Thursday, December 11, 2014

What You Should Know about CIA Torture

Can you handle the truth?

Then here it is, in simple language:
The CIA engaged in pointless sadistic practices against people many of whom had nothing to reveal anyway, and they lied to Congress, the White House, and the press to keep on torturing people.


7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report (in the flat language of the New York Times)

  1. The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed. 
  2. The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
  3. The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
  4. Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
  5. The C.I.A. repeatedly under-reported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
  6. At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention. 
  7. The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.

The Talmud and the Internet, by Jonathan Rosen: a review


Growing up in Pittsburgh and attending the pretentiously titled School of Advanced Jewish Studies, I took a bite of Talmud. Not even a mouthful: just enough to taste. And it has nourished my curiosity forever.  Read this book if you want to whet your curiosity too.

Like me, author Jonathan Rosen finds the form of the Talmud even more intriguing the intricacies of its content. It's the original hypertext.

The Mishnah is at the center of each page, a set of oral traditions about how to read and practice what we find in the Torah that were finally written down between 180 and 220 CE by Rabbi Yehudah haNasi to keep them from being forgotten. The Gemara comes below, giving four centuries more of debate about what how those traditions make sense and what they really mean. More commentaries are arranged at the bottom and along the sides: the medieval scholar Rashi and his disciples especially. That's not even getting into the entirely separate books that comment on the Talmud, from Maimonides' Mishneh Torah to the latest one hot off the press.

As Rosen points out, these commentators hold lively discussions, even when one of them is rebutting another who's been dead for centuries. They don't confine themselves to any genre. Legal discussion rubs shoulders with etymology, moralism with fable. They remind him (and me) of nothing so much as weird and unpredictable discussions on the Internet--especially the more unbridled Internet of 2001, when this book was published.

Rosen is both incisive and evocative when he makes the case that Talmudic discussion is the lifeboat of the Jewish people. When the destruction of the Temple by the Roman empire cast Jewish life adrift, it was in these discussions that we made our home.

Rosen is elegiac when he looks at 21st-century Jewish life, changed forever by both the Holocaust in which some of his grandparents died and the acceptance of the Jews into secular society, and of secular society into Jewish identity. Can we find ways to transmute our existence in new circumstances as the creators of the Talmud once did? Or will the culture that he and I hold dear fade into memory? Or both?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

State of War, by James Risen: a review

Things you'll learn, or be reminded of and still shocked by, if you read State of War by James Risen:

  1. CIA Director George Tenet got and kept his job by sucking up to power.
  2. The CIA specifically avoided asking President George W. Bush for authorization to use torture, providing him with what the spy trade calls "plausible deniability."
  3. The NSA started large-scale spying on Americans almost immediately after 9/11/2001, "The Bush administration...swept aside nearly thirty years of rules and regulations" to make this happen.
  4. George W. sent clear signals that he wanted a pretext to go to war with Iraq. People who helped him get one were rewarded. People who warned that the intelligence was being skewed were punished. There was nothing like an objective assessment of the facts before we went to war.
  5. The U.S. had every reason to know there was no active nuclear program in Iraq.
  6. To claim there was a bioweapons program in Iraq, the U.S. relied on sources that the Europeans clearly told us were wrong. 
  7. No one had a plan for what to do in Iraq after the war except for installing a president from the outside, a man (Ahmed Chalabi) that no one inside Iraq trusted. When that proved unworkable, they had to make it up as they went along--all the while pretending they were winning.
  8. By going to war in Iraq, the Bush administration took its eye of Afghanistan, which became the biggest exporter of opium in the world...sending a lot of the poppy right here to the U.S.
  9. The U.S. turned a blind eye to the ways that Saudi Arabia played both sides in the "war on terror."
  10. The U.S. may have helped Iran advance its program for obtaining nuclear weapons. 
Risen focuses on the first term of George W. Bush, but he's scrupulous about pointing out when a problem actually began in the Clinton administration. He puts too much emphasis on individuals (Bush vs. Saddam Hussein, Tenet vs. Rumsfeld) and not enough on mistaken assumptions of U.S. foreign policy.

Still, this is a powerful book. I wish I, and everyone else, had read it when it came out!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Woman Who Could Have Stopped the War in Iraq

The Iraq War could have been prevented if the CIA had listened to... Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad, a Cleveland anesthesiologist.

