Watching my kids prepare for the upcoming B’nai has brought back a lot of memories from the days and weeks before my Bar Mitzvah. A few weeks ago, my kids, wife and I met with the Rabbi for a rehearsal. It was similar to the meeting I had thirty plus years ago in the weeks leading up to my big day. My meeting is forever etched in my mind because I dreaded it for months.
My Rabbi was this large, big chested man. He never smiled and my one interaction with him was when he yelled at me when I was ten. Thinking back, it was because I was running through the sanctuary during Sunday school. His scolding terrified me. I remember his booming Charlton Heston’ stopped me in my tracks and struck fear in my heart. “SCOTT, STOP RUNNING RIGHT NOW! It sounded as if Moses was yelling down from the top of the mountain.
His office was located in the bottom floor of the synagogue. I remember walking down the stairs in silence. There were no sounds, no people around, just my fears and me. It felt as if I was heading into a dungeon, not sure what was awaiting me.
As I approached the doorway to his office, I noticed a framed Fiddler on The Roof poster hanging on the wall directly behind him. The production starred my Rabbi. That didn’t do anything to calm my nerves.
“Come in,” he said in his booming voice. “Have a seat and tell me how you’re feeling about the Bar Mitzvah preparation.”
As I made my way slowly toward the chair opposite the Rabbi It took all my strength to muster an answer. “Good,” I whispered.
I was so nervous. I started to sweat. The walls felt as if they were closing in on me. Running out of the room wasn’t an option. However, I couldn’t have a conversation with him, let alone recite my Torah portion if I felt this terrified. My only option was to confront what the fear. So, I did it. I said what had to be said.
It felt like an outer body experience. The words rolled off my tongue slowly. “Rabbi, sir, I have to tell you something.”
“Ok, Scott,” channeling his inner Charlton Heston.
“I think…you’re scary,” I said. I wasn’t sure what he was going to say. My head was spinning. Was I in trouble? Was he going to call my parents?
The Rabbi paused, stared at me, and for the first time, I saw him smile. He winked and put me at ease when he said “It’s the voice, right?”
The wink and words put me at ease. My fear was replaced with confidence. Just like the Bar Mitvah, perhaps this was another sign that I was growing up