Before I start my speech, let me start by telling you what I am not going to say today.
I am definitely not going to say “Thank you” to Lindy. Because in the last weeks, Lindy has told me a couple of times, that she found it hypocritical and embarrassing when husbands stand up in front of everybody to praise and thank their wives and say “what a wonderful work they have done, how great the party is, etc.” … So … Lindy, you can sleep tight … I will not do it.
I will not stand in front of everybody and thank you for all the incredible work you have done with Noah days after days after days to prepare this wonderful event (along with Norm, and Ketty, and Rica, and Sandy). I will definitely not thank you either for being such a wonderful mom to Noah … years after years … I will absolutely not say: thank-you for being so dedicated … thank-you for being there when the time gets tough … thank-you for the countless hours … thank you for the sleepless nights … thank you for the support and encouragements … thank you for the kisses and the smiles … thank-you for all the love and affection! I won’t say it Lindy. I know it would embarrass you … but no worry … you can count on me … not a word!
What I will say are a few stories that have happened in the Botman-Amato family in the last weeks.
First of all, I wanted to say is that we indeed worked hard as a family gearing up to this wonderful event. Especially Noah.
He has worked extremely hard for months with his mom and with his Papou. I want to tell him how proud we all are … not only because of his achievements this morning … but for being such a loving, kind and generous person. Noah, as I have told you many times before: … you are definitely my favorite son!
Do you remember, a few weeks ago we were driving home from school and talking “entre-hommes” as we sometimes do when mom is not around. You told me: “Dad … do you know what I want to be when I grow-up?” I was expecting the usual suspects … Astronaut … Zoo keeper … Archeologist … Myth-Buster … But you said: “When I grow up, … I want to be kind like you” … I was driving and wearing sun glasses … so you did not see the mist in my eyes and still today when I think about it … “si j’ai de l’eau dans les yeux, c’est qu’il me pleut sur le visage”.
Noah, You are definitely the best answer to my existential angst about the meaning of life.
In the last few weeks we spoke about your Bar Mitzvah … a lot. And we had a few interesting discussions. We were driving home from your Bar Mitzvah lesson at Papou and Granny and spoke about the fact that during your Bar Mitzvah you would say: “to this day I have been a Jew by birth alone … and today I am re-affirming my commitment to the tribe” … or something of that nature. We spoke about the importance of that commitment … and what it also meant to be a “Jew by birth alone”. You said: “I am Jewish because my mom is Jewish” … and we spoke about the hereditary transmission of the Jewish identity from generation to generation, from mother to son and mother to daughter. We also spoke about its limitations … you may know your mom, and your grand mother, and great great great grand mother … but there is not way for anyone to be able to trace a continued lineage for tens … let alone for hundreds or thousands of generations … all the way back to Abraham …
In fact, talking about Abraham, I recently overheard a conversation between two orthodox Jews (but I personally can’t believe it) regarding some questions raised about the fact that the Rabbi that converted Abraham may actually have been … reformed?!!!
I remember that as we spoke about all of this, you were getting quite anxious. “How can I be sure that my mother is actually Jewish … if I can’t trace her ancestry back to Abraham?” Well Noah … I asked your uncle Dave, who is as you know extremely knowledgeable about Judaism … I said: “Dave, how can anyone be absolutely sure that their mom is Jewish? … Mitochondrial DNA testing might be an option … but I’m too sure …”
Simple, Dave said : “you know when you wake up in the middle of the night to make a pee … you tiptoe your way quietly to the bathroom … you get back to your bedroom 2 minutes later … if your bed is made … you know your mother is Jewish!”
Noah, now that you are totally re-assured about your mother being Jewish … let’s address the important part of this ceremony … the fact that today you are deliberately and freely choosing to be Jewish. Today, you are choosing to be one of the chosen people! Of course that brings up a fundamental philosophical question: Can one truly choose to be chosen? … or is it essentially an oxymoronic pursuit ? … I guess that could be a good question for Dr Lepinsky to debate in a future lesson … When we discussed this issue, your mom quickly came up with a great answer … (As always … she is so bright … it gets annoying sometimes) … she said: “God did not choose the Jews … it is the Jews that chose God”.
