In the first grade, my favorite part of school was Show and Tell. My tastes inclined more to the tell than to the show — that is, I liked to stand in front of my class and make things up. For the fun of it.
I told my first dialect joke in that setting, about a little old Jewish lady who lost her aspirins on the bus.
“Mine essperns! Mine essperns!” she shouted.
The punchline, articulated in my best approximation of a Bronx bus driver’s husky voice, was: “Lady, if your ess boins, stick it out da vindeh!”
A regular Mickey Katz! But my teacher, Mrs. Maggio, was unamused.
Then there was the incident that I retold countless times to my girls when they were young, as a cautionary tale about the importance of truthfulness.
One day at Show and Tell, after Lisa Rosenberg had bored us all to death with her scrapbook of autumn leaves, I felt things needed a little livening up. So when my turn to Show and Tell came, I marched to the front of the class and related the story of a fishing trip my dad and I had taken to Long Island Sound in his rowboat.
Dad and I reeled in a whale, cut it up, packaged it in tuna cans, and sold the result to a pre-Zabar’s upscale imported food emporium called “Foods of All Nations.” That one really held the interest of my 7-year-old colleagues in PS 135, but it frosted Mrs. Maggio beyond her tolerance.
She asked several probing questions, hoping, I suppose, to trip me into self-contradiction and elicit a confession that I’d “made up” my story instead of telling “the truth.” But I handled myself pretty well, little pisher that I was.
“Yeah, we had a canning machine in our rowboat.”
“Yeah, we used a fishing rod. It wasn’t a very big whale.”
“Yeah, that place sells all kinds of yucky stuff, including chocolate covered ants.”
And so on.
Which is why, I suppose, Mrs. Maggio finally called home.
When my Mom answered, Mrs. Maggio delivered the indictment you read at the head of this column.
I was “a liar.”
Mom, of course, was totally humiliated. But what to do? In that dark era there was no therapy, even for 7-year-old pyromaniacs, much less liars! You just worked it out somehow.
I blamed the whole thing on Reality. It always seemed so poor in comparison to the wacky narratives that imagination delivered, almost without my conscious participation. Gradually, I learned that tweaking the truth to get a laugh or to disarm a bully was a different kind of thing than telling a nasty story about a friend, or denying my role in some disastrous misadventure. Such as the time I nailed my brother’s shoes to the closet floor, and, looking Mom square in the eye, blamed it on “the Nazis.”
As I grew, Mom taught me the concept of the “white lie.” This was okay, she taught me, in order to spare someone’s feelings, like when Aunt Olga gave me a white Shabbos shirt for my birthday and I had to smile as if it were a baseball mitt signed by Mickey Mantle.
If the child is indeed father to the man, I suppose that my life as a teacher is only a more sophisticated version of Show and Tell.
As any teacher will readily admit, sometimes to teach a truth you have to embellish reality, or tweak it to hook your students. Only later, when they’re in your hands, can you reveal that the truth is a whole lot more complex than we originally allowed.
In truth, is any story simply “the truth?” “Reality” happens. A “story” comes to improve it twice. First, a story subtracts from Reality, so as to hide what is “beside the point” (whose point?). Then it adds to Reality, making the point arresting and inescapable. But no story is “Reality” pure and simple.
This is why, I suppose, it’s important to remember that the Torah is a story. Start it from the beginning. Who’s telling the story? What does the teller choose to include? What might the teller have left out?
The rabbis, in their Midrashic traditions, know of entire narratives of previous worlds created before Gen. 1:1’s Bereshit bara Elokim. What was the purpose of these worlds? Why isn’t the story of these worlds told in the Torah itself?
How do we know that among the pre-Gen. 1:1 creations was the atoning altar that would cleanse Israel of sin, as well as the Name of the Messiah who would restore Israel to her land? The rabbis (in Midrash Bereshit Rabbah 1:4) deduce this knowledge from hints in the Psalms and in Proverbs. Why doesn’t the Torah’s narrator tell us more about this?
The sages share amazing yarns about life in the garden that never made it into the “final version” of the Torah. Such as the way Adam trained for Eve’s creation by coming to know all the other creaevents photographer, said that she’s attended Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties at a number of Seattle’s landmark locations, including the Museum of Flight and the Seattle Aquarium.
“Because the weather is so inconsistent, people make safer choices than they would otherwise,” Weiss noted, saying that indoor destinations are the norm. She was quick to point out that just because everyone is inside doesn’t mean that the ceremonies in rainy Seattle lack charm. Along with time to look at the sea life, parties at the aquarium include dancing in the underwater dome.
With Seattle’s proximity to water, it’s not surprising that boat-bound B’nai Mitzvah parties are a standard as well. Pete Robinson, sales manager for Argosy Cruises, said his company does a number of post-B’nai Mitzvah gatherings of various sizes each year. Argosy offers boat tours around Elliott Bay, Lake Union and Lake Washington and is particularly popular with B’nai Mitzvah groups who have a lot of out-of-town guests.
“They’re always a huge hit,” Robinson said. “We love having all ages on the boats and we haven’t lost any kids overboard yet.”
Robinson said that themed B’nai Mitzvah parties are popular, with girls often choosing to have dance parties with a DJ, whereas many boys opt for Argosy’s casino theme, perhaps as a nod to the Pacific Northwest’s recent and growing tradition of Native American gaming.
As for food, salmon is, understandably, the Pacific Northwest’s choice for the post-Bar and Bat Mitzvah lunch. Seattle caterer Leah Jaffee of Leah’s Catering & Bakery noted that the city’s large Sephardic population has had an influence on the way the Seattle does kiddush, saying she supplies B’nai Mitzvah with items like kippered salmon as often as she does lox and bagels.
Of course, those 12- and 13-year-olds who come of age in the winter months may want nothing more than a sunny day for the occasion. Hence, the growing popularity of destination B’nai Mitzvah. A number of organizations give families the opportunity for a child to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Israel (such as the aptly named group, “Bar Mitzvah in Israel”).
Some families, however, simply pick their favorite warm spot and head there. Westerman noted that, since his family will most likely be unable to repeat the Islandwood experience for his younger son, Adam, the boy may very well celebrate his Bar Mitzvah (although still several years off) in the Virgin Islands.