Sweat slipped slowly from my forehead onto the rough cover of my prayer book. My face was flushed and my heart thumping as quickly as a Ferrari in full gear. I opened the book slowly and carefully as if it was a fine piece of china. I looked down hoping not to catch eyes with anyone in the room. I tried to take comfort in the smell of my mom’s sweet perfume and gentle touch to my shoulder, but I was numb. My knees were knobbed and I felt as if the tie around my neck was burning my skin. I looked up at my mom and dad as I fought back tears. When our eyes met, it was if my mom’s eyes were smiling and dancing. My dad so proud that his chest looked as puffed up as bag of popcorn hot off the stove. It was my Bar Mitzvah day. I know I had planned this for as long as I could remember, but I stood there and everything around me was just fuzzy. Could I do this?
I could hear my relatives quietly chatting as I sat there silent hoping they did not hear as my teeth started chattering. I saw my dad mumbling something to me, but if was as is I was watching a silent movie. He put his moist hand on my back jolting me to look up. There I saw the rabbi pointing and mouthing words to me with a straight face.
“Let’s do this!”, the rabbi said.
I could feel the two hundred eyes in the room staring at me as I approached the steps to the bema. I held tightly to the handrail as I felt the room spin. The rabbi came up to me, putting his scratchy, matted beard next to my soft face. The cantor was signing in a raspy voice as I moved closer. The microphone made a piercing noise the closer I inched towards it. I stuttered and my voice cracked as I welcomed the Congregation to my Bar Mitzvah. I felt as if a set of butterflies were flying free in my stomach. I looked up and saw my parents and grandparents smiling.
My brother mouthed, “You’ve got this” as I took the pointer into my hand.
I unrolled the thick Torah as if it was the most cherished of rugs. It smelled like our old musty basement, and I tried not to gag. My hand was sweaty and I did my best to not let the pointer drop. I was surprised at how gritty the torah pages looked up close. The pages were yellow and worn like some books on my grandmother’s bookshelf and it occurred to me how many people have read from this same torah and probably felt just as I was. It somehow assured me that I could get through this.
I sang and chanted every word I had learned and memorized for as long as I could remember. I imagined I was sitting with my tutor at his dining room table and heard him chant the words along with me. I could feel my shoulders drop, my hands cool and realized I was having fun. I was giggling inside looking at my brother whose mouth was dropped as he heard me mutter each and every sound to perfection. Not only did I question if I could do this, but I know he secretly did too. The four hour service that normally feels like a week was flying by. I was confused when I began to see the congregation stand up to leave and my parents approach me. My mom’s perfume engulfed me as she announced to anyone who would listen just how proud she was of me. My brother started tickling me and my dad interrupted screaming how proud he was. He didn’t however need to scream it, because as proud of me as he was, I was more proud of myself.
I said, “That’s it? Can I do it again?”