Monday, January 29, 2007

Bar Mitzvah, bar none

Friends invited us this weekend to a unique bar mitzvah ceremony for their son, who is the best known unicyclist in an Israeli-Palestinian children's circus. His classmates -- Arab Christians, Muslims and Jews alike -- joined in his unusually inclusive coming-of-age ritual at a Reform synagogue in West Jerusalem. This did not require as delicate a balancing act as you might assume. Their teacher had prepped the class by assigning readings in a copy of the Old Testament that had been translated into Arabic for them, to get ready for a teen party and a transcultural lesson in co-existence. The disarmingly accuracy of these kids pelting their 13-year-old friend with Hershey's chocolate kisses inside a synagogue could have evoked images of stone-throwing from the first intifada. But there were smiles all around.
The freewheeling shul was welcoming and enthusiastic to the motley crowd. An eloquent woman rabbi read some verses, and at one point, a lesbian activist and family friend carried the Torah scrolls. One of the cantors was a young man with Downs' syndrome who performed flawlessly. An unusual priestly blessing, right before the festive Kiddush, was given by a trio of clerics: a Christian sister spoke in English, a Muslim Imam followed in Arabic, and a Rabbi from Brooklyn summed up everything in atrociously-accented Hebrew. Not your run of the mill Jerusalem bar mitzvah, folks.

(Rehearsal photograph courtesy of shlomophoto.)

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