Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.
I am a judgmental person and I’m proud of it, except when I’m not. For example, let me show you how judgmental I was at my nephew’s bar-mitzvah today. Do you think I'm too judgmental or, rather, showing discernment?
I hate sitting in temple—Services are endless, hours of mainly Hebrew muttering in praise of an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent deity. How could there be such a God if zillions of babies are born with agonizing diseases and then die leaving parents bereft. But I’d pay too big a price for not going to the bar-mitzvah. (sigh.).
I stared at Eli up there. He's barely shaving and is the kind of kid who, at the reception, would pour sugar into a soda bottle, shake it up, and spray it around. Because he’s 13, he’s now a man?
Eli has better things to do with his time than learning the haftorah (chanting a long Bible portion in Hebrew.) On the other hand, the bar-mitzvah’s other rite of passage, the drosh (creating and delivering a sermon,) is a great learning experience.
Finally, after an hour and a half of the rabbi and cantor droning, mainly in Hebrew, which, for an active 13-year-old, must feel like three hours—lanky Eli gawked his way up to the podium, like a condemned bourgeois to the French-Revolution gallows.
Maybe because it’s been so long since I was bar-mitzvahed, I was amazed at how calm Eli seemed, although he was robotic. It’s like the rabbi drilled and drilled him, drilled and killed him, until you could wind Eli up, press the button, and he’d deliver the haftorah. But—and here’s a rabbinic secret—the rabbi can expand or contract the haftorah and drosh so, with effort, any kid can do it. Eli had the misfortune of being smart and hard-working so the rabbi made him eat the whole challah: full haftorah chanted not read and a drosh he wasn’t allowed to read nor memorize. He had to ad-lib it, aided only by a cheat sheet.
After Eli completed that feat, it felt anti-climatic that, instead of applause, the rabbi acted as though Eli had done nothing, and just continued on with the mainly Hebrew droning. Another 45 minutes of that. No wonder synagogue attendance is down.
Of course, afterwards, there were the congratulations, in this case deserved, but I remember other bar-mitzvahs in which the kid was terrible yet polite society requires gushing, even though that reinforces laziness: “Even if I suck, they'll praise me.” Grade inflation extends well beyond the classroom.
The grade inflation continues at the reception, a five- or even six-figure bacchanal in which, except for the size-2 wraiths, everyone eats their required minimum daily allowance in one meal. And there’s Vegas-like entertainment: magic show, DJ, and/or hoo-hah band. All in honor of the kid becoming a far- from-true man. Mustn’t that contribute to inflated sense of self, of entitlement to hyper-materialistic reward and being fawned over for something every Jewish kid gets merely because the calendar’s pages have flipped enough?1 Isn’t that also true of weddings? Absolutely anyone can commit to an often untrue lifetime of “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”
And how odd that, with each person developing an a different rate, the Jews (and Christians for confirmation) pick a single year—in early-teenhood no less—as when a kid becomes an adult. Haven't they read the books that say that kids brains' especially boys, aren't fully developed until their 20s? And one size doesn't fit all: Some teenagers act like adults while other people go to their graves childish.
On the dance floor, many of the women look like they’re having an orgasm, the men a root canal. Then there are the men who sit bolted to their chair to avoid said root canal, even if people whisper about them.
Four, five, or even six hours later, the blowout blows out—usually capstoned by yet one more monument to excess, for example, handing each departing guest a doggie bag with bagels and cream cheese in case those zillion calories aren't enough to preclude an early-morning carb and fat fest.
I drove home from Eli’s bar-mitzvah, alternatingly feeling superior for my discerning values and hating myself for being so judgmental. Which do you think I am?
Today, “judgmental” is an epithet. And sometimes, that's deserved. But among my clients and friends, I’ve seen people be ever more reluctant to judge That's lamentable because judgment, discernment, is core to wise decision-making, indeed to improving society .
So, do you think you're too judgmental? Not judgmental enough? Is that true in general or with regard to some specific? Is there anything you want to change?
1. Doing the haftorah and drosh are merely tradition. A boy or girl gets bar- or bat-mitzvahed merely by turning 13.