Secular Renaissance / Renacimiento secular

La versión en español está después de la versión en inglés.

When I turned 8, less than 3 years before we moved to Brooklyn from suburban Long Island, I began Sunday school at our conservative (meaning, liberal) Jewish center on Long Island. I found it fascinating and was able to read and write Hebrew at a basic level by the time I was 10. When we arrived in Brooklyn, the only options were orthodox (meaning ultra-conservative) Jewish centers. I started at one after school and they immediately advanced me two years; my liberal education had been exceptional. I didn’t stay long. It was an awful school, the building was falling apart, and education was non-existent. I was moved to other once-a-week after-school classes at a very large Jewish Center on Ocean Parkway.

My first day there, I asked the teacher (a rabbi) a question. He slammed his palm loudly on his desk and roared, “Because it is so!” That was it for me. I continued going to the school as required until my bar mitzvah when I was 13.

My friends and I would usually stop before school at the pizza place around the corner where we’d each have a slice. We would then cross the street to the bagel bakery and each get a bagel fresh out of the oven. I thought it made me a good-ish Jew to have the bagel after the pizza.

Early on, one of the kids in class bent over at his desk to tie his shoe. The rabbi admonished him, saying he couldn’t touch a holy book after touching his dirty shoe. He had to go wash his hands. So, most days, I would bend over and tie my shoe just to get sent out of the room.

One time, my friend Elliott and I (he’s standing behind me in the below dais photo from my bar mitzvah; click the image for a closer look; of the 11 “school friends” on the two-tiered dais, my guess now is that 7 didn’t even consider me a friend; my mother wanted to make a good show) … but back to Elliott: We spent an hour throwing cherry bombs in the men’s bathroom. No one ever came to see what was going on. I’m ashamed of that now. It’s one thing to lose my faith, it’s another to have no respect for others or property. Oddly, of all my friends at the time, Elliott was the most well mannered, respectful, bright. And I was a good kid — maybe a bit outspoken, but good. I don’t know what got into us. But Elliott was the one with the cherry bombs.

.

Cuando cumplí 8 años, menos de 3 años antes de mudarnos a Brooklyn desde los suburbios de Long Island, comencé la escuela dominical en nuestro centro judío conservador (es decir, liberal) en Long Island. Lo encontré fascinante y pude leer y escribir hebreo a un nivel básico cuando tenía 10 años. Cuando llegamos a Brooklyn, las únicas opciones eran los centros judíos ortodoxos (es decir, ultraconservadores). Empecé en uno después de la escuela y de inmediato me adelantaron dos años; mi educación liberal había sido excepcional. No me quedé mucho tiempo. Era una escuela horrible, el edificio se estaba cayendo a pedazos y la educación era inexistente. Me trasladaron a otras clases extracurriculares una vez a la semana en un Centro Judío muy grande en Ocean Parkway.

Mi primer día allí, le hice una pregunta al maestro (un rabino). Golpeó con fuerza la palma de su mano sobre su escritorio y rugió: “¡Porque es así!” Eso fue todo para mí. Seguí yendo a la escuela según lo requerido hasta mi bar mitzvah cuando tenía 13 años.

Mis amigos y yo solíamos parar antes de la escuela en la pizzería a la vuelta de la esquina donde cada uno tenía una porción. Luego cruzaríamos la calle hacia la panadería de bagels y cada uno obtendría un bagel recién salido del horno. Pensé que me convertía en un buen judío comer el bagel después de la pizza.

Al principio, uno de los niños de la clase se inclinó en su escritorio para atarse el zapato. El rabino lo amonestó, diciendo que no podía tocar un libro sagrado después de tocar su zapato sucio. Tuvo que ir a lavarse las manos. Entonces, la mayoría de los días, me agachaba y me ataba el zapato solo para que me sacaran de la clase.

Una vez, mi amigo Elliott y yo (él está parado detrás de mí en la foto del estrado de abajo de mi bar mitzvah; haz clic en la imagen para ver más de cerca; de los 11 “amigos de la escuela” en el estrado de dos niveles, ahora creo que 7 ni siquiera me consideraba un amigo; mi madre quería hacer un buen espectáculo) … pero volviendo a Elliott: Pasamos una hora tirando bombas de cereza en el aseo de hombres. Nadie vino nunca a ver lo que estaba pasando. Estoy avergonzado de eso ahora. Una cosa es perder la fe, y otra es no tener respeto por los demás o la propiedad. Curiosamente, de todos mis amigos en ese momento, Elliott era el más educado, respetuoso y brillante. Y yo era un buen chico, tal vez un poco franco, pero bueno. No sé qué nos pasó. Pero Elliott era el que tenía las bombas de cereza.

