How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

January 25, 2011

Public speaking & published writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — howdoyoujew @ 15:25

My mom recently found my bar-mitzvah speech, written and delivered by my 13-year-old self, Oct. 17, 1982. I’m transcribing it here exactly the way it appears on the yellowed copy I used on the bimah:

HONORED RABBIS, GUESTS, FAMILY, AND FRIENDS.

In the beginning of the year my mother asked me if I wanted to have a bar-mitzvah. I immediately blabbed out “yes” without even thinking, because at that particular moment as they say, I didn’t know what I was in for. Well, this started some research into what a bar-mitzvah really is, meaning the ceremony and the name we use for a jewish thirteen-year-old having his bar-mitzvah. Initially, most of my information was taken out of books. I say most because for the other part of my knowledge in this case I have to thank my parents. It was through them that I got involved with people that helped me get through the hardships of becoming a bar-mitzvah. One of these problems was-what am I going to write in my drash? Well, yeah, I was gonna thank everybody for coming, etc, etc, but what else should I write? How about this-my bar-mitzvah! okay, now, what does a bar-mitzvah mean to me? For me it means that on that day I get to put on tefillin, go up to the Ark, and read from the Torah in front of many people. It also means that from that day on I will be more responsible for my actions and deeds. Or maybe I’ll write about this: my Torah reading. And since my Torah reading is about animal sacrifices- what kind of animals when- so I said let’s go for it, so here it is. If all this partying was going on in the Biblical era, what a party we would have! You heard me reading it- we’d be sacrificing at least two bulls, one ram, and, get this- seven yearling lambs! Now if you ask me that is total cruelty to animals, right? Right! By the way, since we’re talking about sacrifices here, I was thinking (and I’m not saying this because I want everybody to pity me). Anyway, I was thinking about what I had to do to sacrifice until now to get my bar-mitzvah “chores” done, and what I’ll have to sacrifice from now on. Of course, these things are’nt exactly going to be rams, bulls, or lambs, but things like time. Time with my friends, time of having just plain ol’ fun, time for watching television, and so on and on… Instead of all these activities I’ll be spending my time thinking of how to fit in the community and society.
Which reminds me. I’m about to switch to another language. A language which has been very hard for me to keep alive in our household, I mean for myself. A language that after four-and-a-half years in America it’s also a hard task to keep going when you came here at age eight-and-a-half like I did. By now I’m sure you’ve all realized this language is Latin. No, seriously, it’s obviously Hebrew, so here I go.

[TRANSLATION OF HEBREW]
Like I said in English, these four-and-a-half years in America were hard. Not only in the beginning when we arrived when it was hard for me to get used to the language, to a new school, and to friends who a) were new to me, and b) spoke only English. I got used to those things within a few months- I started speaking English, and I learned all the time. It wasn’t just because of that. It was hard for me also because all this time I also needed to speak Hebrew at home and somehow not lose my mother tongue. I did this by reading, writing (both writing letters to family in Israel and just writing in Hebrew), and of course talking. Like I said, it was hard. For instance, a few times I needed to ask my parents how to write a certain word, or even how to say a word, but with all these things, and the fact that I very quickly began to think in English, I held on to the Hebrew and even this drash is part of that. Now all this maybe sounds like I’m looking for pity from all of you. And you’re right! Please, I don’t want it to sound like that. But I do want it to sound like I did something. Because I really feel like I succeeded in doing something I’m proud of. I also hope that in the future I’ll continue to hold on to important things like my language. To conclude I will of course say thank you to everyone for coming, and I hope you enjoy!
[END TRANSLATION]

Hi, I’m back! I want to thank everybody for coming, and I hope you enjoy yourselves.
***
Couple of comments:

  • I was careful to transcribe this exactly as it appears on the paper I used, so the “are’nt” and the repeated horrible use of dashes and other writing mistakes are preserved. There are a thousand other little things that make me cringe today, but all in all, I don’t think it’s so awful, considering who I was back then.
  • I had apparently not discovered the wonderful invention of paragraphs yet. Ah, the foibles of youth!
  • Way to not mention the name of the Torah portion you’re talking about there. Amateur. It was, in fact, Numbers 28, the reading for Rosh Chodesh. My bar-mitzvah was observed on a Sunday, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, because at least one important guest (my bar-mitzvah tutor) was shomer Shabbat and couldn’t have attended the ceremony otherwise.
  • My recollection of this speech includes the memory of getting a big laugh at “Hi, I’m back!” (immediately following the Hebrew interlude), which I don’t think I expected, and which completely sold me on the power of public speaking and my self-perceived talent for it.
  • The original copy is typewritten. Like, from a typewriter.

2 Comments »

  1. I’m impressed. One thing I’ve always admired about the Jewish culture is the practicality, and from what I’ve absorbed about the bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, it’s something that is missing from the American culture in these days of the nanny state and PC and “it’s for the chilldrennnn” mindset. Providing a channel for kids to step up to the plate and choose to act and accept responsibility like adults is badly needed in the country today.

    Comment by John Anderson — January 25, 2011 @ 20:31

  2. This doesn’t prevent Jewish kids from doing stupid things like other kids, but it is nice that this is built into the culture. I think it seeps in and means more later. Thanks for the comment!

    Comment by Yiftach Levy — January 26, 2011 @ 15:24

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