Bar Mitzvah

Short story on the topic of coming of age. Please comment!





   The night outside the camp was so dark one could almost imagine that the outside world didn’t exist. The searchlight would sweep its never resting glare over the cold, cement barracks and the helmeted men at the corner guard huts would follow its gaze, just as tireless.


   I tore my gaze away from the window and took a deep breath; an unsuccessful attempt to calm myself. A wrinkled old hand rested on my shoulder and I jumped. Turning, I saw that it was Rabbi Levine: the oldest and undisputedly the wisest man in camp. The rabbi smiled,


   “Are you ready, Moshe?” I relaxed a little, took a deep breath and nodded.

   I had heard the prayers before at other Bar Mitzvahs and knew quite a few bits of the prayers. Good thing, too, since they had to be whispered.


   Rabbi Levine did the calling up to the Torah, even though there was none and I closed my eyes for a second, imagining that I was holding one.


   “Now the Tefillin, Moshe.” I opened my eyes in surprise,


   “You have Tefillin?” I blurted. The Rabbi held a finger to his lips, his eyes crinkling at the corners with a smile. He held out the precious black boxes with their leather cord.


Stunned, I took them and slowly inserted my arm into the loop.


   “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who sanctified us with God’s commandments and commanded us to place the tefillin.”


The leather was wrinkled and soft as I put it on, winding it carefully around my arm, then moving on to my forehead.


   I swallowed hard and blinked, surprised at actually being able to have real Tefillin for my Bar Mitzvah.


   “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who sanctified us with God’s commandments and commanded us regarding the mitzvah of tefillin.”


   A few more prayers were said and I unwrapped the Tefillin as people started filtering out of the barrack, anxious to be back where they should be and not be caught at this defiant act of Judaism.


   I finished the unbinding of the Tefillin and handed them reverently over to the Rabbi. He beamed again and pushed them back at me.


   “They are yours, Moshe. I will not need them for much longer anyway.”


   “But, Rabbi! You told me yourself these were handed down for generations in your family! You said you would pass them to your son . . .”


   “My son was shot yesterday, Moshe.” My breath caught on the knot that settled in my stomach.


   “Rabbi . . . I didn’t know. I-I’m so sorry.”


   “Moshe, do your parents live?”


   “No, Rabbi. They died when I was eight.”


   “And your last name?”




   “Moshe, I ask one thing in return for these Tefillin: That you carry with them my family name. That you will become, for this foolish old man, Moshe Levine.”


   “Rabbi,” I stood up taller, “it would be my honor.”


   He hugged me to himself, then shooed me towards the door. I was about to go out, when he suddenly stopped me again.


   “I have one last thing for you, Moshe, my son.” He handed me a small white something, smiled, and then shoved me out the door.


   Back in my own barracks, I saw what it was. A document of my acceptation into the Jewish community, written on a square of toilet paper: the only paper we had access to.





The next day, Rabbi Levine was shot.




   “Grandpa?” Little Eli swung his feet back and forth as he sat on the tall wooden chair opposite my desk, “Why do you have toilet paper framed on your wall?”


   I lowered my glasses and looked at him, a smile quirking the corner of you mouth.


   “That, my son, is the most important document I ever received in my life. The paper it is on is not important. The man who gave it was, and I keep it to honor him, and the family name.”

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