Nicholas Miller's Bar Mitzvah

Facebook_NicolasMillerHi, or שלום (Sholom)!

My name is Nicholas (Nick) Miller and I’m a 7th grader at San Francisco Friends School. I am a second generation San Franciscan and a third generation member of Beth Sholom. My favorite things are playing sports or video games, spending time outdoors or with family and friends, and making art when I have an inspiration.

On April 29, I will be called to the Torah, a huge milestone in my life. As I have spent lots of time preparing for my big day, I have come to be aware of my place in my Jewish community.

In this week’s combined parsha, Tazria-Metzora, we learn how to deal with tzara’at (skin distortion). At the time, Aaron was the priest and the one making the decision about whether someone was pure (tahor) or impure (tameh). Aaron could tell if someone was impure if the person had any skin distortion. These people were identified, in public, as being impure because they didn’t fit in with the expected norm and then were forced out of the camp. These people would then have to follow very strict rules to become pure again.

I want to thank my mom and my dad for pushing me to get my work done and helping me out when I was challenged. I want to thank my family and friends, especially my sister, for supporting me. I want to thank Rabbi Glazer for helping me choose my Hebrew name as well as teaching me how to relate to the Torah. Thank you to Noa Bar for her dedication, hard work, and teaching me how to read Torah. Lastly, I want to thank Henry Hollander, who has selflessly volunteered innumerable hours to make sure that this day happened.

Tazria / Metzora – Leviticus 12:1-15:33

Facebook_CoverDesign_Tazria-MetzoraDebate still abounds as to how best translate the key terms tumah and taharah — signatures of Leviticus (see, for example, Chapter 12). Purity and impurity? Ritual fitness or exclusion? Death and rebirth? I continue to return to the inspired translation of theologian Rachel Adler, who teaches that tumah and taharah are best rendered as "a way of learning how to die and be reborn."

In Parashat Metzora, we encounter the moment where Miriam stokes the masses to revolt against the leadership of her brother, Moses, through the sin of slander. Some of our rabbinic interpretation suggests that the signs of the metzora really describe a person caught in a state of unpreparedness or inappropriateness for ritual engagement, a person who has not yet learned "how to die and be reborn."

But the spiritual malaise of tzara’at is not limited to one’s person; it can also spread to one’s home, as manifest by dark red or green patches on the walls. This disease is at once spiritual and physical because it leads to exclusion and is associated with strife and dissension that are often the natural fall-out of hate speech.

Tzara’at takes different forms today, including irate e-mails, bullying texts, and harassing phone messages, but the outcome is largely the same — exclusion, strife, and dissension. Our task is to find ways of returning to our relationships, especially in society, ready to re-engage fairly and wholly with others after we have purged ourselves of our disruptive and destructive patterns, able to return to that unsullied core of the soul within each and every one of us.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: In These Are The Words, Rabbi Arthur Green writes that the ritual defilements that Leviticus is preoccupied with all stem from "improper contact with the portals of birth and death, the limits of life as we know it." This week's illustration is meant to call to mind a sensuous plume of smoke – the sacrificial offering – but was created using the documented action of subatomic particles in a CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) bubble chamber – itself a beautiful artifact of our species' ongoing attempts to learn more about the origins and limits of life. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Joseph Neyman's Bar Mitzvah

JosephNeymanBarMitzvahphotoShalom! My name is Joseph Neyman. I am a seventh grade student at the Brandeis School in San Francisco. Just like every teenage guy, I love sports. My favorites are skateboarding, swimming, soccer, skiing, and water polo. I also enjoy video games and hanging out with my friends. When I’m not doing any of these or in school, I spend time with my parents watching movies, eating out, and doing non-fun teenager stuff like reading.

Over the many months that I have been studying for my bar mitzvah, I have learned valuable skills like not giving up easily, managing my time effectively, and having lots of patience. I have grown to enjoy practicing for my special day. I think that my bar mitzvah is not only about chanting the Torah and leading services, but also about receiving a greater role in the Jewish community and learning the responsibilities of being an adult. Last year, I joined the Youth Tzedek program at SF Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which has workshops about leadership and values. But more important than those were the opportunities I had to help families who are in need by putting together supplies and necessities, preparing meals, and helping to deliver goods each Jewish holiday.

This week I will be sharing an extremely special day with my friends, family, and the Beth Sholom community. I will be called up to the Torah to become an adult. I will be reading from Parashat Tazria. My parsha is about the laws related to a leprous skin disease called tza’arat. Even if this parsha talks about ancient skin disease that no longer affecting us, the core message is still relevant in our modern world. I hope you can join us this Shabbat.

A big thank you to Rabbi Glazer for helping me understand my parsha and for helping me with my drash, and to Marilyn Heiss, my teacher, for teaching me trope, and to my parents who are always there for me.