Read an excerpt from Bar Mitzvah Boy
Joey Brant needs to have a bar mitzvah immediately. Like, next Tuesday. Except he’s not thirteen, the usual age for the Jewish milestone. He’s in his sixties. Joey has a grandson who is about to step up to the Torah, and a little white lie he once told his family is about to become painfully obvious. A task he thinks he could quickly cross off his to-do list becomes a deep immersion into the faith he no longer follows when he meets Rabbi Michael Levitz-Sharon. But Michael’s personal life is hanging together by a thread, so she has no energy for Joey. Eventually Joey wins her over, and the two embark on a crash bar mitzvah course, leading them into a series of reflections on their own faith and family.
In this whirlwind scene from Mark Leiren-Young's Bar Mitzvah Boy, Joey and Michael meet in Michael’s office – on a Friday, of all days.
Late Friday afternoon.
JOEY’s back is towards us. He’s decked out in prayer regalia—including tefillin, which are on incorrectly. He’s checking the books and pulls one down, stops, pulls another, stops. He takes a hefty book and turns to face the audience, looking very much like the perfect rabbi.
An old-style intercom buzzes and we hear the voice of SHERYL.
SHERYL: Rabbi. You’ve got a visitor. I said to wait in the hall but . . . Rabbi?
JOEY settles behind the desk. Relaxed. At home. He opens the book, flips the pages. MICHAEL enters, sweaty from her run. And . . .
MICHAEL: Excuse me.
MICHAEL stares at Joey, puzzled.
What can I do for you? I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m waiting for someone.
MICHAEL: I see.
JOEY: I have an appointment.
MICHAEL: Sorry to disturb you.
JOEY: Not a problem, I’m sure the receptionist can help you out.
MICHAEL: Or security.
MICHAEL reaches for the intercom.
MICHAEL: Shall I call security?
JOEY: I’m sorry, do you work here? I don’t know everyone who works here.
MICHAEL: I can see that.
Joey extends a hand.
JOEY: So your parents wanted a boy?
MICHAEL: It means “gift from G-d” or “who is like G-d.”
JOEY: It means your parents wanted a boy.
MICHAEL: I’m guessing yours did too.
JOEY: So what do you do here?
MICHAEL: This and that . . . I’m the rabbi. So more this than that.
MICHAEL: And you’re in my chair.
JOEY: You’re Rabbi Levitz-Sharon? (pronounced Share-in.)
MICHAEL: Rabbi Michael Levitz-Sharon. (pronounced Sha-rown) Like the prime minister. No relation.
JOEY: But you’re—
MICHAEL: Not circumcised?
JOEY: Young. I was thinking young.
MICHAEL: Of course you were.
JOEY indicates her ball cap.
JOEY: And that’s your kippah? So you cover your head all the time?
MICHAEL: You must be Mr. Brant.
JOEY: So you heard I was coming?
MICHAEL: I heard you wanted to see me today and Sheryl told you I wasn’t available because I’m never available Friday afternoons. I’ve got a service to prepare.
JOEY: Did she tell you it was an emergency? I told her to tell you it was an emergency.
MICHAEL: Did somebody die?
JOEY: No one I know.
MICHAEL: Is someone dying?
JOEY: We’re all dying. It’s the human condition.
MICHAEL: So it’s not an emergency. And it’s almost Shabbat. And I really have to shower and change.
JOEY: This won’t take long.
MICHAEL: I can see you next week. Not on Friday. Once the sun goes down I can’t turn on the hot water.
JOEY: That’s just silly.
MICHAEL: It is, actually, but that’s religion for you.
JOEY: An ancient tradition dating back to the great showers of Egypt.
MICHAEL: Also, the congregation will be wondering where I am.
JOEY: I’m here now. I’m dressed. I only need a minute.
MICHAEL: You look lovely. You should stay for services.
JOEY: Are you kidding? It’s Friday night.
MICHAEL: Yes, that would be when we traditionally have Friday night services. And you know what happens at sundown?
JOEY: Hell yah. I remember this from Hebrew school. The chariot turns into a pumpkin and the horses turn back into mice.
MICHAEL: You have to go. I have to change. Now if you want to talk next week—
JOEY: This’ll only take a second. Please, just one second, I promise.
MICHAEL considers, surrenders.
JOEY: So you’ll listen?
MICHAEL: Will you leave if I don’t?
JOEY: You know my grandson, Benny? Bright boy, sweet kid, the best. You know he’s twelve and he’s in your Hebrew school here and—
MICHAEL: One second.
JOEY: He’s getting bar mitzvahed in November. He’s getting bar mitzvahed here.
MICHAEL: Mazel tov.
JOEY: You don’t know Benny?
MICHAEL: Cantor Reuben teaches the kids. I don’t meet most of them till they start coming to shul to prepare for the big day. Benny Brant.
JOEY: Goldman. Ben Goldman.
MICHAEL: You’re Tzeporah’s dad?