The CIA recruited Alhaddad to ask her brother Saad Tawfiq, an Iraqi electrical engineer, to reveal secrets about the Iraqi nuclear program. She asked.  He answered: there was no Iraqi nuclear program. It had been dead since 1991.

Alhaddad told the CIA what her brother had said.  They concluded he was lying. The Unites States government, from President Bush on down, was committed to going to war with Iraq--and they needed a nuclear weapons program as an excuse.

James Risen revealed this story in his 2006 book State of War.  Until I read the book, I had never heard of it. Had you?

Don't you think in a democracy we ought to have known that the U.S. went to war because our government couldn't handle the truth?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I Read James Risen. Ed Snowden Told Me To.

In Laura Poitras' excellent documentary CitizenFour, NSA leaker Edward Snowden mentions how much he admires investigative journalist James Risen.

Neither Snowden nor Risen is any kind of leftist.  Risen is the national security reporter for the New York Times, for God's sake!  He was one of two reporters for The Times who in 2005 broke the news that Mr. Bush’s government had conducted warrantless wiretapping of American citizens. Bush hated that, but Risen kept right on reporting.



Now, Risen faces a possible prison term because he refuses to name the sources inside the CIA who helped him reveal a failed plot to give flawed and misleading nuclear blueprints to Iran.  If you want to know the full story, read chapter nine of Risen's 2006 book State of War--a book the U.S. government tried to suppress.

I'll be reviewing the book this coming week.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

4 Ways New England Democrats Can Lead the Country

"D.C. power shift another blow to influence of New England, " reads today's headline in the Boston Globe. "Region's Democrats will be marginalized in GOP-run Congress."

It doesn't have to be that way. Here's how New England Democrats can make a huge difference over the next two years.

One: join the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Every single one of you. Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, Joe Kennedy, Jim McGovern, and Bernie Sanders are already members. The rest of you New England Democrats should follow their lead.

Two: set your own agenda. Draft bills, create a budget, and use your mailing lists, email, speaking engagements and media appearances to tell the American public what you would do instead.

Three: talk about big ideas. For God's sake, this is New England, home of the educated and opinionated! Put that visionary thinking to good use. Let people know what America should look like. They already like your policies: they just don't know what you stand for. Make it clear.

And finally, on regional issues, make alliances.  Get together with Minnesota and Alaska to protect heating assistance. Get together with West Coast fisheries to protect East Coast fisheries too. Practice politics--which is a lot more than the art of getting re-elected.

Sulk for two years and the Republicans will win Congress again. Do these four things and you can not only win back Congress in 2016: you can make that victory matter.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

To every age there is a blessing

Gary Fischman chose the perfect poem from Ronald Fischman's upcoming book to read at the funeral.

to every age


to every age there is a blessing
to the young hope is given
to the middle-aged, strength is given
to the old wisdom
each child blooms brightly, but
fades not, rather transforms,
being shown a mirror, perceives
a never-ending highway
evolving into his journey every
youth radiates his blessing
attracting strength for what’s at hand
attracting allies for what lies hidden
spectra interstice, multiply,
reinforce (this is called love).
multiplication is not addition
subtraction, like breaking, is called loss.
even loss can be gain because
with loss may come healing
with healing may come growth
with growth may come courage
when mist swallows the highway
and the rainbow thins to slivers
the product of life, love, and learning
survives though no longer visible

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Happy Holidays--All of Them

Sending holiday greetings to your customers and community is a great way to let them know you’re thinking of them. But not everyone celebrates the same holidays.

What holidays are coming up over the next month? Some you may never have heard of!  Please read:

http://dennisfischman.com/2014/09/11/sharing-the-seasons-greetings-with-your-community-2/

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Three Rules for Interfaith Dialogue

I was blown away to find that the Christian theologian had so clearly put into words the basic ground rules for really trying to understand another person's religion.

(1) When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.
(3) Leave room for “holy envy.”
By (3) Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in another religious tradition or faith, elements you admire and wish might find greater scope in your own religious tradition or faith.

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2010/05/krister-stendahls-three-rules-of-religious-understanding.html

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Learn Something Old Every Day

I know that Carolyn is a longtime Middle East peace activist. Until this week, I had no idea she had been a journalist, too. The death of reporter James Foley affected her personally, and I would have realized that if I'd known her background.

