Evan Ho: A Mesmerizing Bar Mitzvah

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Although not a member of the Jewish faith, Evan Ho was deeply moved by his first experience of a Bar Mitzvah.

When you see something extraordinary for the first time, it can make quite an impression.

For me, I’m not sure what I’ll remember most: the removal of the sacred document from a containment area representing the Ark, the hugging and passing of this bundled scroll down the generational line of a family, or the reading of a passage from the ancient text by the 13-year-old boy. Or was it the touching speeches by the proud and loving parents standing face-to-face with their son? Or the metronomic chanting of prayers with rising and falling tones as if these invocations were being carried across a vast open sea to a home port?

I had never witnessed a Bar Mitzvah before and I was mesmerized.

Emerging from this solemn and celebratory ceremony was a “son of the commandments,” who henceforth must take responsibility for his actions in the eyes of God and be a contributing member of the community – a “guiding light” as the Rabbi put it. This young man’s reading of a passage in the Torah and his personal interpretation was about kindness to animals, so he chose for his Mitzvah project, an initial step as a servant for a better world, a fundraising effort for a local animal shelter.

The Bar Mitzvah is a profound event, full of rituals to honor faith and tradition. I don’t understand Hebrew, and I’m not part of that faith, but it didn’t seem to matter. Friends of all different faiths were invited to share in the joyous occasion and congratulate this new guiding light on his coming-of-age.

The central affirmative message to me as a parent, also of a 13-year-old, is to make sure we raise virtuous and socially-conscious children to be responsible and respected adults in the community. These are urgent times and the world needs as many as possible.

With a Perspective, this is Evan Ho.

Evan Ho works in the business school at UC Berkeley. He lives in Orinda.