CELEBRATING THE ANNIVERSARY OF MY BAR MITZVAH
IT ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN BECAUSE I WAS A HEBREW SCHOOL TRUANT
January 9th brings back a very special memory for me, the anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah. It took place six decades ago during a blizzard, because that was the worst date to have it in wintery Syracuse, New York. Nobody wanted it. That was the date I was stuck with because I had been a Hebrew school truant.
A bus would pick me up several days a week after my regular school at T. Aaron Levy Junior High School to transport me for about 20 minutes, to a synagogue not far from the Syracuse University campus. The teaching style was serious and by rote, and I just couldn’t seem to learn it. I came to hate it, but my family expected me to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah, the service where you are told at age 13, today you are a man.
Waiting for the bus
When the bus would disgorge us in front of the Temple, I would scramble away up a hill to the college’s shopping area to hang out in The Orange restaurant, or visit my pal Manny who sold clothing covered with S.U. symbolism. At the appointed time I returned down the hill, and caught the bus home.
Eventually it caught up with me and caused an uproar. My mother and father had to switch from my father’s very Orthodox Jewish Temple to one not far away where my mother’s family had attended, which was Conservative, which meant serious but not as strict. All of the good dates in Spring and Fall had long before been taken, so i was stuck with the dead of winter.
BEFORE MY BAR MITZVAH ON A SATURDAY MORNING WITH MY DAD'S BROTHERS. That's my father Robert H Block with me in the middle wearing broad-brimmed hats. Left to right: Bernard Block of Los Angeles, Seymour Block of Syracuse, Herbert Block of Washington, DC. My dad. Behind me is Sydney Block of Syracuse. In front of me my brilliant cousin Stewart, of Washington, DC, and to the right Sam Block, the oldest of the six sons of Sarah and Meyer Block.
When my Bar Mitzvah came, my father’s brothers sat in the front how following every word of Hebrew I spoke looking for a mistake to jump on and show what an inferior education I had received, but I was perfect. I didn’t tell them that I had memorized it all from endlessly listening to an ancient reel to reel tape recorder and not from the book alone.
My Bar mitzvah cake
I had learned a lot of lessons for my Bar Mitzvah but those words I memorized were the least of them. It took me many more years to re-discover my love of being Jewish, for the rich heritage and grand history, the great people and the ethical values, but not for the rote learning of my misspent youth.