’s clothes when I tried putting them on. I don’t know what we would have done then. So NHL and I swapped clothes and – surprise surprise – our clothes fit perfectly again.


Like I said, at the time these were highly stressful situations, but time has allowed us to laugh about them. Of course, next time I’d like to get the funny stories and skip the stress. I have enough grey hairs as it is!

NOTE: The image above combines Petrified Smiley Face Silhouette and Laughing Smiley Face Silhouette. Both are by GDJ and both are available at

Don’t Let Amelek Win – NHL’s Bar Mitzvah Speech

bitsela-7br-800x603During NHL’s Bar Mitzvah, he gave a speech, called a Dvar Torah, about the Torah portion that had just been read. I asked him for permission to reprint it here and he agreed. So, without further ado, here is NHL’s Dvar Torah:

In my portion, it says:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt – how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the lord your God grants you safety from all of your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heredity portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

Why Amalek? Why do we need to blot out the memory of Amalek? Why not other groups who have persecuted Jewish people throughout history? For example, why not the Egyptians who enslaved the Israelites for hundreds of years? Or other groups who attacked the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness? Why is Amalek singled out for this treatment?

When Amalek attacked, they did not attack the Israelites’ military. They did not single out the strong fighters or other military targets. Instead, they went after the weak and defenseless people straggling behind the group. Other groups attacked directly instead of aiming for innocent civilians.

The Torah says that we should blot out the memory of Amalek. However, the Torah also says not to forget. How can we do both? If we blot out their memory, doesn’t that mean they would be forgotten? And if we do not forget, doesn’t that mean that we have not blotted out their memory? While it is true that blotting out their memory means eliminating them completely as a people, we also must remember what they did because other people can do what Amalek did.

There is a famous saying by Spanish-American philosopher and poet George Santayana. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sadly, Amalek was not unique. There have been many other events in history that mirrored Amalek’s actions. Haman tried to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire by using power over them from King Achashverosh. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler tried to kill many different people, including the Jews, using Germany’s military might. During the Sudan civil war of 1985, Salva Dut was around 11 years old when he was fleeing to Kenya though the Akobo Dessert. Looters from another tribe stole everything that the people traveling with Salva had including their clothes, food, and water. Then, they killed Salva’s uncle – the only family Salva had with him – right in front of him.

So why is it so important to remember? Won’t these tragedies still occur even if we recall each and every one of them? Do we have any power to stop them or are they inevitable? The Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We can make a difference if we act and it is easier to act when we remember what has happened before.

Mordechai and Esther led the charge to stop Haman. Their actions stopped Haman’s plot and saved the lives of many Jews. During the Holocaust, Oskar Schindler helped save 1,200 Jews. Schindler ran a factory that employed many Jews. When the Jewish people were being sent off to the Concentration Camps, Schindler bribed German officials to protect his employees and their families. This was very risky for him to do. If Schindler did nothing, he would have been just fine because he was a member of the Nazi Party. If Schindler was caught, he would have been killed for defying the Nazis. By the end of the war, his employees and their families were safe. Schindler had spent his entire fortune and had to rely on support from other people including the Jews he had saved. Schindler was named Righteous Among the Nations and was buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He is the only member of the Nazi Party to receive this honor.

Another example of people standing up for what it right no matter the risk was the Underground Railroad during the nineteenth century. The members of the underground railroad helped escaped slaves get to Canada where they could be free. This was very illegal at the time. Armed bounty hunters and federal law enforcement agents were hunting the escaped slaves. If the escapees were caught, they would be taken back into slavery and anyone found assisting them would have gotten in huge trouble. Despite this risk, the people running the Underground Railroad still hid, fed, and provided shelter for the escaped slaves.

So, does this edict to not forget only apply to Jews? After all, some might say we should only look after our own people. What business is it of ours if other people suffer? Pastor Martin Niemöller was an outspoken opponent of Adolf Hitler. He spent 7 years in Nazi concentration camps and is most remembered for the following quote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

His point was that if you do not stick up for others when they need help, there will not be enough people to speak for you when you require assistance. Therefore, we should concern ourselves with the plights of others, even when it has no impact on our day to day lives.

So, what kinds of situations does this apply to? It is easy to say “I will definitely stand up if another Holocaust happens.” But do we? Time after time we turn the other way when groups of people are persecuted. We do nothing because we believe it has nothing to do with us or we convince ourselves that we have too many problems of our own to deal with. Sometimes we remark about how awful the situation is and how somebody should do something, after which we do nothing and just continue with our day to day lives. It can be very easy to say you will act, but hard to break out of your average routine.

