My seventh grade football team, the Yorktown Athletic Club Steelers, (Yorktown Heights, New York), won only one game. It was the game I missed because of my bar mitzvah. The rest of the season was a disaster. It wasn’t my fault. I was the best player on the team, even if I am the only one who remembers it that way. My mates missed my services because of the ball game, but arrived elated, albeit sweaty. Seventh grade boys know more about free food than personal grooming. I was actually fine with them missing the service. None of them were Jewish. At that age, I was still skittish about wearing a kippah in front of anyone. But I was inconsolable that I had a miss one game of an eight-game schedule. That was the real issue for me.
We had moved my date into September although my birthday is in November. Anyone who has gone through the b’nai mitzvah process knows that the child must attend services with at least one parent every Shabbos right up to your big day. After that, at least when I was a kid, no one expected to see you again until your wedding day, unless you were “religious.” It’s much different now. The b’nai mitzvah is the beginning of one’s Jewish journey, hardly the finish line it appeared to us in Hebrew School. Kids are given alliyot and encouraged to return. It makes so much more sense to me this way.
But what that meant was effectively eviscerating my entire football season by sitting in shul when I should have been out with my friends, ruining my knees. We begged and pleaded with our rabbi who finally relented by allowing my date to be moved to September so that I could salvage the rest of the season. Often arriving for Hebrew school, or my bar mitzvah lessons, in my uniform pants and an over-sized tee shirt to accommodate my shoulder pads, I prepared for the season, and my entrance into the adult Jewish community. I tucked my helmet and shoulder pads in a corner of the classroom or rabbi’s study so no one would trip.
The guys from my team were just about the only kids I invited. Today’s “rule” is that everyone in the Hebrew School gets an invite. Not so when I was 13. Social Darwinism. I didn’t have one female my age in attendance. Not one. Not that I was opposed to the idea. In fact, I preferred females, but the thought of actually speaking to one or hand-delivering an invitation was disincentive enough. My parents weren’t exactly the “don’t you know any nice girls” kind of party organizers. Conversely, my daughters’ bat mitzvah parties had about 100 kids each, in distinct groups which made for easy table selection: camp friends, school friends, Hebrew school friends, and sports/theatre friends. My young buddies took up one side of the “weird cousins” table. We needed a separate room for my girls’ guests.
And they didn’t miss any of their football games either.