I learn something old every day.

Sure, there are new social media platforms to try out and techniques to learn. Scientists make new discoveries about what goes on inside the brain and outside the galaxy. New books come out and demand to be read. New pop phenomena spring up and dry out like summer lilies in the fall.

Often, though, it's the old stories we should listen to most urgently, and the old realities we should try to understand. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of a police officer is this week's news, but it's a very old story.

To understand it, we have to know about the history of Jim Crow, and of slavery. To evaluate the media coverage, we have to remember--or find out--how various white-owned media have covered racially marked stories, from the OJ Simpson trial to the Clarence Thomas hearings.  We need to know black media covered them, too, and how that created a divide between our perceptions of what actually happened. (Just as important, we need to know what stories we haven't heard.)


Yes, that's a lot to find out. Yes, the quest to understand will never end. But if we are going to be able to look our neighbors in the face, let alone live and work together, we must learn something old every day.  (And when I say "we," I start with myself.)





Monday, August 11, 2014

Jewish Holy Day Calendar, 2014-2015



Dear colleagues,

Here's a guide to scheduling around the Jewish holy days that I thought you might find useful.   I didn't write it, only edited it slightly and updated it each year, but I vouch for its accuracy.

Category I.     MOST JEWS PARTICIPATE.  Please do not schedule meetings around
these dates.

ROSH HASHANAH (Jewish New Year) begins at sunset Wednesday, September 24, 2014 and continues through Friday, September 26.

YOM KIPPUR (Day of Repentance) begins at sunset on Friday, October 3 and
continues through Saturday, October 4.  While Yom Kippur is a fasting day, meals
are prepared in advance for the breaking of the fast at the end of 27 hours.

Typically, even some of the least religiously observant members of the
Jewish community do not work on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah.   Please keep
in mind that even though the holy day may begin at sunset, these are
home ritual centered holy days, so a great deal of advance preparation is
required.  In other words, please don't schedule a meeting for the afternoon
preceding Rosh Hashanah because I will be cooking!

PASSOVER (Celebration of Freedom from Slavery in Egypt) begins at sunset
on Friday, April 3, 2015; continues through nightfall on Saturday, April 11.   THE FIRST TWO DAYS (through Sunday evening, April 5) require refraining from work.    LOTS of cooking and preparation before this holy day.

---------------
Category II.   Many observant Jews refrain from work.  I count myself as
observant.

SUKKOT (Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles) begins at sunset Wednesday, October 8, and lasts through Wednesday, October 15.  THE FIRST TWO DAYS traditionally require abstaining from work.

SHMINI ATZERET (Eighth Day Assembly, ending Sukkot) begins at sunset on Wednesday, October 15, and lasts through Thursday, October 16.

SIMCHAT TORAH (Rejoicing with the Torah) begins at sunset on Thursday, October 16, and lasts through Friday, October 17.

The LAST TWO DAYS of PASSOVER begin at sunset Thursday, April 9, 2015 and last through Saturday, April 11.

SHAVUOT (Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost) begins at sunset on Saturday, May 23, 2015; continues through Monday, May 25.

TISHA B’AV (fast day marking the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem) begins at sunset on Saturday night, July 25, and continues through Sunday, July 26.

-----------------
Category III. Observance doesn't require refraining from work.

HANUKKAH
(Festival of Lights) begins at sunset on Tuesday, December 16 and
continues through nightfall Wednesday, December 24.  Every night, candles on the
Hanukkiah (eight-armed candelabra, sometimes called "menorah") are lit.

PURIM - Begins at sunset on Wednesday, March 4, 2015; continues through Thursday, March 5.


And a few other seasonal and historical holy days that I won't mention, because enough already!  If you want to know more about the meaning of these holidays, you might consult www.jewfaq.org or the book Seasons of Our Joy, by Arthur Waskow.

Typically, if you ask a Jewish man if the afternoon preceding a holy day is an acceptable time to have a meeting, he will say yes, because what most Jewish men do is show up at the dining table, fork in hand.  For women, the two days preceding each holiday are incredibly intense because of the cleaning, preparation and food preparation that takes place.  We look forward to the day when these tasks will be more equitably
distributed.

