August 17, 2000
Squeaking sounds of folding chairs came from behind as rows were added to the stationary seating, muffled greetings oated in the air, polished shoes and crisp white shirts. Not wanting to look like the outsider I felt inside, I searched all morning for something to wear and almost arrived late. What was the dress code? When was the last time I had been inside a synagogue? Decades have past since my mom founded the new age religion—The Lighted Way.
Boys dressed like business men lined one side of the room while next to them whispered giggles came from a pastel color wheel of dresses. A box of hats at the entrance demanded to be worn—a reminder of our diminutive stature in comparison to the grander world above us. On this Saturday morning, over 100 guests joined the congregation, traveling great distances to witness my husband’s grand nephew read from the Torah and be pronounced a man at 13 years of age—after years of preparation, he was ready to be responsible for his own actions from this day forth.
I had forgotten the prayers or maybe I never knew them. I hummed along reminded of a rabbi who said humming was fine—we are all just trying to do our best. I pulled out a pencil so my six-year-old son, Joey, could draw on the program—hoping it would stop his dgeting.
July 20, 2002
My head floating and unconnected to my physical self, working in my home studio, I was startled by Joey’s footsteps racing down the stairs and even more stunned by his announcement, “You need to join a temple—I can’t learn Hebrew online—I want a Bar Mitzvah.”
I had few relatives growing up. My Jewish grandparents immigrated from Poland and Russia before World War II. I learned later in life that all my European relatives were killed in the holocaust. In Brooklyn, my parent’s newspaper was in Hebrew and the language spoken was Yiddish. They moved to California for a fresh start. I did not learn Hebrew or Yiddish and my European heritage was erased so as not to encumber my childhood.
Moses parted the Red Sea, freeing the Jews to begin their Exodus from Egypt, wandering the desert for two generations—forty years—the time needed for the slave mentally to die and the children born in freedom to settle in their promised land.
My dad and son entertained themselves for hours without exchanging a single word. Noises and facial expressions, sounds tapped on a table, sharing a unique synchronicity. Familiar minds possessed with a gentle kindness, philosophical world-view and a desire to do no harm.
Rabbi was a woman and the congregation was open-minded and unprejudiced. The services were long, even when they weren’t, except when a philosophical debate erupted over the interpretation of the weeks Torah portion. Rabbi encouraged debates—believing it equal to prayer, and it was okay that I was agnostic.
November 26, 2005
Saturday morning, the sun was bright without a cloud in the sky and the air was crisp and fresh. I squeezed my carefully honed and typed speech in my hand, worrying that all would go well as Joey added himself to this 5,768 year tradition. Dressed in a gray striped suit, my son looked handsome. Joey was excited for his Bar Mitzvah debut. At 13 years of age he had spent years of preparation and felt ready to assume all responsibility for his actions from this day forward. Rabbi took a seat behind Joey, watching him lead the service, sing and speak the prayers, and persuasively discuss his interpretation of this weeks Torah portion. The giant Torah scroll, removed from its arc, lay on the podium for Joey to read. Passing the scroll from my dad’s arms to mine, to my husbands and than to Joey’s. My dad projected a warmth that ignited the room, his gaze focused on his grandson through tear lled eyes.
July 22, 2014
Joey chose the hiking Israel adventure for his Birthright trip. Forty, eighteen to twenty-one year olds met for the rst time at JFK airport for an all expenses paid adventure gifted to every Jewish youth worldwide. The excited anticipation melted as the bond of familiarity was felt and joyful laughter lled the plane. Joey played guitar and sang folk songs. The mood quickly
became dark when the ight attendant announced a bomb had exploded only a mile from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, and the plane was being rerouted. The parents were immediately noti ed, extra protection was added, Joey would not see Bauhaus’s white city. Kidnapped children ignited air strikes and ground invasions at the cost of thousands of lives. I wish Yoko Ono’s White Chess could resolve real con icts?
November 12, 2015
“Hey, Joey. How’s Paris?” “It’s beautiful and dense with history, I want to live here some day.” He repeats these words today while learning French online in his Harlem apartment, despite the ear splitting sirens, bombs exploding and 130 deaths only minutes from the dorm he was staying in during the terrorist attack.
February 5, 2017
Tepper (aka Joey) is busking in the New York subway to raise money for planned parenthood.
“‘I guess this is Trump’s America,’ said one passenger. No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever.”