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Goodbye to boyhood

Reva Klein on what a bar mitzvah can do

Since the summer holidays, David has been transformed from what his mother, in her less charitable moments, called a "prize pillock" to a boy who has acquired maturity and confidence.

The change is dramatic. Around the time he turned 13 last spring, his usual good-natured clownery took a distinctly anarchic and challenging turn in class and at home. With it came an inability to focus on anything for more than a couple of minutes. Even with his friends, he was out of sorts.

Now, only a couple of months later, he appears more at ease with himself and others, more self-contained while at the same time more communicative. And in class he's calmer and responsive. What happened to David over the holidays that not only settled him down but gave him a boost of self-esteem was his bar mitzvah. He had been preparing for it for the past two years, going to classes and practising at home, learning not only how to read Hebrew in general and his Torah portion in particular, but learning also about the history, the laws and the traditions of Judaism.

Then, on a sunny Saturday morning in late July, surrounded by a large crowd of family and friends, he stood on the pulpit and sang his section of the Torah in Hebrew and then interpreted it for the congregation in a way that made lots of people cry, which is what Jews do to show they're happy. A bar mitzvah (or bat mitzvah for girls) is one of the most important events in a Jewish child's life. David was told by his Rabbi that it was the day he would become a man in the eyes of the Jewish community.

Of course he didn't really become a man. In fact, in certain circumstances he can still be the prize pillock of yesterday. But like all rites of passage, the metaphor of moving from childhood to adulthood can have a powerful influence.

Getting an adolescent to buckle down to a sustained course of study that his friends are not a part of and that conflicts with football practice schedules, The Simpsons and myriad other important activities is a pretty monumental achievement. And even more so when it's happening at a time when peer pressure, popular culture and hormones can so easily overwhelm him.

Sure, David's chuffed as hell about getting so many presents for his bar mitzvah. But what's really changed him is his sense of pride in what he has achieved. He has acquired a belief in himself. And that's not bad going for a 13-year-old.

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