• My impersonation of a lounge lizard. I thought I looked so cool.

• Mi personificación de un “lounge lizard.” [¿Lagarto de salón?] Pensé que me veía tan genial.

• Dale at 15 and me at 13. Fourteen years later, she’d be dead of cancer and I’d be out of the closet. Neither of us had any religion.
• Dale a los 15 y yo a los 13. Catorce años después, ella estaría muerta de cáncer y yo estaría fuera del armario. Ninguno de nosotros tenía ninguna religión.

• Cheesy. My father emptied his wallet. I was annoyed that all he had was $38. It didn’t matter. Just like in the TV series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” my parents kept any cash I received to pay for the reception.

Cursi. Mi padre vació su billetera. Me molestó que todo lo que tenía fueran $38. No importaba. Al igual que en la serie de televisión “La maravillosa señora Maisel”, mis padres se quedaron con el dinero que recibí para pagar la recepción.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

34 thoughts on “Secular Renaissance / Renacimiento secular”

    1. Debra:
      I cherish that photo. It was rare for girls to have bat mitzvahs at the time. There was one girl in my prep class. She was an only child from immigrant parents, so that might have had something to do with it. Now, it seems to be, if not the norm, at least very common.

  1. If you and I would have been in any class together it would have been TROUBLE! lol
    I was just telling Ron about my experience in Roman Catholic boys school and then I saw this post.
    Grade 2……Wednesday benediction at the church after lunchtime. Both girls school and boys school fill the church. Must have been Lent as we were all listening to priest going around the Stations of the Cross. He gets to ‘Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus’ station. For some reason (I think the way he said Veronica) my friend LeRoy and I lost it!
    Incontrollable laughter spewing out of two seven year olds.
    The priest was furious. Once we were back in class we both got strapped…….first time for us. It hurt.
    My father was furious but back in those days there wasn’t much he felt he could do.
    Hey, you and I turned out alright, I’d say, in spite of, or because of, our religious schooling.

    1. Jim:
      I really was a good kid. It shows what an awful affect that had on me. Were Betty, Archie, Jughead, and Reggie there when Veronica wiped the face of Jesus? I would have lost it, too.

  2. I have a similar jacket to your “lounge lizard” look — just sayin’.

    Your parents used your Bar Mitzvah money to pay for the reception? Was that a common thing to do? Seems like that money should have been yours!

    There is no quicker way to turn a kid off than answer “BECAUSE I SAID SO” when they ask a question! (Which is basically what your rabbi was saying.) That IS a very religious response, though.

    You must treasure that photo of you with Dale, even if it doesn’t quite depict you as you were deep down.

    1. Steve:
      It must have been around 2 in the morning. My grandparents were staying with us, so they were in my parents’ bedroom. Dale was asleep on a sofa and my parents took her room. They were sitting and counting the money when I walked in to say goodnight and thank you. I was shocked and my father said, you got a big party. This is how we pay for it. The reception cost $4,000. They made a profit. But I also got a lot of savings bonds and that was my money more than 10 years later. I thought this was just my parents, but then “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” had a bar mitzvah episode where the “bar mitzvah boy” walked in on his parents doing the same thing, with the same explanation. And, yes, that is one of my most treasured photos with Dale. We were truly connected at that moment. She looked down embarrassed.

  3. It’s nice to see your lounge lizard talents expand past singing, I see you’re able to hold your tips behind your ears. It’s just struck me how much hair you used to have! And you look just as well either way. Beautiful pictures though

    1. Mistress Borghese:
      Oh, I had great hair. I like myself bald. I would like it better, however, if it were my choice. I don’t know why that even matters. You should hear me sing… well, maybe you shouldn’t.

  4. I love that dinner jacket/tuxedo – it is rather stylish! I have a similar one, cut bolero-style, that used to fit me but now doesn’t… 😢 Jx

    1. Jon:
      I wish I had still had that tuxedo. I’d have the jacket made into a waistcoat (vest). At 8 inches taller and 6 stone (84 pounds) heavier, I don’t “think” it would fit otherwise. At 13, I was 5’6″ and a bit over 7 stone (100 pounds)! [I converted to American for other readers.]

