Some weeks ago the JC printed a story about how a sweet, launched in celebration at a bar mitzvah, hit the rabbi in the face and caused him considerable discomfort. The word on the streets of Hendon is that this was a deliberate act by a congregant unhappy with recent sermons. I don’t believe this scurrilous rumour for a minute. It’s beyond comprehension that someone might react in this way to a rabbi’s preaching.
What I do believe is that Jews all over the country saw this coming (even if the rabbi in question didn’t). There was a time when there was a degree of decorum in our synagogues. Don’t get me wrong, I love a simcha and I especially love a bar mitzvah. Nothing brings me closer to the Lord than hearing some pre-pubescent kid I don’t know screech and yodel his way through Maf and Haf. Still, this was a time bomb waiting to explode.
The truth is that sweet throwing is the new paint-balling. In one shul I visited recently three school-friends of the boy were carefully installing a specially converted Gatling gun at the back of the shul when I arrived.
I also noted that nobody in the congregation was the slightest bit interested in what the poor lad was reading or how he was doing. They were all entirely focused on him finishing, when, of course, the inevitable happened. Rather than a gentle, celebratory shower of sweetness, the boy, and anyone else in the firing line, was assaulted by a carefully yet violently aimed barrage of boiled confection. Fortunately the St. John’s Ambulance people were on hand to look after the several casualties.
Afterwards, and with no little embarrassment, I asked one of these volunteers what they thought of the events that had unfolded, expecting some invective about barbaric and inhumane customs that cause deep distress in the name of religion. Instead the chap told me he thought is was great because usually they just hang around rainy school fetes and have little more to deal with than 4 year old kids with candy floss sticks stuck up their noses. At least someone was happy.
But what upsets me most is that the bar mitzvah boy is the last person that should be subject to such treatment. Is this the way we show appreciation for someone who has spent months learning? Is this the way to support someone in what is quite probably the most nerve-wracking thing he’s ever done? Is this the way to encourage young men to commit to their faith? I think not, and what will that mean for a community already in Jewish identity freefall?
It’s clear that people have grown accustomed to sweet throwing. The tide cannot be turned back – it’s now virtually minhag. On the other hand we need to protect our young people. So how about changing things just a little? Instead of throwing sweets at the bar mitzvah I think we should throw those awful powdery biscuits with the bits of glacé cherry at whoever it is that organises kiddish. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll get some decent tuck after the servic
Originally posted December 5th 2008