JOEY: You know Sandee?
MICHAEL: From high school. I haven’t seen her in years.
JOEY: Good, perfect, that’s perfect.
MICHAEL: Ben’s getting bar mitzvahed here? Not at the Schara Tzedeck?
JOEY: That’s what it says on the invitations.
MICHAEL: You’re Tzeporah’s dad?
JOEY: She got her mother’s looks.
MICHAEL: So Ben’s getting bar mitzvahed in November. I suppose we’ll see you then. Mazel tov. I’ve really got to—
JOEY: That’s the thing. There’s something I need to do before Benny’s bar mitzvah.
MICHAEL, sympathetic, clues in.
MICHAEL: It’s okay, Mr. Brant, a lot of people forget their Hebrew. If you’re doing an aliyah you don’t need to worry.
We have a sheet with all the Hebrew in transliteration . . . phonetic English . . . Not every Jew knows Hebrew anymore.
Just come to a few services before and you’ll be fine. You don’t strike me as the shy type.
JOEY: Transliteration. I like that. Is everything transliterated now?
MICHAEL: I really do need to change.
She takes her hoodie off, keeps her ball cap on, and starts gathering her clothes to change.
JOEY: It’s not Benny’s bar mitzvah I’m worried about . . . It’s mine.
MICHAEL: What about yours?
JOEY: I need one . . . And it needs to happen before Benny’s. Maybe next week. I’m clear Tuesday.
JOEY: Tuesday would be good—but I’m flexible. What day works for you?
MICHAEL: That’s not how we do it.
JOEY: I’m dressed for it now.
MICHAEL: I’m not. You should stay for services.
JOEY: But it’s Friday night.
MICHAEL: In less than an hour.
JOEY: Poker night.
MICHAEL: And that’s your regular poker outfit?
JOEY indicates the tallis.
JOEY: Good place to hide an ace.
MICHAEL: You need to fix the tefillin.
JOEY: Wrong arm?
MICHAEL: That too.
JOEY: See, if I had a bar mitzvah I’d know that.
MICHAEL: This isn’t Hogwarts. It’s not like there’s a magic spell and you suddenly learn everything you need to know. That’s why there are classes. Months of classes.
JOEY: I’ll make a donation.
MICHAEL: That would be lovely.
JOEY: And then you’ll bar mitzvah me.
He takes out his wallet.
MICHAEL: No money on Shabbat.
JOEY: It’s not sundown yet.
MICHAEL: Close enough.
JOEY: So I’ll write you a cheque.
MICHAEL: Still Shabbat.
JOEY: When are we doing this?
MICHAEL: After you go to class. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Four thirty. Cantor Reuben.
JOEY: You want me in Benny’s class?
MICHAEL: It’s the only class we’ve got. Cantor Reuben is very good with adult bar mitzvahs.
JOEY: Do you know who I am?
MICHAEL: Ben Goldman’s grandfather.
JOEY: I can’t be in Benny’s class. I’ll study with you.
MICHAEL: I don’t teach bar mitzvah class.
JOEY: I can’t go to the same class as Benny.
MICHAEL: The Schara Tzedeck has special adult classes. They’re a lot bigger than we are and—
JOEY: It has to be here.
MICHAEL: You’ve already waited a while for your bar mitzvah. I’m sure you can wait a bit longer.
JOEY: What kind of donation would help out?
MICHAEL: Every little bit helps.
JOEY: And a big bit helps a lot more.
MICHAEL: You’ll love bar mitzvah class, Mr. Brant.
JOEY: Call me Joey.
MICHAEL: Mr. Brant, how long has it been since you’ve been to shul?
JOEY: It’s Friday?
JOEY: Fifty-two years . . . Give or take.
MICHAEL: Stay tonight. I’ll buy you a glass of wine.
JOEY: Is it kosher?
MICHAEL: Yes. Sorry about that.
JOEY: What do they do to get all the flavour out—circumcise the grapes?
MICHAEL: I’m sure kosher wines are a lot better than the last time you were in shul. And after service we have carrot cake. And schnapps.
JOEY: I have poker.
MICHAEL: You know what they say, Mr. Brant. Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.
JOEY: I’ve heard that.
MICHAEL: Book of Kenny Rogers. Verse two.
JOEY: Are you sure you’re a rabbi?
MICHAEL: If you’re really serious about this—
JOEY: I am.
MICHAEL: Know when to walk away. Now I really need to shower. I’ll get Sheryl to enrol you in class.
She exits to shower, leaving Joey. He goes back to studying the books on her shelf. He picks up the phone to use the intercom.
JOEY: Sheryl? You’re still there? . . . Good. Yes, yes . . . yesssss. Joey Brant . . . Rabbi Michael wants me to book in for a bar mitzvah class next week. Thanks. Yes. She’s fine. Tell the security guard he won’t need his taser.
Find out what happens for Joey and Michael in Bar Mitzvah Boy, available now!