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  • jeffreypohn

MANHOOD


Completely out of the blue, my step-father, Seymour, announces at dinner that he has spoken with his rabbi, and that I will be bar mitzvah in a couple of months. I desperately don’t want to do this, for many reasons: it would have zero meaning for me, I’m terrified of public speaking, I can’t possibly learn Hebrew in such a short time, and I would be exposed as a complete and utter fraud. I find mom in her marble bathroom, removing her make-up, and I appeal to her for mercy.

“You gotta get me outta this, mom. I can’t do it.”

“Come on, Duffy, not all Jewish boys are lucky enough to afford a bar mitzvah.”

“Since when are we such big-time Jews?”

“This means so much to Seymour.”

“Then let Seymour make a fool of himself in front of a million brainwashed idiots.”

“Where does all this anger come from?”

“It comes from Seymour!”

“He’s trying very hard. You think it’s easy to be a step-father to someone like you.”

“What’s happened to you, mom? You used to be so tough. Now you’re just a puppet.”

”Watch your mouth, young man.”

“Just cause I let him live here, doesn’t mean he can wreck my life.”

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

“A fucking human sacrifice is who I am!”

Mom just laughs at me, and motions me out of her bathroom.

I am beyond upset and feel betrayed. But there’s nothing I can do. The best protest I can muster is to eat all the raw bacon in the fridge.


I have to attend a one-on-one meeting with the rabbi to discuss the upcoming big day. I plan to plead with the rabbi to call off this farce, but once I enter the rabbi’s office, I find myself spooked into silence. The office is uncommonly dark, with an overhead light shining down on the old man’s blazing, dyed red hair. The rabbi has a glass eye, and I can’t figure out which eye is looking at me. The rabbi’s dead wives seem to peer down on me from yellowed photos hanging on the walls. The rabbi refers to Seymour as “your father”, calls him “a great man, a great friend to the synagogue.” I take in this horror show, thinking, “Screw the synagogue, how ‘bout being a great friend to me.


On the day I am to become a man, I feel more like a mouse, or a rat, a phony rat. With no time to learn Hebrew, I had to memorize the phonetic Hebrew I will now pretend to read from the holy Torah. Miserable in a three-piece monkey suit and too-short haircut, I slump in an enormous, throne-like chair at the front of the cavernous room, which is called - I kid you not - The Frankenstein Center. The room is filled with worshippers, including relatives I’ve never met, my entire class from school, and my dad, who weaves around, noticeably drunk. Prompted by the rabbi, I shuffle to the podium, and overwhelmed with fear and shame, I begin to perform. In the middle of my Torah portion, I make a mistake. A collective “Oy!” issues from elders in the front row. I stop dead. I’ve been found out. Everyone knows I’m a fraud. An endless, uncomfortable silence, then I start crying, and wet my pants. The boy did not become a man.