Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

The kid who didn’t attend the march because of his bar mitzvah

Protesters fill Pennsylvania Avenue, as seen from the Newseum, during the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in Washington, on March 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

(RNS) — This is about a young person who did not attend the March for Our Lives.

He wanted to be there. But a little thing called his bar mitzvah ceremony got in the way.

So, he did the next best thing — he talked about the march from the pulpit at the synagogue that I serve, Temple Solel of Hollywood, Fla. — a half-hour from Parkland.

He was not alone, by any means; I imagine that the march was the most popular sermon topic of this past Friday, or Saturday, or Sunday.

A special shoutout to my Conservative — and even some modern Orthodox — colleagues who violated Jewish law in order to attend the march. Because the mitzvah (good deed) of saving lives trumps (no pun intended) almost everything else.

And so, I would like to introduce our guest speaker today — Maddox Goodman, of  Hollywood, Fla.:

My Torah portion is Tzav. It is from the Book of Leviticus, Chapter 6. The Book of Leviticus is about the sacrifices that our ancestors brought to the ancient Tabernacle. It is mostly a book of laws.

The priests were in charge of bringing the sacrifices. But before the priests could do their job, they had to be inducted into their sacred duties. It was like a big graduation ceremony.

As part of this graduation ceremony, Aaron slaughtered a ram. The ritual required him to take the blood of the ram and put some of it on his right thumb, his right ear, and the big toe of his right foot.

What is the symbolism of the body parts that are sprinkled with blood?

  • First, the right ear. We use the ear to listen and to hear.
  • Second, the right thumb. We use the thumb for action.
  • Third, the big toe of the right foot. We use the big toe to stabilize us when we walk and when we march.

What do we learn from this? Today, all over the country, people are marching — for Parkland; for Columbine; for the Pulse nightclub; for Las Vegas — and people are demanding reasonable gun laws.

I believe that the students in Parkland can directly relate to the places where the blood of the sacrifice can go.

  • The right ear – the place of listening and hearing.

The students in Parkland were inside their classrooms when they heard the shooting. They heard gunshots, they heard alarms, they heard screaming.

I remember the moment that I first heard about what had happened. I was getting out of school and getting in the car with my mother. Once inside, she told me what was happening. I was stunned.

I will never forget that car ride — because it was the only time that I was picked up at school, got into the car with my mom – when nothing was said. My mom handed me her phone, and we watched Facebook, and we listened to what was happening in real time.

  • The thumb, which represents action.

Recently, I asked myself: Why didn’t this horror stop after Columbine; or after Sandy Hook; or after the Pulse nightclub shooting? Why did it take us this long to use our thumbs – to take action? Why is it different now?

Because this time, they messed with the wrong group of kids. These kids witnessed what was happening. These kids heard what was happening. These kids felt what was happening and these kids are living with what happened, and they got angry.

And now, through the anger and the pain, we are united for action.

This is not going away. We are going to build on this. This is a force that will grow. We are saying: Enough is enough! And, because of social media, our actions will work.

Think about how easy it is now for people to communicate with each other. Thumbs are for texting, and thumbs are for posting. This is how we talk. We talk with our thumbs. We take action with our thumbs.

  • The big toe, which is for walking and marching.

Today is March 24 – and a few people who could not be at my bar mitzvah ceremony are marching in Washington.

They are marching for change. They are marching for our lives. Thousands of students are standing up, and they are using their voices.

But, this is not the first march that has happened. A month ago, many schools in Broward County had walkouts. They marched for change.

This was repeated again last week, but included over 3,500 schools and over 1 million students from all across the country.

It is interesting to note: All of these actions have been communicated through social media – through our thumbs. No one had to talk about it. This shows the power of positive social media. It can inform; it can spread news, and now, it is pushing us into action.

I am proud of Maddox Goodman — not only because of his deft interpretation of Torah, but for bringing his moral voice into the moment of becoming bar mitzvah.

A famous legend recounts how Abraham broke his father’s idols, and therefore became the first Jew. The legend says that Abraham was 13 years old at that moment. That is one reason why Jews celebrate bar mitzvah at the age of 13.

Around the country, around the world: Our young people are leading us in speaking out against gunolatry — the worship of the gun, and the elevation of the Second Amendment over all the others, and often, over life itself.

The prophet Isaiah said: ” … and a child shall lead them.”

And that is precisely what they are doing. Our young people are leading us. Thank God. Seriously, thank God.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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  • Thank you for an inspiring story of a young person who is melding his faith into his life outside the house of worship and the home rituals of faith – and taking it with him into his life in the rest of the world. His parents have done a wonderful job in raising him. Mazel tov, young Mr. Goodman.