The bigger tragedies can seem overwhelming, but what about day to day injustices? Surely those are more manageable. And yet we still find it all too easy to look the other way if we see someone who is being bullied or someone whose life has taken a bad turn. For example, someone that is homeless and is asking for money to feed their family. While it may be easy to walk away and think that this has nothing to do with you, how would you feel if you were the one being bullied or that was homeless. Wouldn’t you want people to help you?

Fighting against indifference and taking action can be very difficult. Oftentimes the urge to do nothing is overpowering. However, this is all the more reason why we need to heed the Torah’s words and do not forget. So the next time you come upon someone who needs help, don’t let Amalek win. Do everything in your power to help those in need.


NOTE: The Bar Mitzvah Torah Reader image above is copyright Bitsela, used courtesy of

So Proud Of My Bar Mitzvah Man

On Saturday, NHL was called to the Torah for the first time. This rite of passage welcomes him as a man in the eyes of Judaism. I’m still beaming with pride.

To clarify, all that is required is that you get called up to the Torah, say an opening blessing and a closing blessing and you’re done. That’s the most basic requirement. There are traditions that the Bar Mitzvah boy (or Bat Mitzvah girl) read from the Torah and sing a Haftorah portion (an excerpt from one of the books of the prophets that is linked in some way to the Torah portion), but this doesn’t need to be done at all.

So what did NHL do? First, he led the service as we took out the Torah. Then, he read from the Torah (a long passage, might I add) as B and I were called up. Next, came his big moment. He was called up for the first time as a member of the Jewish community. He sang the opening prayers, read from the Torah again, and then sang the closing prayers. After this, he gave a speech about his Torah portion (a Dvar Torah) before reading his Haftorah.

As he walked across the stage to speak with the rabbi, we got to pelt NHL with candy as a traditional wish for the target to have a sweet life. It’s also a favorite among kids who then get to storm the front to gather candy. NHL was lucky that we chose the soft Sunkist Fruit Gems. My parents packed projectiles that included Hershey’s Kisses. Those things sting – or at least would have if I hadn’t been smart enough to duck behind the podium right after finishing my Haftorah. Back to NHL, though, I am happy to report that I hit him with my first throw.

Moving on, we said the traditional parental blessing over NHL and sang a quick song thanking God for letting us see this wonderful day. NHL sang the Ashrei (another prayer) before we put the Torah away and, later on, sang some closing prayers with his brother and cousins.

So how did he do?

From his practice sessions, I was confident that NHL knew his stuff.  I was sure that he was ready, albeit nervous – a perfectly normal reaction to such a momentous occasion. Still, as NHL often does, he blew away my expectations. He nailed all of the Hebrew readings and many people commented on how great his speech was. More than one specifically said that it greatly moved them. I will admit that I helped him craft the speech, but I was more a guiding force – helping direct him on the best way to make his point. The content and especially the delivery was all NHL. (NHL has given me permission to publish his speech on my blog so look for that later this week.)

I’m having trouble coming up with words to say how proud I am of NHL. He has put in a tremendous amount of effort into his Bar Mitzvah preparations. He would practice in the car on the way to school and then again at night after his homework was done. He went to temple with me countless Saturdays during which he didn’t just observe the service, but interjected himself into it. That Ashrei prayer I mentioned earlier? He was the regular reader of that virtually every Saturday we attended services. And after that prayer, he would walk around behind the Torah shaking everyone’s hands. So many other Bar/Bat Mitzvah kids show up at temple for the first time on their Bar/Bat Mitzvah day and then vanish forever. NHL has showed that he likes having a place in the synagogue. Though, I might give him a week off this coming Saturday – he’s earned it.

And the reading from the Torah that NHL did? Reading Hebrew is hard enough with vowels. Believe me, I know. I can read Hebrew but at a snail’s pace. I rely on having memorized virtually all of the prayers over the years. If I had to lead a service going solely by reading the Hebrew, the three hour long morning service would likely take a good ten hours or more. When you read from the Torah, though, all of the vowels are removed. Consider that for a moment. D y knw hw hrd t s t rd nglsh wtht vwls? Srsly. t’s xtrmly dffclt t d.*  Now take some text in a completely different language and remove the vowels. Or better yet, here’s a glimpse of NHL’s text from a photo taken at one of his practice sessions (since photos weren’t permitted on the big day):


Could you read that? I certainly couldn’t. I know that NHL memorized much, if not all, of it, but the sheer fact that he fit that much in his brain and still had room for everything else is amazing. I’m in awe of my son and will be telling him how proud I am of him until he’s sick of it. Then I will proceed to tell him a dozen more times before considering whether I should lay off of it for a couple of minutes.

Congratulations, NHL. You did amazing on Saturday and I’m so proud of my Bar Mitzvah Man!




* For those really confused: “Do you know how hard it is to read English without vowels? Seriously. It’s extremely difficult to do.”