I am Jewish, and I live with my family in Beijing; the capital city of China. When I was young, I divided my life into two essential aspects, family and education. I would attend school every morning and complete my homework on time. It was always exciting to spend quality time with my family and to present them with my grades. I adore my parents so much because they brought me well and in a good home. As I was growing up, the Jewish people were ill treated and viewed as harmful to the society. The beliefs led to a series of discriminations against Jewish people; therefore, I could not reveal my religion to my classmates for fear of discrimination.
Since childhood, I was trying to avoid displaying my religious beliefs and affiliations to the public. Whenever I wore a kippah, people would burn me with the laser lights coming off their eyes, and sometimes would even spit on the floor to express their disgust towards my religion. Often, they would shout "chernomazie ponaehali" (these black bastards keep coming to this country"), which is a discriminative phrase used to show both treatment of Jews as colored people and the message that the Russian land is meant for Russians, not for migrants who steal jobs and territory. I knew that Jews have suffered a lot due to their religious beliefs in the world dominated by Christians, and I would often ask my parents if the preservation of some ideas was worth sacrificing tranquility for the whole Jewish population. I could not walk comfortably beside my family during the holidays when we had to wear complete religious attire. Often, I would walk far behind them pretending to enjoy the beauty of the parks and their surroundings. I always tried to hide my religion and pretended not to be a Jew.
When I attained the age of thirteen in the year 2010, November 11th, I knew that there would be no other party with friends and family. According to the Jewish culture, the 13th birthday of a boy indicates that he becomes "Bar mitzvah," which means that he is mature enough to be accountable for his actions. One of the most precious moments in every religious community is the moment when a young male develops and becomes responsible. In our Jewish tradition, that central symbol is Torah, the revelation to Moses on Sinai and all the rules that were issued to him over some three thousand years. When Jewish children attain ages around twelve for girls and thirteen for boys, they become bat mitzvah which means the daughter of the commandment, or bar mitzvah (son of the commandment). The eleventh day of November has marked my transition from childhood to spiritual adulthood, and I became bar mitzvah.
I woke up early that day because the birds in my head had been whistling Hava Nagila very loudly since six oclock in the morning, the most awaited day in my life had come. I wanted a transformation and stood in front of a mirror trying to find any visible change. My Rabbi kept telling me that I had to look for the changes within my inner-self and that I would feel them infiltrating my soul during the ceremony.
Torah is a transformation," I heard the Rabbi say this at least once during every class. I began attending the Shabbat prayer services at the synagogue in Beijing a year before the event so as to learn Hebrew and be familiar with the basic concepts of Judaism. In the
Middle of September, I was already eligible to lay tefillin, so I began practicing and prepared to fulfill the obligations that I was about to face. During that time I had been living in Beijing for five years since relocating from Russia. I felt the sense of belonging there, given the fact that I got used to Chinese culture, people, and traditions. I learned how to relate to different types of people from various parts of the world.
The Chinese New Year became my most anticipated holiday, since I loved fireworks, and the people in Beijing launch the fireworks for at least two weeks after the New Years Eve in February. New Year in Beijing is the time when you can lie in bed and feel like there is a war taking place outside the four walls of your room. I once heard a loud explosion at two o'clock in the morning that seemed to occur in the next room. I felt the sound waves shooting my ears, some of them dancing on the walls of my room to irritate me, and then flying into my ears after partying, tired, with less intensity. I had to get off from the bed to check my parents' room. They were sleeping like tired babies while green, yellow, and red lights were racing through the window onto the ceiling of the room.
Even though my family loved Beijing, we all decided that my "Bar Mitzvah" was to take place in New York, United States because most of my relatives and a huge Jewish community live there. We arrived at the synagogue in the Ocean Parkway Jewish Center at six o'clock in the morning.
My Rabbi was waiting for me at the doors, stroking his long beard and tightening the skin around his eyes to see me better from a distance; we walked into the building together. I was so excited that I did not even notice the people assembled in the synagogue ready for the ritual. I stood in the center of the hall and began placing the black leather boxes containing the scrolls of verses from Torah, called "Tefillin," on my upper arm and above the forehead.
It was an honor for me to touch and read the Torah for the first time in my life, as it marked eternal connection to and God's protection. I began with the "remembrance" part, expressing my gratitude to God for bringing the Children of Israel out of Egypt. At that particular moment, I understood the meaning of "internal change" that my Rabbi was talking about, I saw myself in my son's bar mitzvah. It was the spiritual maturity that granted me the right to speak to God and consider myself a part of the Jewish culture. It created a feeling of pride and a positive attitude to Judaism within my soul.
The rite of passage from childhood to adulthood not only bestows a new privilege upon me, but it also requires me as a member of the younger generation to engage in a broad set of mitzvot. It includes full participation in congregational life. The ceremony takes place a short time after the 12th or 13th birthday. Although the adult converts to Judaism also celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah as the culmination of their conversion process. The practice has historically been reserved for males. Most contemporary Jewish movements, and synagogues, including Orthodox, have extended this ritual to females as well.
I feel this is not right since the authentic traditions have been altered to create a transition day for the girls. An individual may need several years to prepare for the bar or bat mitzvah. It took me two years to prepare and the year before the rite of passage was the most intense. My paramount goal was to acquire a basic understanding concerning the Hebrew language so that I would be able to read and understand the Torah portion for the day. In the Orthodox and Conservative traditions, the bar mitzvah male can put on tefillin starting the year preceding the event. Some items that the bar mitzvah will bind to his head and arms during weekday prayers have to be bought once he begins practicing, and that same set must be used during the actual consecration. I had to give a brief speech to commemorate my entry into Jewish adulthood and performed numerous community services in keeping with the Jewish values of Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam.
After I had finished reading "The Remembrance" my father was called to the front and stood beside me. It was his time to read his portion of the Torah for the climax of my "Bar Mitzvah" experience. In his reading, Genesis Rabba, Taldot", my father thanked God because he was no longer accountable for my actions and sins. While saying the prayer, he was looking at me and smiling. It was now clear that I had become an adult, and was responsible for my actions. The procedures of the "bar mitzvah" ceremony made me nervous, and I kept questioning myself whether, all these prayer words could have been said on any other day apart from that chosen day. I was curious why the tradition had to happen on that particular day. It was done, and I became an adult, at least, on the spiritual level, and I will carry the weight of responsibility for my actions.
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