Charles E. Savenor
Charles E. Savenor

Decision Time – An Open Letter to our Son

Turning an iPod into iGod

Dear Benjy,

Mazal tov! Mommy and I are so proud of you. You did a great job, as we knew you would. All your hard work paid off.

I want to begin by thanking my colleagues at Park Avenue Synagogue for making today special – the clergy, facilities, and administrative teams. A special shout-out to AV for the livestream that has enabled friends from as far away as Israel, Hungary, Egypt, and California be here today, along with family and friends who live closer than that.

One of my favorite memories of you, Benjy, is when you were nine-years-old and got an iPod Touch. You were so excited by the array of apps and games at your fingertips. Like many of us, you were also fascinated by your new assistant, the technological marvel known as Siri. Your glee overflowed as Siri answered questions about Boston sports and Marvel superheroes, frequently with its unique sense of humor.

Learning that an iPod would address you any way you wanted, you jokingly asked Siri to call you “God.” This “iGod” episode would have been a cute story about boys and their toys, except you didn’t realize that our online accounts are linked.

You can imagine my utter bewilderment when my personal emails suddenly switched from my name to that of the Almighty?! God@aol.com!

Needless to say, this problem was rectified immediately, and you – and Siri – promised not to get into trouble, and never to play God again.

After a good laugh with Mommy, I began to wonder what it might mean to “play God.” In addition to the responsibility for running the universe, this divine job includes immense power. What could we humans do with such control?

Your bar mitzvah parsha, Haazinu, is in many ways about control. As Moses contemplates his life, it becomes clear that things didn’t turn out the way he wanted. He got the Jewish people so far – to the border of the Promised Land, only to be told that he would not enter with them. Moses doesn’t hold back how painful and disappointing this situation is. But, instead of giving up, he does everything in this power to make sure that they are prepared for the road ahead.

Moshe Rabbeinu teaches us that while we don’t have much control over how life unfolds, we do have control over how we respond.

You bar mitzvah is a moment we have waited for and planned for years with deep excitement. We have dreamt about this moment as soon as you were born 13 years ago.

Yet, in this unpredictable world, your Bar Mitzvah looks different than we imagined it. Due to Covid over the past 18 months, we – along with countless families – had to arrange and rearrange our plans many times. Planning your Bar Mitzvah has been an never-ending game of Whack-A-Mole.

In the past year alone, if Covid wasn’t enough, our family dealt with illness, job changes, Zoom school, cancelled camp, delayed vacations, social distancing with family, hurricanes, and, most recently, the death of our beloved Uncle Bob z”l.

In the midst of these challenges, what has become clear to Mommy and me is that you have a reservoir of strength that guides how can you respond to life’s challenges. That you have resilience that is fueled by courage, confidence, and kindness.

Your choice of supporting “Dancing While Cancering” as your Bar Mitzvah project is an affirmation of your character. This important organization is not just about making sick children happy; the Maddie Kramer Foundation teaches an attitude about life. Whenever I think of our cousin Maddie z”l, I can see her dancing and smiling and playing. Her choice in the face of illness she could not understand was to dance. In the face of a scary and painful unknown, she chose to celebrate life.

Benjy, it’s decision time. How do you want to approach life?

Your Bar Mitzvah is not just about a moment. It’s about momentum. It’s about how you will approach life as a Jew from now and forever more.

As you know, Park Avenue Synagogue holds a special place in our family’s heart because it is where we have celebrated many of life’s most joyous moments. Mommy and I were married here, as well as Grandma and Papa. Today is the fulfillment of the blessings we received under the huppah.

And yet, when I think about you and PAS, Benjy, I don’t just think about this bimah, my mind jumps to our synagogue’s Civil Rights Trip to the South 3 years ago with Etgar 36. In addition to doing roll call on the bus, you made sure you were part of the conversation with the teens and adults about things that matter. I can still see your brother, Joseph, and you walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

One of the people who marched across that bridge 50 years ago was Rep. John Lewis. In fact, he was beaten up there for daring to stand up for civil rights. Rep. Lewis once said something that speaks to you today: “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Benjy, you are a great kid. You are funny, smart, creative, and insightful. And from the iPhone story, we know you like a little mischief here and there.

As a Bar Mitzvah, I want to encourage to keep getting in trouble; the kind Rep John Lewis called “good trouble.” Use your questions to illuminate injustice. Employ your humor to make others feel welcome, and utilize your intellect to make our world better.

Benjy, it’s decision time. We are confident that you will make the right ones!

Love You Always,

Dad

About the Author
Rabbi Charlie Savenor works at New York's Park Avenue Synagogue as the Director of Congregational Education. A graduate of Brandeis, JTS and Columbia University's Teachers College, he blogs on parenting, education, and leadership. In addition to supporting IDF Lone Soldiers, he serves on the International boards of Leket Israel and Gesher.
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