HG – The Bar Mitzvah Bucher

November 29th, 2014 § 0 comments

Some 72 years ago (1942), in a Bar Mitzvah ceremony at the Kingsbridge Heights Jewish Center on Eames Place in The Bronx, HG became defined as an adult Jew, qualified to participate in a “minyun” (the minimum number of adult Jews necessary to conduct religious services). The ceremony did not engender religious belief in HG, a confirmed atheist who identifies culturally with the Jewish people. HG’s lack of faith was not the fault of the presiding Rabbi, a man admired by HG. Israel Miller (1913-2002), had just been appointed Rabbi of the congregation and HG was the young, 29-year-old Rabbi’s first Bar Mitzvah ceremony in the synagogue. In the coming years (as a college student and later as a journalist), HG would consult Rabbi Miller on questions of Jewish history, politics, etc. The Rabbi would gently chide HG about his lack of religious observance. Oddly, he never criticized HG’s marriage to the beautiful, gifted, decidedly non-Jewish BSK. Rabbi Miller (who left Kingsbridge Heights Jewish Center in 1968) went on to a distinguished career as a religious writer and scholar and leader of important national and international Jewish organizations. He was particularly close to the Jewish population of South Africa and was a vigorous foe of apartheid. He took time out from his busy schedule to preside over the funeral of HG’s beloved father. Other than working to become a man, HG found some attractive side benefits to his Bar Mitzvah studies. HG would rush to the synagogue for HG’s five p.m. sessions with a stern teacher of Hebrew who would tutor, hector and scold HG in preparation for the Bar Mitzvah. HG would be bruised and scuffed from violent football games on the field hockey turf of the nearby all-girls Walton High School. Upon leaving his lessons, HG would pass a basement room where a group of old men (some luxuriously bearded) would gather daily to study and dispute portions of the Talmud, the multi volume compendium of Jewish law and religious practice. They were a loud and merry crew (their merriment nourished by bottles of whiskey and plates of herring and pumpernickel on the study table). Upon spotting HG they would issue an invitation: “Bar Mitzvah bucher (young man), hub ah brumfen (have an alcoholic drink).” Even then, HG needed little urging. A sturdy shot of Park & Tilford rye with some herring as a chaser. “Nuch ah mul? (once more) was inquired, HG nodded Yes. Another hearty drink. “A shiker!! (drunkard),” laughed the Talmudists. Yes, HG was a bit woozy when he arrived home for dinner and homework. BSK claims, with some justification, that HG continues to overdo pre-dinner alcohol, substituting vodka for the whiskey of yesteryear.


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