Thursday, September 12, 2019
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Hebrew School Class of 2019 Highlights
From a young age, ‖ I have always been intrigued by Disney. ‖ But over the last couple of years, ‖ I have become obsessed! I love everything Disney, ‖ but especially the theme parks. ‖While some 13-year olds spend their time surfing YouTube ‖ for videos of cats or gaming, ‖ I follow the latest video updates ‖ from Disney World vloggers… ‖ yes, they really do exist… ‖ and there’s more than three of them! ‖If you want to know ‖ about the latest in happenings at Disney World, ‖ I’m your man! ‖ I’m sure some of you know ‖ that Star Wars Land opened ‖ just two weeks ago, ‖ including a ride where you can pilot ‖ the Millennium Falcon. ‖ So, ‖ it was natural for me ‖ when I began to look ‖ at my Torah portion of Ki Tetze, to see everything through the Disney lens. ‖ (Put on glasses). When viewed this way, ‖ it almost seems ‖ like the entire portion ‖ came from Space Mountain ‖ instead of Mount Sinai. ‖ The portion has 72 mitzvahs, ‖ or laws – ‖ that’s about 12% percent ‖ of the 613 commandments ‖ in the Torah. ‖ Most of Ki Tetze’s laws ‖ have to do ‖ with relationships between humans, ‖ but Disney has done ‖ an excellent job of teaching these ‖ same rules through their iconic ‖ movie characters and parks. ‖
My clearest memory of Hurricane Sandy was that when we heard how bad it was going to be, my brother and I moved all our stuffed animals to the living room and built a fort around them to protect them. As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that stacking blankets and pillows with stuffed animals won’t protect us for long. We’ve got to change our world and we can begin in small ways, by recycling.
By the way, in case you are wondering, I do eat chicken, but I would never eat my chickens. But when my father was a kid and one of his chickens had a cold, they would feed her chicken soup. While I am not a vegetarian, my caring for animals has helped me to be more sensitive and I understand the need to go above and beyond what others might do, to teach myself that important lesson.
My portion of Bechukotai explains that the actions of people have consequences on the whole world. It gives a number of horrible examples of consequences if people disobey the commandments. In one of them, it is that wild beasts will wipe out our cattle. It is hinting that the destruction of species is both a horrible thing and a consequence of human activity. The curses get really bad, but the worst thing about it is not how bad things get, but that people lose hope. They don’t realize that things can be turned around.
Those of you who know me know that I have an interesting hobby – I love to build things. I started building with Legos when I was about 2 or 3. What I liked about them was that anything was possible. Out of nothing, you could create something amazing. Some of the things I have built include, an Apollo 11 spaceship, which is standing in my closet right now and a James Bond Aston Martin, which gets fifty miles to the gallon. Just kidding. It gets forty. But the thing about building with Legos is that you can only do it one block at a time. When I am building something I just think of it and then I start to build. I don’t always know how it will look in the end. But I keep on building, block by block.
The portion, Behar, speaks about the Jubilee year, the 50th year, when all slaves were set free. One verse tells about how the shofar is sounded at the beginning of that year, and it says, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” That’s the same verse that is found on the Liberty Bell. By the way, I really liked visiting the Liberty Bell, although I don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be. The interesting thing is that in the portion, the verse is talking about freeing slaves. But on the Liberty Bell, it’s talking about freedom from Britain and my buddy, King George III. It’s definitely not talking about freeing slaves – because that didn’t happen for about another 90 years.
I’m a big fan of empathy. I guess it’s not surprising that when I grow up I want to be a psychologist. I hope I’ll be able to help people deal with crises in their lives. So this project really excited me. It reminded me of what sports stars often do – people like Curtis Granderson, who is always visiting hospitals and schools, and Roberto Clemente, a real hero of mine, who died in a plane crash trying to help people in while on route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was just 38 years old. I’ve had lots of practice in showing empathy, through my love for my pets. It all started with Lucky, a cat who was rescued from the streets of New York. Lucky was not just lucky to be rescued, he was lucky enough to live to the fine old age of 21. Then came our dog Carmel, who is a ten-year-old Labrador. But after Lucky died, I wanted more, so I started begging for kitten. One day when my mom and my dad went out to buy dog food, there was a sign in the store. That’s how we got our two kittens, Ian and Chad, who are now one year old. And now, since it’s been a WHOLE YEAR since we got a new pet, I’m trying to convince my parents that it is time for labradoodles. Yes, I know pet ownership can be complicated. At one time, we were giving the cats a total of 18 different medications PER DAY. Having so many pets has been a real blessing for me – it’s taught me a lot about responsibility, time management and of course – empathy.