A final note which I thought worth adding from my own experience: Even if someone (who might even be Jewish) tells you "It's no big deal" to schedule meetings and
conferences on these days, doesn't mean that that's true for all Jews.   People maintain different levels of observance, and a more secular Jew may work on a day when I would not.   When in doubt, please ask!   I can't speak for other Jewish consultants, staff, board members, and interns, but I know I always prefer to be asked.

Thank you!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Day that God Mourned

Today in synagogues around the world, it was Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of Vision. We read Isaiah's vision of the coming destruction and rebuilding of a holy city. This haftarah always comes just before Tisha B'Av, and my fellow congregant at Temple B'nai Brith, Caroline Chauncey, explained how the vision and the holiday are related.

On Tisha B'Av, beginning this Monday night, Jews will read the book of Lamentations and mourn  the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I have been explaining in previous posts how this was not merely a cultural catastrophe or a political defeat.  It was the shattering of a cosmic context in which the Jewish purpose-to repair and perfect the world-would be achievable.

Caroline noticed that the keyword "Eichah" which begins Lamentations and is the book's Hebrew name, also occurs in today's haftarah. "How (eichah) she has become a whore, the faithful city that was filled with justice." (Isaiah 1:21) It's also traditional to chant the haftarah with the mournful tune that's used for Eichah/Lamentations.

Why are these days twins?

In Lamentations, we, the Jews, mourn what has happened to our people and their land because of the terrible things we have done. In the haftarah, Caroline says, God mourns for us and what we have brought upon ourselves. "Why do you seek further beatings, that you continue to offend? Every head is ailing, and every heart is sick." (Isaiah 1:5)

And this is where we meet: in our common grief. And this is how we reconcile: in changing our destructive and self-destructive ways."Zion shall be rescued in justice, and her repentant ones, in doing the right thing." (Isaiah 1:27)







Welcome to My World: ...and Beyond?

It would be much easier to dismiss Tisha B'Av from duty on the Jewish calendar and stop mourning the destruction of the Temple if history had come to an end. So comforting it would be to believe that the Judaism we have is the ultimate goal of a long dialectical process and that what is, is permanent.

We know that history goes on, however.  So please read Welcome to My World: ...and Beyond?:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Opening Ourselves to the Pain of the Other

I've been brought to a halt in my Tisha B'Av reflections by the ongoing death and destruction in Palestine and the emergency in Israel.  Rabbi Jill Jacobs speaks for me when she calls on us to practice "radical empathy."  At the very least, we can stop repeating slogans that dehumanize our fellow children of Abraham.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/07/31/way-too-many-people-still-believe-these-hideous-stereotypes-about-israelis-and-palestinians/#

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

I Wonder How You Will React

re·ac·tive

  • showing a response to a stimulus. "pupils are reactive to light" 
  • acting in response to a situation rather than creating or controlling it.
    "a proactive rather than a reactive approach"  
  • having a tendency to react chemically."nitrogen dioxide is a highly reactive gas"
I hardly ever hear the word "reactive" any more.  People are using the word "reactionary" instead.  Yet they have different meanings, and we need to keep both.

A reactionary is a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state in a society.  If you live in the U,S. and you want to go back to a time when "women knew their place," you're a reactionary.  (Not a conservative: that would mean wanting to keep things from changing,  Going backwards is a change.)

Being reactive, on the other hand, is not political.  It's a character trait.  If you say things like "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "Don't borrow trouble," you're probably a reactive person. 

"Reactive" can also describe the way one responds to a changing situation.  Right now, the U.S. is responding to the crisis in Iraq in a reactive way.  In 2003, the U.S. took the initiative.  This should tell you that waiting to see is not always the worst policy, and intervention not always the best.


Using "reactionary" when you mean "reactive" confuses the issue.  Very progressive people can have knee-jerk responses to things.  Right-wingers can plan for years in advance.  We need to keep the words that let us say so.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Do You Know What I Mean?

Languages change.  If you need any evidence, sit down and read Shakespeare.  When was the last time you burst out with a good "Zounds" or "Alackaday"?  

Then there's all the cliche phrases, like "fight fire with fire," "too much of a good thing," and "wear your heart on your sleeve." 

