Gus’s first Bar Mitzvah


Shaar Hashomayim Synagogue, where Leonard Cohen celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Courtesy of

I recently went to my first Bar Mitzvah, which seems to me a very strange thing to say. Purely because it was nowhere on my radar. There are some places you end up in life and you can say “Yup, saw that coming”, but other times you look around you and say “Wow, how did I get here?” This blog is going to show my utter and complete ignorance of the Jewish faith. Thank you to my Jewish friends for putting up with me. Shalom.

Where to begin? It was quite an enjoyable experience, however it was very, how should I say this, curious for me. Let me explain. It was like going to see a film because a friend has told you how good it is. You go, but you have no idea what the film is about, you have no expectations, you just go and wait to see what’ll happen.

For example, did you know that men and women do not sit together in a Synagogue? I didn’t, so guess who almost went in the wrong door. Thanks to a very nice woman who happened to be going in at the same time I learned this in the nick of time.

So I get seated, I have my kippah on, I’m good, until I realize that I’ve forgotten my phone in my jacket back at the coat check. That’ll never do. Up I jump, buzz back to the coat check and explain to the nice young man at the counter that I’ve forgotten my phone in my coat, which I would like. He looks at me like I have lost my mind! He says to me “It is Shabbat,” and stares at me. I look back at him, he looks back at me. Awkward pause. Blink, blink. I turn and walk away. I have no idea what he is talking about but I am smart enough to realize that I am not getting my phone right now. (Turns out Sat. is the holy day in the Jewish faith and they do not use electronics, found out later)

Back to the Synagogue with me.

As it turns out there is little to no English spoken during a Bar Mitzvah, well at least the one I went to, AND it’s a musical! Almost everything is sung, but it is sung in Hebrew. I will be honest, I spent most of my time wondering what was going on. I want to thank the three older gentlemen who were sitting behind me. Once they realized I was as out of place as a penguin on the beach, they gave me the heads up about a few things so I didn’t make a complete ass out of myself.

Getting back to the singing, it looks incredibly difficult. We’re not talking Church hymns here, where everyone jumps in and it really doesn’t matter what you sound like. We are talking one singer with the Rabbi directing, then everyone jumps in at certain points. It’s all very choreographed and cultured. So I sat there wondering how does everyone know when to jump in and stand up, what words to say, when to raise their hands, etc. etc. After about two hours I realized why. These people are here for the long haul!

I should have caught on when I asked my friend what time I had to be there.

I grew up Protestant United. If our Sunday morning services went over an hour the church elders started to cough politely and look at their watches while fanning themselves with the Service Handout papers. When I asked my friend what time I should be there for the service she said anytime between 9 and 10 AM. I thought ‘strange’ but ok. I got there at 9:30am, figuring right in the middle should be sweet. I think it was 1:30pm when we walked out. Jewish people do not mess around when it comes to Synagogue, let me tell you. I don’t know if it was only because of the Bar Mitzvah, or because the Rabbi had a full house (like I said, I had no idea what was going on) but we were there and the Rabbi was making it count. So yes it was long, but I have to admit they pack a bunch in there. There was singing (lots of singing), laughing, clapping, candy throwing, the list goes on.

The thing that stands out in my mind the most was the congregation, perhaps this is not the right word for the people that attend a Synagogue, but it what I was taught. They were beautiful. From the moment I walked into the Synagogue in my sweater vest and no tie (you think my friend would have told me it was a full on dark suit affair) I was welcomed. Almost every person who passed me, old and young alike, stopped to shake my hand, wish me peace, and welcome me. I left with the feeling that this wasn’t just something they pulled out of the closet once and awhile, dusted off and put back, this was what these people lived.

Truth be told it made me nostalgic for simpler days when I was part of a church, a congregation that cared about each other.



Father of the Bride, Oy Vey


Shaar Hashomayim Museum

My oldest daughter is getting married. How do I feel about this? Had someone asked me about this before the engagement party I would have said that I felt great, no big deal. I wish her all the best. But then came the engagement party and I was a wreck afterwards. It was really strange, it was one of those things you do not see coming until it is right in your face, WHAMO!

My daughter is getting married to a very nice Jewish gentleman, does this matter to me, no it does not, so why mention it? The truth is that I am learning just how ignorant I am about somethings. You see I am a half black (half afro-canadian?, help me out here), middle-aged man. I know as much about the Jewish religion as Inuits know about beach volleyball. This does not seem to be a problem when it comes to the husband to be. One of the first things he said to me was not to worry about it he was only Jew-ish. I know he did this to put me at ease and it did the job.

When I first met him I was luke warm, or tried to be. As any father with a daughter can tell you, you gotta make them sweat a bit. But he won me over pretty quick, he is just a nice kid. But more than that he makes my daughter happy, I could see it from day one, and I still see it every time I see them together. So I have grown to love him, he is now part of my family. I will admit, it has been a bit tough adjusting to my new in-laws. They seem to be wonderful people and we actually seem to have somethings in common, I am just so scared of pulling an Archie Bunker. Some faux pas in the middle of the wedding or other function (Jewish people seem to have a lot of functions). But I will also deal with this. Good people are good people, whatever religion or color or creed. You find things to laugh about together and pretty soon you are just people enjoying each others company.

So now we come right down to it don’t we, what is bother me about the whole thing? I think the engagement party was when it really hit me, my daughter has grown up, she is now a woman. I know I should have known this already, she has been on her own for quite a few years now, but it is not something that I thought about. It was like she was just sleeping over somewhere or something. If you have teenage kids you know what I am talking about. You hardly ever see them, they are in and out. My youngest daughter still lives at home but between school, work and her boyfriend I might run into her a couple of times a week.

I realized that my little girl is indeed going to be getting married, having kids (sooner than later I hope for my wife’s sake), buying a house, maybe moving away, who knows what can happen! Life can happen and is happening, and sometimes you just want your kids to stay your kids and stay home where you can keep them safe and watch over them. But everything changes and kids grow up.

I am more proud of her than I will ever be able to tell her with words, and more happy for her than she will ever understand. Well maybe one day when she has kids she will understand, but until then she will do fine, her mother raised her right.