by Corinne Copnick
(Copyright by Corinne Copnick, 1992, Toronto. All rights reserved. Excerpted from ALTAR PIECES, written and narrated by Corinne Copnick, screened nationally on Vision TV network, Canada, 1992-1997.)
The miracle was that it took place at all. The miracle was that the Bar Mitzvah happened. That a thirteen year old boy who could not speak and could not hear was leading a congregation with flowing hands that spelled out the words of God from an open Torah. I was there.
The boy was born of a Jewish mother. His father was non-Jewish and black. His mother did not want him; his father had disappeared. He was unadoptable. Probably it would have been difficult to place him even if he had not been deaf and mute.
After a series of foster homes, he found a friend - a teacher at the school for the deaf who became very fond of him. The teacher was to become his adoptive gather. He was not married; he was not Jewish. He was a Christian. The teacher believed that the boy was entitled to his Jewish birthright. He had a right to learn about and be proud of his heritage.
The miracle began. The new father contacted the rabbi of a reform Temple, and the instruction was arranged for the boy. He was to have a Bar Mitzvah, the sacred act which confers new Jewish manhood. He would pray with his hands before the Ark of the Covenant.
In order to accomplish what is an ordeal for any thirteen year old, let alone one who can neither speak nor hear, his adoptive father would study along with him. As the boy recited with his hands before the congregation, the father would speak the words. And because the language of the Torah is both poetic and archaic, special instruction in liturgical sign language would be needed.
The day finally arrived. The congregation had responded three hundred strong to the rabbi's request for them to come as Bar Mitzvah guests. They were to be the boy's family. He had been outfitted in new clothes. His light caramel skin, framed by a halo of black curly hair, glowed milkily. The ritual candles shone brightly. The light of the open Ark was reflected in the breastplates of the Torah.
The adoptive father - round-faced, bearded, and jolly - translated the language of the boy's hands into sound. For those sitting and watching as the boy's hands moved, it seemed as if there were words, as if we could almost hear the sound of his hands without his father's translation. It was as if the boy's hands had set in motion a sound of joy so high that its vibration could be heard. It was as if, rocking back and forth to the new found rhythm of truth in the Torah, the hands danced and then burst into exultant song: "Once I heard nothing, now I have the sound of God in my head. Once I had no one of my own. I was so lonely. Now I'll never be alone again."
I have been to so many Bar Mitzvahs, but on this night the character of what took place strengthened my belief in the enduring vitality of sacred rituals. They are our umbilical cord to an appreciation of the wonder of creation. On this night that I will never forget, I believe that I witnessed a miracle. Here, standing before God, was a creature so afflicted, yet brought to this beautiful moment through the love and attention of a single man. It happened. The Christian father gave birth to the Jewish son.
The father did not speak his thoughts before the congregation, but they were, I thought, clearly written on his face. "We finished what God started, my son. I wanted you to believe so that, even when I am gone, you will always have someone to trust. You were born with every strike against you, but tonight you have taken your rightful place in this world. For me you are a miracle."
On this night, the miracle was also that a witness to this birth - myself -- paying homage in sacred ritual, was brought to new life. In a kind of self-purification through the pain and joy of a young man-to-be, my own human spirit was ignited and reborn.