The thing is, they weren't cliches when Shakespeare wrote them.  They were fresh baked, still warm from the oven. Billy the Bard may be the first one who ever said them. 

Languages change, and meanings change with them.  But as the way we write and speak evolves, do we ever lose shades of meaning?  Do some things become harder to say, perhaps harder to think?  What's your opinion, gentle reader?

Excited about prepositions

For most of my fifty-six years, when people were looking forward to an event or when they wanted to express enthusiasm about something that was already happening, they'd say "I'm excited about" the event."  When they wanted to share someone's joy, they'd say to that person, "I'm excited for you."  For example:

I'm excited for my son, who has been accepted at a very good college. He is excited about their theatre and computer departments.

In the past five years, I have seen more and more instances of "excited for" being used for events.  It seems to have spread geographically (from the midwestern U.S. to the coasts) and generationally (from Generation X and Millennials up to Boomers like me). 

It sounds strange to me, but it doesn't upset me.  I know what the other person is saying in all but the most rare of cases.  The words are doing their work.

You might say that the distinction is important because being excited for another person is a laudable emotion: it helps make friendships and social relationships stronger.  Being excited about an event is a personal taste, and reducing everything to personal tastes would be a great loss to us as individuals and as a society. 

But I don't really think that people are losing empathy for one another because they say "for" when I would say "about."  If social bonds are fraying, language is not the cutting edge of the problem.

  
Taking an interest in language

Here's an example that worries me more.  "Uninterested" is fading from the language, in favor of "disinterested."  They used to mean two different things, and the difference is still important and useful.

As Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, explains:

An uninterested person is bored, unconcerned, or indifferent: a disinterested person is impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome.  If you're on trial, you want a disinterested judge.
In our contentious, litigious culture, being able to say "disinterested" and know that people will understand you seems like a major benefit.  You might say that we have other perfectly good ways to say "disinterested": for instance, "impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome"!  Yet it still seems useful to me to have one word that pulls all these strands of meaning together. 

Otherwise, people will think you mean "he can't be bothered" when what you really mean is "he can't be bribed."

Plus, language may change but texts remain as written.  I can see the day coming when "disinterested observer" may cause as much confusion and sniggering as "gay apparel" does now, because the meanings of the words have changed.

Where do you draw your line in the sand? What makes a traditional usage worth fighting to keep, and when should we "be like the times" (as Shakespeare's Richard III would say)?

An uninterested person is bored, unconcerned, or indifferent; a disinterested person is impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome. If you're on trial, you want a disinterested judge. - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/disinterested-versus-uninterested#sthash.U3zipOCI.dpuf
An uninterested person is bored, unconcerned, or indifferent; a disinterested person is impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome. If you're on trial, you want a disinterested judge. - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/disinterested-versus-uninterested#sthash.U3zipOCI.dpuf
An uninterested person is bored, unconcerned, or indifferent; a disinterested person is impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome. If you're on trial, you want a disinterested judge. - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/disinterested-versus-uninterested#sthash.U3zipOCI.dpuf
An uninterested person is bored, unconcerned, or indifferent; a disinterested person is impartial, unbiased, or has no stake in the outcome. If you're on trial, you want a disinterested judge. - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/disinterested-versus-uninterested#sthash.U3zipOCI.dpuf





Thursday, May 22, 2014

Kerry's (and the Boston Globe's) dumb definition of isolationism

It's really a shame when a major newspaper doesn't know the meaning of isolationism--and neither does the Secretary of State.

A May 20 editorial in the Boston Globe, "Kerry offers a wise warning on isolationism," quotes and praises the former Senator from Massachusetts. “We cannot allow a hangover from the excessive interventionism of the last decade to lead now to an excess of isolationism in this decade,” he declared.

Never mind that the U.S. still has troops and advisers all over the world--where it isn't "intervening" by firing missiles over the border.  The more important point is the mistaken and pernicious idea that if we're not involved militarily, we're not paying attention.

It is not isolationist when ordinary citizens travel to other countries.

It is not isolationist when teachers from the U.S. meet with teachers from Russia, or city government officials from Pakistan visit municipal leaders in Massachusetts.

It is not isolationist when scientists from all over the world--the U.S., China, island nations in the Pacific--work together to slow down climate change and make its consequences less severe.

