Lest We Forget

a touring exhibition of visual art and prose vignettes illustrating the early years of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany
and the refugee experience.

Today I Am a Man

I like Yorkville Junior High. After the last bell of the school day, I walk to Hebrew School. I’m in the last throes of preparing for my bar mitzvah—my passage to manhood. Rabbi Ruben coaches me to chant from the Torah and read my Haftorah portion. The words in the Torah are written without vowels. And I’m supposed to learn little squiggles, “chant marks.” I continue to confuse these little scratches that tell me how to pitch my voice and how long I should hold the note.
On my big day, I wake up thinking, “Today I am a man.” In my new suit, I walk to the synagogue. Papa and I take our seats in the sanctuary. Women must sit in the balcony so Mutti and my grandmother, Omi, climb the stairs. The main stage, the tebáh, is in the center of the synagogue, a raised platform. A reading stand faces Jerusalem. Long wooden pews surround the platform.
Several men take a Torah out of the ark that stands at the front of the sanctuary. They parade the Torah to the tebáh. The rabbi calls my name.
I read from the Torah pretending I am a theater star.
Next I read Haftorah. I hear myself reading faster and faster. I’m finished.
The rabbi recites the responsibilities of a Jewish male who has made the covenant. When I leave the tebáh I am a man. Papa shakes my hand. “Mazel tov,” he whispers. I am taller than my father.
On Sunday I do my homework so that I’m ready for school. The reality of my “manhood” can be found in the old Jewish Haiku:
Today I am a man.
Tomorrow I will return
to the seventh grade.

Click on the art to see an enlarged image.