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Throwing Out the Ten Commandments—the Ones That Once Sat Atop My Cake

I found a memento from my bar mitzvah in my parents’ house. Was it finally time to let go of the past, or was it worth keeping?

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The bar mitzvah cake at the bar mitzvah, 1965. (Courtesy of the author)
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But because I believe in ritual, I felt the Ten Commandments deserved more than a trip down the garbage disposal. I unplugged the fridge, pulling the sugary ornament from its home. I placed it, like a beating heart, on the passenger seat of my rental car and drove onto the Nimitz Freeway back to Jack London Square, to the scene of my bar mitzvah reception, to where the cake had been cut. This time, I noted, the car had a full tank of gas.

I thought of walking to the exact site where Goodman’s once stood, but I wanted to avoid tourists and crowds. Besides just as the waterfront area had changed, so had I.

Instead I walked along a little trafficked trail past moored boats and a group of men playing cricket on an open field. As I stepped down near the Bay Shore, I unwrapped the confection, surprised to uncover a layer of waxed paper neatly folded under the cellophane, folded neatly just like my mom had wrapped our school lunches once upon a time. I rubbed my thumb along the white sugary parts, noticing a pink rose design in each of the four corners. I tore one corner off and slung it into the quiet water as if it were a pebble. I was always good at skimming rocks on lakes.

I thought about breaking it up and throwing pieces into the bay one at a time, but I thought that might reduce the impact. So, I looked over my shoulder for park police and then, with abandon, hurled the rest into the water side arm. It plunked, barely splashing, and appeared to rise to the surface, but with the sun’s glare it was hard to tell. A plastic coke bottle floated nearby and two seagulls flew overhead. And then it was gone. I felt relief and emboldened. I’d taken this piece of family legacy into my own hands. I hadn’t even listened to my cousins who I forever look up to, when hearing a day earlier about the Ten Commandments still in the fridge, urged me to preserve them for posterity. “Maybe you could frame them,” one said.

On my flight back east later that week, I thought about what felt like a rebellious act. My default position in the family was usually to go along, rarely speaking out or doing what I thought was right if I feared it might roil others. But on that day, after more than four decades of inaction, I performed an act of liberation. For those Ten Commandments and for my soul.

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Throwing Out the Ten Commandments—the Ones That Once Sat Atop My Cake

I found a memento from my bar mitzvah in my parents’ house. Was it finally time to let go of the past, or was it worth keeping?

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