The U.S. can be highly involved in the world without ever firing a shot.  And it should be.


Friday, May 16, 2014

"What's My Child Doing Up There?" ( an introduction to bar/bat mitzvah)



There’s a lot of mystery around becoming bar or bat mitzvah, and there shouldn’t be.  In essence, it’s very simple.  When a Jewish boy or girl reaches age thirteen, he or she is eligible to lead parts of the service at his or her family’s synagogue.  So, he or she celebrates the occasion by…actually leading some parts of the service. 


Sounds pretty straightforward, right?  Yet, I have been tutoring Jewish children for bar and bat mitzvah off and on since 1982.  I have seen the parents of my students approach the bar or bat mitzvah feeling confused, and sometimes even overwhelmed.  These parents are no dummies.  They are not being neurotic for no reason whatever.  In the U.S., the way we live now, there are good reasons why you might not immediately understand what your child is doing for his bar mitzvah, or her bat mitzvah.

 Why the mystery?

Let’s start with language.  Very few Americans are fluent in Hebrew.  Depending on your synagogue or temple, what your child does for bar or bat mitzvah might be partly, mostly, or nearly all in Hebrew.  So, let alone understanding what your child is saying: how do you track your child’s progress as he or she studies for bar or bat mitzvah?  You want to be a good parent.  You want to be supportive.  But how?

 Even the terms the rabbi or tutor uses for the tasks your child will take on are usually in Hebrew.  “What’s an aliyah?  Is a parshah the same thing as a haftarah, or is it something different my child has to learn?  How come one set of relatives calls the skullcap worn in synagogue a yarmulke while the other set calls it a kipah?”  Whether you grew up Jewish, became Jewish later in life, or raised a Jewish child without any Jewish background of your own, chances are you need a guide to understand the vocabulary that surrounds bar or bat mitzvah studies.


Then, there’s the fact that preparing for bar or bat mitzvah is usually a multi-step process.  Again, depending on your Jewish community and its local customs, your child may be reading or singing some things from the prayer book, and chanting other things from the printed Bible or the Torah scroll.  Most likely, he or she will also be giving a short talk about the passage of the Bible read that day.   

To prepare for these tasks, you may be driving your child to meet with one tutor throughout the process--or a tutor and a rabbi--or a tutor, a cantor, a Hebrew school principal, and a rabbi.  You’ll need to find ways to talk with each of them, and make sure that they are all talking to one another.
 

The Saturday morning service itself, the usual time for celebrating bar or bat mitzvah, can be a challenge.  It’s going to be at least an hour long, maybe as much as three hours: again, partly, mostly, or nearly all in Hebrew, depending on local custom.  It will involve a set of rituals and protocols that are certainly not obvious.  “Should I invite my non-Jewish friends or relatives to the service?  How are they going to feel at home there?  How will I?”



Finally, there’s one huge distraction that makes it difficult for parents to look forward to the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony: planning the party.  Everybody likes a good party.  For some children, it’s the reason they started studying for bar or bat mitzvah in the first place!  But for unwary parents—especially parents going through it for the first time, with their eldest child—planning the party can take up all the time and attention you have. 

You might not be planning something as lavish as the party Peter Finch attends in the movie Sunday Bloody Sunday, or as obscenely ostentatious as the one Jeremy Piven plans in Keeping Up with the Steins.  In fact, I hope not!  Still, in the midst of scheduling a space, a caterer, and entertainment, designing and sending out invitations, and helping your child keep track of gifts, it might be hard for you, yourself, to keep tabs on the bar or bat mitzvah studies—and all too easy to arrive at shul that Saturday morning without a clue about what’s going on.  

“What’s my child doing up there?”  Wonder no more.  I am writing a book to give you the answers you need as you begin to think about your child’s bar or bat mitzvah.  There are other, excellent books that will help you think about the deeper meaning of this rite of passage.  I will mention some of them in the Appendices.  

 Writing this book, I have a different mission. You will soon hold in your hands a practical guide to bar and bat mitzvah for the perplexed parent.  With this book as your road map, you will be able to navigate the process from the first day of lessons to the last blessing of the Saturday morning service, with confidence.  It shouldn’t be a mystery—just a mitzvah!