Somewhere in the world, enclosed in a decorated silvery metal case, and packed in a cardboard box with all of my other memories is a video tape of my 13th birthday.
This was the day I became a man in the eyes of the Jewish faith. This was also the day I stood before the congregation of my synagogue to read and chant from the parchment scrolls known as the Torah.
I recited prayer in Hebrew—not because I knew how to read or understood the Hebrew language, but because I memorized the portions I was responsible for while cheating from the audio of a cassette tape.
After the service was complete and all the hugs or handshakes were exchanged; after the prayer over the wine, and a quick toast in the Temple’s reception area, family and invited friends gathered with us to celebrate this day.
Aside from the video, there is a photo album with a blue-leathered cover.
Located in the bottom right corner of the front cover and written in golden lettering is my name. “Ben Kimmel,” with date of, “September 14, 1985,” printed beneath it.
Tucked between the first and second page of the album is a silver-gray envelope. Inside the envelope is one of the invitations from this event.
The invitation is contemporary in design.
The colors are gray, white, and maroon, and at the bottom edge is my full name, “Benjamin,” printed in white with a maroon background.
The invitation reads:
“Please share with us,
one of the most important moments
of our lives when our son
becomes a Bar Mitzvah
Saturday, the fourteenth of September
Nineteen hundred and eighty-five
ten o’clock in the morning
Ali and Ron Kimmel.”
Services were held at Temple Emanuel on Merrick Avenue in East Meadow. The reception followed at an address on Hillside Avenue in New Hyde Park, but the memory of this is too distant to recall any details.
I recently thumbed through this photo album. In fact, the album sits next to me as I write to you.
My suit and tie outfit matched the fashion of the times. My Father wore a dark blue suit, with a light blue shirt beneath and a burgundy colored necktie. My brother’s suit was similar in color. His shirt was white and the color of his tie was also burgundy. My mother wore a blue and white dress with white star-like symbols woven across the left shoulder, and a blue hat that slanted downward and to the left.
I wore a dark blue suit, white shirt, and a matching dark blue tie. My hair was parted in the middle; the sides were feathered and my small, boyish face was certainly thin.
We were all so irretrievably young then. My father’s hair was less gray and my mother’s skin was wrinkle-free. My brother was well on his way to become who he is now, and I was transformed into manhood beneath the eyes of God.
The Old Man gave me a gift, which I am to keep in my family and hand down as a tradition. The gift was a Siddur, or Jewish prayer book. The pages were yellowed with age and the once golden edges of each page were worn down to a soft glimmer. The brown leather cover had been beaten throughout the years. The book itself was small, but its meaning was tremendous.
In a speech at the reception, The Old Man explained, “This Siddur was given to me by my father on my Bar Mitzvah. And now I give this to you to hand down to your youngest son on his Bar Mitzvah.”
I still have that prayer book. I keep it wrapped in one of The Old Man’s scarves and zipped in a blue velvet bag. I find it sometimes—the bag, I mean.
But not when I look for it. No, when I look for the bag, I never find it.
Instead, I find it when my world seems to turn upside down. I find it on the perfect occasions of sadness or hard times, ever reminding me that although he has gone; The Old Man has never left me.
I do not have any photos from any other birthdays—except for one.
Somewhere in the world, there is a cardboard box with an incriminating photograph of me receiving a lap dance on my 21st birthday at a Monday night football party. And as big as my smile was in the photographs on my 13th birthday, the smile on my face with three women draped on my body at my 21st was equally big, if not larger.
I was so irretrievably young then . . .
I suppose manhood is relative and it comes in different stages.
I will be 42 tomorrow. The number alone sounds strange to me, as if I should be an adult now—or at least mature. And I think I’m mature
(At least a little)
My body does not work as well as it used to. The prescription in my eyeglasses has changed over the years and my waistline has certainly grown. My back is not what it once was.. Neither are my knees and hips, and while they are not fashionably wonderful, there are mornings when I understand the desire for Velcro shoes.
My concerns now are different than the struggles of my youth. I have more bills to pay. I have concerns about the future of my country, and the welfare of my family. I have a mother to care for, which laces the beauty of her younger photographs with a taste of sadness. She has aged so much. Her memory is poor and her health is moving close to an end, which is hard to see.
Aging is part of living and so is all that comes folded in the crazy edges of each and every day. Life is eventual and inevitable.
But if I am as lucky as I hope to be, decades will pass, and I will find a picture of me from my life at 42 years.
I’ll look back at who I was, smile, and think the same thing . . .
I was so irretrievably young then.