When you look at me, if you don’t know already, probably the last thing you will think of is that I love to play bass guitar. I love to play it so much that it’s starting to fall apart. I’ve been playing for about 4 years. My dad had an amplifier and two basses in the basement and we would go down all the time – and while he would be playing the song “Iron Man” I’d be pretending to play along with him. It was doubly special because not only did I love it, but I loved making music with my dad. So, I’m a big fan of Rock and Heavy Metal – I can’t help it! But I also know that heavy metal has its place – and that place is not here, at services. Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu didn’t understand that. In my portion of Shemini, these two kids played with fire, literally. They brought their own unusual offerings without telling anyone else. And a horrible accident occurred, and they were burned to a crisp. It’s a very tragic story that has a lot of lessons for teenagers, and especially for creative types like me.
I have to say, I am one lucky kid. But with my teams winning, there are a couple of lessons that I have learned. Lesson number one: Winning takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination. Always try your hardest. When you are trying to win a championship, you can’t take your foot off the gas, or be satisfied before it is over, and expect to win. Look at the Patriots. A few years ago, they were losing 28-3 in the Super Bowl. They kept working hard when the other team took their foot off the gas and thought it was over. The Patriots came back and won. My haftarah continues the story of Amalek that was also the subject of the maftir Torah reading. Amalek attacked Israel right after they left Egypt. They did not fight fair – as they attacked them from behind. Israel defeated them in the Wilderness; but in my haftarah, King Saul, who was ordered to destroy them completely, let’s their king, Agag off the hook. Because of that, the nation of Amalek survived, and their descendant, Haman, nearly destroyed the Jewish people. The holiday of Purim, which we celebrate this week, tells that part of the story.
From my ten commandments of soccer. Number 3: Respect my team mates, and coaches, and NEVER talk back to an official. Nobody is perfect, mistakes are made, but respect is and must be an important trait of my personality. Number 4: Trust my teammates. In my portion, Moses’s father in law Jethro, teaches him how important it is to delegate. Moses set up a system of judges who would only bring the toughest cases to him. He trusted them that they will do their best, and in return he would do his best. Just like Moses I have to trust that my team mates that they will step in front of a shot, and they have to trust me that I’ll block whatever they can’t get in front of. Nobody is perfect, mistakes are made. But I have to trust them to do their best, and in return I’ll always be ready to do my best.
There have been other tests in my life experience as well. Moving to the US was a big test. When my mom became ill, we needed to be pulled out of school in Japan, and we moved to this area to get her the best medical care. When we moved back to the New York area, my parents didn’t want me to forget my Japanese, so they sent me to a Japanese school in Greenwich, Ct. There, I was the only completely American student, excluding my siblings. I looked and felt very different from my peers. I was challenged when I had trouble making many friends because I was the “new kid”. Also, being the only American student, I spoke and understood less of the Japanese language than the other children, and, at the very beginning, I did not do too well in Kanji tests, which are the Japanese characters. Eventually though, I passed more of these “tests,” as I started to study more. Slowly, I overcame the test of socialization by becoming friendly with a few peers in the classes. I have been physically tested as well. Some of you may already know that I have broken, at separate times, my arm and my leg from one sport: skiing. My parents decided I was just “unlucky” both times, so I was forced, against my will, to keep trying. Again, here, I was tested to persevere at something at which I had already failed twice in my mind. Although I am physically healed by now, I am still a bit scared to go on trails with many trees. Sometimes, I am forced to face this challenge, and my fears are subsiding. Just for the record – I still enjoy skiing a lot.