Your RDA of Irony

By the Numbers

I am planning to have my bar mitzvah next year.  (Most of you suspect that I am only 12; half of the time, my wife does.)  Forty-seven years ago, I dropped out of Hebrew school–and if you knew my classmates at the time, you wouldn’t blame me.  It was a Yiddish production of “Lord of the Flies.”

Fortunately, my family was not shocked by my rebellious irreverence; in my secular home, ancient incantations seemed less important than ethnic identity.  So I was trained to know the Jewish member of every film cast…Leslie Howard in “Gone With the Wind”, Erland Josephson in “Cries and Whispers”, half of Claire Trevor in “Stagecoach.”  At least it was good preparation for Jeopardy.

My wife Karen had a more conventional upbringing than I did, equal parts Sholem Aleichem and Philip Roth.  Years of Sunday school made her literate in Hebrew; however, at the time, her synagogue did not offer bat mitzvahs.  So the nice Jewish girl and the renegade Jewish boy were equally unmitzvahed.  No one would mistake us for Patrick and Deirdre, but we felt a desire to a fulfill our commitment to 4000 years of history, tradition and idiosyncrasy.  So the two of us enrolled in an adult bar mitzvah program.

The class began with a dozen aspiring candidates.  But the challenge and frequent absurdity of Hebrew (21 letters, half of which are k, along with 350 vowels) took a toll.  Half of the class dropped out; one lady found the gutteral exertions threatened her botox.  But Karen and I persevered.  I now have a command of Hebrew that qualifies me to be a village idiot anywhere in Israel.  And this week, in preparation for the actual ceremony,  we received our assigned chapters in the Torah.

The Torah is actually the first five books of the Bible.  We know that Genesis and Exodus have everything you’d want in a movie.  Leviticus actually can be quite funny:  imagine a temper tantrum by Jackie Mason.  Deuteronomy really is outtakes from Exodus; it would have been the added features in the special DVD of “The Ten Commandments.”  But then there is Numbers–apparently the root word of numb.  It is basically a census of how many warriors in each tribe and how many sheep each person contributed to the Israelite Bond Dinner.

So, what is the purpose of Numbers?  I believe that it was the first CPA examination.  Nothing in the book would pass a serious audit.  According to the tally, the ancient Israelites had an army of 603,550 men.  Really?  With that size army, why stop at conquering Canaan?  Take Egypt, Troy and Babylon, too.   Persia and Rome, at their height of power, never commanded half so large a force.  But Joshua did?  Either Bernie Madoff is 3000 years old, or he was following in the family business.

And, if you had any doubts, Karen and I have been assigned to read from Numbers.   Maybe we should have bribed the Rabbi.

  1. Leah says:

    What’s your parsha? I will look it up and comment further– L.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Hello Leah,

      I do not yet know the particular section of Numbers we must recite. Furthermore, the five participants will divide it up. That almost sounds like a Biblical passage in itself.


  2. Leah says:

    Reciting is comparatively easy – a 13 year old can do it, especially with a tape to memorize. Writing your b’nai mitzvah speech on, say, why this part of a cow’s body is acceptable as a sacrifice but that part isn’t, or why it’s apparently important to kill your child if he gives you too much lip– now THAT’S a challenge.

  3. Cindy Starks says:

    Eugene — This is really great! Congratulations to you and your wife. Happy Bar and Bat Mitzvahs! I am a lifelong Catholic and when my husband and I were engaged, he began the process of converting to the faith. In our church there are also classes for adults — the process is called RCIA — Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. He has been a fervent Catholic and has gone on to sponsor others who are coming into the church. I think it can be more meaningful when it’s an adult decision.

    Anyway, I know this is not what you are doing — you were already Jewish, but I think it’s very cool and fits right in with your love of history and tradition. Mazel Tov!!

  4. Peg Pruitt says:

    Mazel tov, Eugene and Karen!

    For a funny take on the bar mitzvah, try to find a copy of the Frasier episode “Star Mitzvah.” I think you’ll both enjoy it.

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