I was 13 or 14 and I met Donald Trump at a bar mitzvah of a good friend of ours, who's friends with him. He had his girlfriend at the time with him, that Melania with him. He said, 'Hey guys, if you work hard and be successful, you'll get one of these.' I'll never forget that. And now he's married to her.
After my bar mitzvah, I started to assimilate, to really not pay attention to my roots. The anti-Semitic experiences of my youth had been very painful. You try to put all that in the past and become a person of the world. I think that's the right thing to do. But it's not right to leave out who you really are. That's a tragedy.
I had a world theme at my Bar Mitzvah: each table was a different country. I had a miserable time. There was one picture of me, and I'm wearing a double-breasted suit. There were all these people having fun, and I'm just standing there. I look like a corporate lawyer who just found out he's not making partner.
Allowing yourself to stop reading a book - at page 25, 50, or even, less frequently, a few chapters from the end - is a rite of passage in a reader's life, the literary equivalent of a bar mitzvah or a communion, the moment at which you look at yourself and announce: Today I am an adult. I can make my own decisions.
I'm not a lawyer I'm a kind of mouthpiece/activist type, though occasionally they shave me and stuff me into my Bar Mitzvah suit and send me to a standards body or the UN to stir up trouble. I spend about three weeks a month on the road doing completely weird stuff like going to Microsoft to talk about DRM.
I was Jewish, through and through, although in our house that didn't mean a whole lot. We never went to synagogue. I never had a Bar Mitzvah. We didn't keep kosher or observe the Sabbath. In fact, I'm not so sure I would have known what the Sabbath looked like if it passed me on the street, so how could I observe it?
I think my first experience of art, or the joy in making art, was playing the horn at some high-school dance or bar mitzvah or wedding, looking at a roomful of people moving their bodies around in time to what I was doing. There was a piano player, a bass player, a drummer, and my breath making the melody.
The fact is that people who strap bombs to their bodies to blow up families at a Bar Mitzvah in Israel, plant bombs at a nightclub in Bali, or slit stewardesses' throats and ram airplanes filled with innocent Americans into office buildings do not do so for any reason related to poverty. They do so because they hold evil beliefs and have deformed consciences
I saw the most frightening, most depressing sight I had ever seen - a row of stores with Stars of David and the word 'Jude' painted on them, and inside, behind half-empty counters, people in a daze, cringing like they didn't know what hit them and didn't know where the next blow would come from. Hitler had been in power only six months, and his boycott was already in full effect. I hadn't been so wholly conscious of being a Jew since my bar mitzvah, and it was the first time since I'd had the measles that I was too sick to eat.
Keep in mind too, our failures serve to teach us, and usually teach us more than our successes do. What we may perceive as a failure is also an opportunity for someone else to rise to the occasion and perform a mitzvah, or mitzvot. Do not begrudge someone their joyous performance of mitzvot. Sometimes, perhaps even more often then you may think, what we consider our failures were blessings in disguise for ourselves, or others, or everyone. Abraham did not change the world just because he himself changed, and followed his own destiny. He changed the world through his giving others opportunities to rise to their own greatness.
I had survived the work gangs in the ghetto. Baked bread under cover of night. Hidden in a pigeon coop. Had a midnight bar mitzvah in the basement of an abandoned building. I had watched my parents be taken away to their deaths, had avoided Amon Goeth and his dogs, had survived the salt mines of Wieliczka and the sick games of Trzebinia. I had done so much to live, and now, here, the Nazis were going to take all that away with their furnace! I started to cry, the first tears I had shed since Moshe died. Why had I worked so hard to survive if it was always going to end like this? If I had known, I wouldn't have bothered. I would have let them kill me back in the ghetto. It would have been easier that way. All that I had done was for nothing.
The ceremony was fast so we wouldn't be caught. When it was over, the men all whispered 'Mazel tov' and climbed back onto their shelves. I went up to the boy and pressed the wooden horse into his hands, the only present I could give him. The boy looked at me with big, round eyes. Had I ever been so young? 'We are alive, ' I told him. 'We are alive, and that is all that matters. We cannot let them tear us from the pages of the world.' I said it as much for me as for him. I said it in memory of Uncle Moshe, and my mother and father, and my aunts and other uncles and cousins. The Nazis had put me in a gas chamber. I had thought I was dead, but I was alive. I was a new man that day, just like the bar mitzvah boy. I was a new man, and I was going to survive.
When 1:45 came, half the class left, and Danny Hupfer whispered, "If she gives you a cream puff after we leave, I'm going to kill you" - which was not something that someone headed off to prepare for his bar mitzvah should be thinking. When 1:55 came and the other half of the class left, Meryl Lee whispered, "If she gives you one after we leave, I'm going to do Number 408 to you." I didn't remember what Number 408 was, but it was probably pretty close to what Danny Hupfer had promised. Even Mai Thi looked at me with narrowed eyes and said, "I know your home." Which sounded pretty ominous.
Gary D. Schmidt
So I close this long reflection on what I hope is a not-too-quaveringly semi-Semitic note. When I am at home, I will only enter a synagogue for the bar or bat mitzvah of a friend's child, or in order to have a debate with the faithful. (When I was to be wed, I chose a rabbi named Robert Goldburg, an Einsteinian and a Shakespearean and a Spinozist, who had married Arthur Miller to Marilyn Monroe and had a copy of Marilyn's conversion certificate. He conducted the ceremony in Victor and Annie Navasky's front room, with David Rieff and Steve Wasserman as my best of men.) I wanted to do something to acknowledge, and to knit up, the broken continuity between me and my German-Polish forebears. When I am traveling, I will stop at the shul if it is in a country where Jews are under threat, or dying out, or were once persecuted. This has taken me down queer and sad little side streets in Morocco and Tunisia and Eritrea and India, and in Damascus and Budapest and Prague and Istanbul, more than once to temples that have recently been desecrated by the new breed of racist Islamic gangster. (I have also had quite serious discussions, with Iraqi Kurdish friends, about the possibility of Jews genuinely returning in friendship to the places in northern Iraq from which they were once expelled.) I hate the idea that the dispossession of one people should be held hostage to the victimhood of another, as it is in the Middle East and as it was in Eastern Europe. But I find myself somehow assuming that Jewishness and 'normality' are in some profound way noncompatible. The most gracious thing said to me when I discovered my family secret was by Martin, who after a long evening of ironic reflection said quite simply: 'Hitch, I find that I am a little envious of you.' I choose to think that this proved, once again, his appreciation for the nuances of risk, uncertainty, ambivalence, and ambiguity. These happen to be the very things that 'security' and 'normality, ' rather like the fantasy of salvation, cannot purchase.