The Wall Between Us
At his bar mitzvah, my son took his place in the men’s section of the shul—a place where mothers can’t go
Soon after his bar mitzvah, he staged a literary rebellion, during which his reading habits mutated beyond recognition. Fiction, the last of our shared loves, was no longer deemed worth reading. He preferred sports journals and the daily paper to every tome I dangled in front of him. His individuating was entirely normal for a teenager, I knew, but it was still painful to bear.
This fall, two years after my son’s bar mitzvah, the annual cycle of Torah reading brought us, once again, to the Shabbat when we read Parashat Noach. Prodded by his father, my son agreed to be our shul’s ba’al koreh—literally, the master of reading—a meaningful way to mark a moment that had quickly receded into the past.
That Friday evening, as it poured outside, my son developed an unexpected curiosity about my recent reading. I feigned disinterest, silently jutting my chin out in the direction of the book pile on the coffee table. Perusing the titles, his eyes landed on a copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
“Fiction?” he asked.
“No. Just an incredible story,” I replied gingerly.
Taking the book in his hands, he shrugged, said goodnight, and went to bed.
The next morning, I took my place among the women in shul. My son approached the amud, standing seven inches taller than he had at his bar mitzvah, his voice a full octave deeper. He once again read flawlessly, confidently, though not quite as ceremoniously as he did the first time around. I listened while I pondered the beauty of the ark’s construction, how its design carved out a designated place for everyone on board.
When he finished leyning, my son firmly shook the hands of the gabbaim who flanked him before turning to gaze at me over the mechitzah, just like he did on the day of his bar mitzvah.
Smiling, awaiting my approval, he was a man, but somehow—deep down and on his own terms—still my boy.
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