Yesterday my thirteen year old son had his Bar Mitzvah celebration. Many relatives and friends came to celebrate with him at our Synagogue, and later at Llanyrafon Manor (which I can thoroughly recommend as a venue if anyone needs one in the Cwmbran area!)
Even at our Synagogue, which is a Reform synagogue, the Shabbat service takes at least an hour and a half. When there is also a celebration, such as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the service can take much longer – yesterday’s was almost exactly two hours long. I’m used to this and I love the service, but I am astonished that our non-Jewish friends and family sat through a two hour religious service in a foreign language with such good grace. If they did get extremely bored, none of them said so:-)
Regular readers of my blog will know by now that my immediate family are all autistic. Myself and my youngest son now have official diagnoses; The Husband has started on the process of getting his own diagnosis; and Middlest, at 13, is right in the middle of being assessed by ISCAN – a new single point of access, fast-track service involving all the disciplinary specialists (such as paediatricians, psychologists, speech and language therapists). There is very little doubt in the minds of anyone who has met him and has professional knowledge of autism that he will qualify for the diagnosis.
So it is a mighty big deal that Middlest got up on the Bimah (equivalent of a pulpit I think), in front of about 100 people, many of whom he didn’t know, led the congregation in prayer – in Hebrew – and then read from the Torah scroll, in Hebrew, where the Hebrew is unpointed (has no vowels), written in columns, and is perfectly justified – which means some of the letters are stretched sideways.
He also wrote (with the help of our Rabbi) and read out, a D’var Torah, which is an English commentary on the portion of the Torah that he read in Hebrew, containing his own observations and conclusions on the portion.
He has been practising for over a year. There were times when we thought he wasn’t going to be able to manage to get through the whole of his portion, which was 15 verses long, in addition to the prayers and the D’var Torah. In fact, there are other Bar or Bat Mitzvah candidates who perform more of the ceremony than Middlest did – but there are some who do less.
He stood at the door before the service, greeting guests and handing out kippot. He read with confidence, and didn’t get flustered or upset the very few times he stumbled over a word or lost his place. He coped perfectly with a couple of unexpected additions to the service. He spoke to friends and relatives afterwards, thanking them for compliments and being very social.
I am beyond proud. Kvell doesn’t begin to describe how I feel. I am extremely grateful to the many people who have supported Middlest during this process, and especially to The Husband, who is not Jewish, but has been there with Middlest every step of the way, including coming up onto the Bimah with the family for the Bar Mitzvah blessing, and the understanding and acceptance of the Reform Jewish community who allowed him to do so.
Middlest is exhausted today, and also still overexcited. We know from experience that he won’t be back to his usual self for at least a week – these types of excitements and efforts take a great deal of recovery time.
But he did it. He achieved something absolutely outstanding. And from now on he will always know that no matter how hard he finds the tasks, activities and achievements that neurotypical people find easy, this makes him different, not less.