      1. Some things we wore in our youth are probably left behind in that era – I used to wear 28 inch waist jeans; nowadays it’s 34″… Jx

      2. Jon:
        When I graduated high school, super-wide, ground-dragging (so you couldn’t see your shoes) bell-bottom jeans were in style. Mine were a 28-inch waist and 36-inch length. There was only one shop in Brooklyn that had my size. 6’2″ and 125 pounds (9 stone). Now I wear 32/34.

  5. Your tuxedo was so stylish for the time — and that is a lovely photo of you and your sister, Dale!

    No matter the denomination, uber religious schools all seem to be the same: terrible wreckers of children’s self-esteem!

    1. Tundra Bunny:
      Fortunately that orthodox school was once a week simply for my supposed Jewish education until I was bar mitzvah(ed). It simply destroyed my respect for religious instruction. My lack of interest in religion would have come eventually either way. That photo of my with Dale is one of my treasures. I remember the moment distinctly. We looked into each others eyes with so much adoration and she then looked down embarrassedly just as he snapped.

    1. Larrymuffin:
      Because I was underage, the bills could only be placed behind my ears and lapels.

    1. Bob:
      As I wrote this, I was surprised by myself. I could be a little bit of a smart aleck in school, but never rude and disrespectful. It just shows how I was affected by that. The cherry bombs were so much fun. They were banned that same year.

  6. Catholic school (didn’t take Latin until high school), “confirmation” at 13, no reception…maybe dinner with the family and grandma. Might have got some small amount of cash from aunts and uncles. So similar, so different.

    1. Frank:
      Our backgrounds would have been similar in many ways, but bar mitvahs were something else. Like a wedding for a 13-year-old.

  7. Mitchell,
    I loved this post. The photo of you and your sister is absolutely priceless and your caption just confirms that one never knows what is around the corner. The photo actually brought tears to my eyes. I can see how you are looking at your sister and it warmed my heart. Thanks for sharing stories of your childhood. Though I am not Jewish, the stories of the rabbi reminded me of stories I could tell of the priest that I hated. He would interrogate us during Monday “church school” and ask us why we weren’t in church the previous Sunday. He would do it in front of everyone. As if a kid has any real control over that. I was 8 or 9 years old! That was the beginning for me to be turned off from organized religion.

    1. Mitchell:
      The photo now makes me smile with the memory of that moment. It used to bring tears to my eyes, too. Yeah, rabbis and priests… cut from similar “cloth.”

  8. Monotheism is supposed to be a refutation of pagan beliefs, in particular such practices as idol worship. Yet it seems a bit like idol worship if you say one can’t touch a holy book (I presume you’re talking about the Hebrew Bible, the basis for Christianity’s Old Testament) after touching one’s shoe because it somehow becomes sullied, as if the physicality of the book is more important than the book’s contents, which, if you’re a believer, should be beyond sullying.

    Sorry to come across as an egghead here–trust me I’m not–but I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately.

    1. Kirk:
      Interesting thoughts. It wasn’t a bible we studied from but I can’t remember what it was called. After my father died, SG had a lot of questions that I couldn’t answer. My aunt (father’s sister) bought us two books, The Jewish Book of Why and the Second Jewish Book of Why. We no longer have them (the move to Spain) but they were very enlightening. Many of the answers surprised me. The things I was told were Jewish law when I was growing up were often simply American Jewish traditions that people thought were law. I remember being told the prayer shawl, prayer books, and other holy things could not be thrown out and had to be buried. I don’t think that’s actually true but it’s certainly a commonly held belief.

  9. I think I missed something in my adolescence. I don’t really know what a “cherry bomb” is. I’ve heard of them, of course, but I don’t know that I’ve seen one. I remember firecrackers and smoke bombs, but not the cherry. I suppose I should google them and see what they are, but I’m afraid that the secret internet police will think I’m a terrorist or something.

    1. Walt the Fourth:
      Oh, cherry bombs were so much fun. We’d light then and throw them across the room or at a wall outside. The wall wasn’t necessary. They were apparently very dangerous and were banned in 1966, probably the same year of our men’s room cherry bombing.

    1. Ron:
      I absolutely do. I remember the moment and it was filled with love… until she started to giggle.

  10. That’s a lovely photo with Dale, you lounge lizard. In movies and TV shows with bar mitzvahs, they always talk about all the money the kid gets, or later kids will pay for some big thing with their bar mitzvah money. My parents would have kept the money to pay for the party, too.

    Love,
    Janie

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