THIRTEEN AND A DAY: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America

Mark Oppenheimer, Author
Mark Oppenheimer, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-10665-2
Reviewed on: 03/28/2005
Release date: 06/01/2005
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-374-70811-5
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Oppenheimer, raised in Springfield, Mass., by a mother born of "communist, atheist schoolteachers" and a father born of "irreligious German-American Jews" grew up in a home where "Leftism, not Torah or Zionism, was what mattered." Freshly armed with a Ph.D. in religious history from Yale, he embarked on a two-year odyssey to study the history of b'nai mitzvah —the Jewish tradition marking the beginning of one's adult religious obligations. Like Odysseus, though, he becomes distracted—by the Scylla and Charybdis of lavish New York and L.A. parties (he is very clear about his disdain for this practice) and by a hippie sculptor attending a service in Fayetteville, Ark. Surprisingly, despite a year of travel "across America," he focuses on only a few far-flung communities west of greater New York—Tampa, Fla.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Anchorage, Alaska; and St. Charles, La. Some readers will wonder: What about Cincinnati, home to Reform Judaism? Or Natchez, Miss., site of the oldest shul in the South? His stories, while fascinating, often focus more on the Jewish landscape of these towns, the histories of congregants and participants and less on the actual honoree, whether it's a 13-year-old or, in the case of the St. Charles celebrations, converting adults well past 50. Not really a story of teenage reaction to the Bar and Bat Mitzvah, this is a very personal rumination on Judaism in snapshot form. (June 6)

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