Essentially, what you are doing today is choosing God and choosing to be Jewish as your ancestors have done … starting with Abraham. Being Jewish by birth and through genetic lineage cannot be proven beyond a few generations … but the commitment that you are taking today and the choice you are making in front of your family and friends can never be disputed.
You mom and I are certain that you will be a great Jewish man during the life that extent ahead of you. Don’t take this privilege lightly, if they could many would actually wish to be Jewish. Even John Lennon – fascinated as he was by Hinduism – was quite envious of the Jews. He wrote a famous song about it called “I’m just a jealous goy”.
Now of course, talking about what it means to be Jewish, I must also explain (especially for those of you who are not Jewish … and I know that there are quite a few here today) … I must explain that in Judaism, there are only 2 main tribes.
In our family we are part of the 2 main tribes of Israel … Lindy and Noah are from one tribe and I am from the other tribe.
You surely all know the first tribe … the famous tribe of Moses. Lindy and Noah are Jewish through the tribe of Moses. But what very few people know … is that Moses had many brothers in Egypt … some well known and some less known. Some of you have probably heard of his brothers Tut’Moses, and Ah’Moses who both became famous Pharaoh in Egypt … but very little is know about his twin brother Oz’Moses who actually started the second tribe of Israel.
Lindy and Noah are Jewish through Moses. I am Jewish … through Oz’Moses. (No need to hold a PHD in biochemistry to understand that lineage …)
Noah, … One last story … to end my speech … As you know, at your age, I was being raised in a catholic boarding school and at the time, had never met anyone Jewish. I was obviously light-years away from thinking that I would one day stand in front of family and friends to celebrate my son’s Bar Mitzvah!
Jewish people were not very central to the catholic teaching … except maybe for this naughty Jewish boy … you know … from Nazareth … who used to make jokes all the time … like turning water into wine and walking on water.
Talking about walking on water, as some of you may know, we just came back from a wonderful family vacation in Turkey, Greece and Israel to celebrate Noah’s Bar Mitzvah and re-trace the footsteps of his ancestors … with Noah’s grand parents, Norm and Ketty, uncle, aunt, Rica and Aron and cousins. While at the sea of Galilee we wanted to take a water taxi for a small excursion across the lake … when he saw the price for the crossing, Norm said: … “No wonder Jesus walked!” …
Noah, when I turned 15, I spent a couple of weeks in Poland with a good friend of mine. It was in the mid-seventies … long before Solidarnosc and about 15 years before the fall of the Berlin wall. Westerners were not allowed in East Germany and Poland … we managed to get in, because my friends grand parents were still living there and the authorities agreed to let us in for a short visit.
We visited Auschwitz … it was totally abandoned … old wooden barracks and rusting barb wires … we spent an entire afternoon alone on a quiet and peaceful summer day walking along the deserted alleys one of the greatest tragedy of humanity.
At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about Judaism … but let me tell you, as I stood in Auschwitz, in a dark and bleak corridor with thousands of black and white pictures and thousands of Jewish souls surrounding me, I realized what it truly meant to be Jewish in the way they were Jewish: … a resolute and continued hope towards the very best in mankind.
I realized what a difficult privilege it sometimes is to choose to be a fragile but enduring flame of humanity in a world of darkness.
Noah, this is my sense of Jewishness … the way I see it and I would wish it to be … And the way I wish it to be for you for the rest of your life: … a fragile but enduring flame of humanity in a world of darkness.
Some will tell you that Jewish People always strive to do better … to get higher … to achieve greater goals … But I will tell you that much more important in life is to seek love, truth, compassion, tolerance, reconciliation, justice, peace … and to keep this fragile flame alive in your heart … always.