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Jack Selkirk

My Journey to This Moment

– Jack Selkirk, June 16, 2018

When I sat down to write about my personal journey in becoming a bar mitzvah, I started to jot down a list of everything I learned or experienced over the past two years relative to the b’nai mitzvah program. After I had finished, I knew I was in trouble. The list was long and detailed, and I knew that you all would be sitting here having to patiently listen to 8 other people speak today. So in an attempt to be brief, I would like to share four of the most meaningful ones on my list – ones that I consider to be blessings.

Blessing Number OneLearning Hebrew.

On the first night of class we were greeted by our extremely patient and kind teacher Roz standing towards the front of the room with her big smile next to one of those plastic Fisher Price Tiny Tike easel things with a large piece of paper clipped to it that had HUGE Hebrew letters on it. Aside from it being hilarious, I was immediately humbled. I LITERALLY KNEW NOTHING … we had to learn the alphabet like pre-school kids. Learning Hebrew was critical for me though because before, when I would attend services, I almost felt like an outsider barely being able to follow along with the transliteration on the page. Now that I know Hebrew, I am able to join others in prayer and in song – and truly feel like I am part of the Jewish community. Another special part about learning Hebrew was that my son Jack and I learned Hebrew at the same time. He’s 9 – was 8 at the time. We would practice together out of the same exact workbook, and through our learning together, I felt like Hebrew became our secret code language. From time-to-time I would leave a note in his lunchbox in Hebrew. Granted, it would only say “shalom” (hello/peace/goodbye) or “ah-hava” (love), and I’m sure some of the kids next to him at lunch could read it, but most couldn’t. The best part of that for me, was that he would keep the notes. Roz, thank you for this blessing.

Blessing Number Two – Learning to Chant.

To chant or not to chant – that is the question. For me personally, the full experience and honor of reading from the Torah would come from chanting it. Um, so the only problem is that I found out pretty quick that you don’t just sing it however you want to. Chanting involves learning how to emphasize certain parts of a word, make your voice go up and down at very specific points …  all things that required expert, professional instruction. So over the several times I met with Rebecca, she was very encouraging and patient even when I tripped up on the actual Hebrew. She emphasized accuracy. It was hard. And so I practiced a lot. My daughter, Harper would say to me, “Daddy, practice your song.” – which I sometimes thought was a clever way to delay her bedtime. But, the really beautiful thing now is that when I do chant, I don’t worry so much any more about how I sound. I completely let go and allow myself to feel the connection through song. Rebecca, thank you for this blessing.

Blessing Number Three – The Torah

The Torah was written by numerous individuals and evolved over a long period of time. Add to that variations of endless Rabbinic commentary, and one can become easily lost in the different interpretations. In class, we would read various portions of the Torah together and Rabbi Holin would stop periodically and ask what we thought was happening at that point in the narrative. When my classmates or I didn’t say anything, Rabbi Holin wouldn’t just provide a brief explanation and move on. He did what quickly became one of my favorite parts of class. He would share a personal story, typically involving his sons, or his wife, or just himself that eventually came back around to the point the narrative was trying to make. Through his personal examples he was able to not only explain the point, but he did it in a meaningful way that made ancient text feel relevant to present day. Which leads me to believe that if we pay attention, we can find Torah in our everyday lives. Rabbi Holin, thank you for this blessing.

Blessing Number Four – Love & Support through Spirituality

From time to time over the last two years, but especially over these last few weeks, I’ve been second guessing my decision to become a bar mitzvah in terms of timing. After all, I started the b’nai mitzvah program 3 days after my conversion ceremony. And although I had experienced it all before, I was relearning customs, rituals, and traditions as an active participant. Through all of the self-doubt and agonizing over whether I had made the right decision to become a bar mitzvah now, my wife Morgan would always bring me back and center me – as only she can do. She would remind me to focus on the why behind what I was doing, instead of the when. The profound spiritual connection I feel to Judaism and taking this next step is truly what I want to do right here, right now. Morgan, I love you, thank you for this blessing.