Bar mitzvah season has officially begun at the Hirsch house.
This means a few things:
- I’ll be living in my car, in addition to walking Dovid from party to Shabbos kiddush to party to kiddush for the foreseeable future. This can be a new workout regimen referred to simply as the “bar-mitzvah”
- I should probably start thinking about planning Dovid’s bar mitzvah. I’m gonna stop procrastinating, starting now. Or maybe like, in another week. Then for sure. Positively.
Bar mitzvah season is exciting for the boys in the grade. And I’m sure it’s way less complicated when your father doesn’t pass away when you’re 12 and you’re left to worry about getting to davening on time for Kaddish.
A lot of boys I know wouldn’t worry much if they were placed in that predicament because, well, they’re 12. And at that age, you worry about your favorite sports leagues doing well, getting a good lunch that day in school, or what fun giveaways you’ll score at the next bar mitzvah.
But Dovid is different. And so, for the kickoff bar mitzvah this past Shabbos, I should’ve known that the wheels in his head were turning overtime, to figure out how to not stress about making Kaddish on time for the davening taking place around a 25-minute walk from us.
“Mommy, can you find out what time Island shul has hashkamah minyan?” asked Dovid.
My kid is so much smarter than me, it’s embarrassing.
“His idea?” asked my father when I pitched the idea over WhatsApp.
“Certainly not mine!” I responded. Sorta wish it was, but would I ever expect my kid to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on a Shabbos morning to get dressed and run out on a semi-dark morning to shul?
But I had to admit it made sense. That’s the thing with Dovid. He’s a thinker, like Moshe. It’s my comfort when I worry about my kids. Having Dovid lead the Hirsch sibling pack with his smarts, sensitivity, and empathy makes me feel like they’re going to be OK.
“Sure, the rabbi’s number is in my phone. Give him a call.”
He made his phone call and before I knew it, I had offers from hashkamah goers to pick Dovid up before the minyan so he wouldn’t be alone for his first experience davening so early.
“I’ll be there at 7:05. I’m up anyway and it’s my pleasure to pick up Dovid,” said our neighbor.
“Mommy, I don’t feel comfortable with him coming to pick me up. He’s an avel, too; I don’t want him to miss anything because of me. I’d rather just walk there myself.”
Yes, it’s occurred to me more than once that I’m really lucky to have a kid like this. And it’s not my doing. I’d love to take credit for it, but it wouldn’t be right.
But I digress.
So the game plan was that our neighbor would pick up Dovid, they’d be at shul by 7:15 a.m., and be done by 9 a.m., and then I’d walk Dovid to North Woodmere so that he could attend the bar mitzvah stress-free, able to be a kid and not worry about getting to North Woodmere on time to honor his father by reciting Kaddish.
I went to sleep late on Friday night, but thankfully awoke at 6:30 on Shabbos morning. I jumped out of bed and woke up Dovid. He took a few minutes to wake up and got dressed by 7 a.m., all the while anticipating a knock at the door.
Which never happened.
So at 7:05, he looked at me and said that he was gonna walk down Church Avenue and he’s sure he’ll meet our neighbor coming here, and no he doesn’t want me walking him, it’s fine.
So I stand by my window and get a little emotional as I watch my son walk down the block to shul until he turns a corner and I can no longer see him.
At times like these, I have talks with Moshe in my mind. I show him how amazing his son is doing and thank him for still being there for us, being there for Dovid and the other kids. I thank him for helping me by putting questions or thoughts or ideas into my mind. It has to be Moshe, because it was him when he was physically here, and it still is, now that only his spiritual self remains. I thank Moshe for doing so much for the kids while he was here because they remain their incredible selves and I know it was his influence. They were following in his footsteps and I’m so, so lucky for that.
When Dovid gets back from davening, I ask him the obvious questions.
Did our neighbor meet him on the way?
Who was at davening?
Is he relieved now that that’s over and he can leisurely walk to North Woodmere instead of sprinting there, worrying about pressuring the kids he’d be walking with, stressing about not making it on time, etc.?
“Well, our neighbor wasn’t there when I walked; he must’ve overslept. It was the usual crowd at hashkamah and everyone was so nice. I’m going to relax for an hour and then we can walk to the shul for the bar mitzvah. Is that OK?”
So, we do the walk on a beautiful sunny fall day, and once we’re there, I can see Dovid relax as he spots his friends. He’s switched figurative hats, and no longer feels like he has to be the big man, the eldest child, the one who makes his parents proud at all times. Now he can be a kid and celebrate a birthday with his friends. I walk back to the house and realize that I’ve got a bar mitzvah kiddush to attend in our shul.
On the way home, I think about a speech about Dovid I’d want to make at his bar mitzvah. I’d speak of the overwhelmingly difficult year we’ve had and how much pain Dovid had to deal with during his 12th year on this earth. I’d speak about Dovid losing his mentor and best friend and how he constantly tries to work on himself to express his feelings, how hard he works in therapy and with me to be grateful for the blessings he has in his life, despite the struggles he had to go through. About the men and women who have stepped up to make this journey less painful. About Dan, Yurmie, Shiloh, Abba, and Lester. Rabbi Ralbag, Rabbi Kamenetzky, Rabbi Robinson, and Rabbi Davidowitz for always checking in, making erev Shabbos and erev yontif calls to tell us that we’re always being thought of. My father, Dovid’s grandfather, his uncles (my brothers), and my mother who have become fixtures in our house. The Mets games, Disney trips, Rangers games, and days off from school just because. All the good and beautiful things that have resulted from the devastating event that changed us forever. And through all this, Dovid has the presence of mind to be the good friend he always is, respectful and so sensitive and caring with me and his siblings.
As I “write” this speech in my head, I realize that I’d most likely not be able to say it over the way it deserves to be said, because there’s a strong likelihood that I’ll be an emotional wreck during his bar mitzvah and I can’t imagine I’d be able to accurately articulate how I feel about my future bar mitzvah boy. So if it doesn’t get anywhere past these pages, that’s fine, too. It’s not the first time I’m saying this and it won’t be the last. He thinks he’s just a kid who’s doing the things he’s supposed to be doing. But the reality is that he’s doing what most adults can’t do. He’s a thinker, a doer, a sensitive, sweet boy who will be the best example of what a man should be in a few short years from now. He’s following in his father’s footsteps and I know how happy Moshe would be if he could see Dovid today.
I couldn’t be more proud.
Malkie’s husband, Moshe, a’h, passed away in March at the age of 40. Over the past few months, Malkie has been sharing her thoughts and emotions with readers on her Instagram page @Kissthekoshercook. We are now privileged to share her writings and reflections with our readership. May Moshe’s memory be a blessing for Malkie and her beautiful family.