Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bar Mitzvah Notes

Despite my aversion to lunatics, I was planning a mini-birthday bash for my son at my in-laws in Crown Heights next weekend. It wasn’t my idea. I’d already booked flight for Israel for mid-January where my bar-mitzvah boy will stand before the kotel with his father and older brothers. That’s more my speed and, thankfully, theirs. The expensive, ostentatious, cookie-cutter bash, where an old bubbie is trotted out to light a candle and dance “The Alley Cat” so everyone can kvel, leaves me embarrassed as Alexander Portnoy. I’d rather spend my hard-earned cash touring the Promised Land and enjoying good food amidst selected company. So our plans were well set when my pal Abe began nudging me.


“It’s the boy’s actual birthday in a few weeks,” he said. “He really should get an aliyah on that day. And you should make a kiddush.”

The problem, I explained, is I'm exiled to a community without a real shul. There was once a small, sincere congregation here but the Herson Syndicate cleverly subsumed it with their Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey, a "non-profit" organization that allows yet another Herson to drive around in donated cars while the congregation pays not only his salary but also his mortgage (and if that ain’t profiting, what is? But I digress…)

Herson's three-ring circus is the bizarro world's version of an orthodox service; people with a modicum of respect for traditional shul decorum find it impossible to concentrate whilst surrounded by the rag-tag gaggle that follows Herson around, some of which neglect to turn off their cell phones after stepping out of their cars each Shabbos morning. The mock services were endlessly bookended by the dissembling, patronizing rabbi and baying interruptions of his benefactor Morty Kwestel, a buffoon replete with fat wallet and shiksa wife (who sat sweetly behind the two-foot mechitsa asking, "what page are we on?") I always left feeling like I’d just emerged from the Division of Motor Vehicles, drained and spiritually bereft. Couldn't wait to get the smell of the place off my clothes.

Fortunately, Herson offered up the last straw by firing (and subsequently defaming) the only genuinely decent man officially associated with his family business. Rabbi Boruch Cohen had come aboard at a pittance of a salary for the express purpose of teaching Torah and building a community. Sadly, after seven successful years, Rabbi Cohen voiced his occasional dismay at still being asked to take out the Hersons' garbage and was promptly replaced by a younger man willing to accept 60% of the under-rabbi’s pittance (AND to take out the garbage). Cost me--along with several other men of good conscience--nearly a year to coerce the notoriously corrupt Crown Heights Bais Din into extracting Cohen’s seven months of overdo severance pay from the powerful Herson Cartel. I promised to write about it if they didn't. I'm writing about it anyway.

So Herson's Chamor Center was out. And, frankly, I wasn’t thrilled about bringing my son into the wilds of Crown Heights either, where the lunacy at ground zero is often fever pitched (see above photo -- your tzedukah dollars at work). But I figured, well, hmm, who knows… Perhaps if I drag along a few pals... Abe had promised to bring the whiskey.

This morning my mother-in-law phoned to offer nine minutes and 20 seconds of testimony to her aches and pains and dizziness and tsuris in evidence of why she can’t host us next weekend. I was annoyed because the 20 seconds would have been sufficient. Methinks the lady doth bakloog zikh too much.

But no matter how you slice it, I’m off the hook.

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