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I have to issue an apology here... This story is just a slow kind of tale to tell. The characters just aren't letting me tell it any more quickly, so I'm afraid there will be another part after this one. But if you feel the courage and stamina to keep reading, and need more background, here is part 1. Oh, and one more disclaimer. Although I've used some real names and places, this story is FICTION. It's based on some things, but whoooooboy, do things change over the perspective of years. So the folks, events, etc. are FICTIONAL.
And now, for part 2:
Immediately after services, I was picked up by the same Aunt Ellen and taken off to the country club where the reception would be held. And that was when the fun began.
Aunt Ellen had her two daughters with her this time – Marian and Joellyn. They were probably seniors in high school, or maybe even freshman in college and they were too much older and too elegant to be bothered with me. Aunt Ellen kept craning her neck around to ask me how everything had gone. Did I have any questions? She took her role as my guardian very seriously.
“No,” I said, “I don’t have any questions. I’m Jewish.”
“You are?” she turned and stared at me so long I thought we were going to have an accident. “Well, thank God!”
“Well, half-Jewish,” I responded.
“Which half?” she made it sound almost too casual.
“My dad.” Well, that would make me not Jewish, probably. “But I go to synagogue. Sometimes. And we do the holidays.”
She nodded, but didn’t turn around this time.
After what seemed like three hours, but was probably only three minutes, we arrived at said country club – by far the biggest and fanciest that I’d ever seen. Not that I’d seen many, mind you – there just aren’t country clubs in The City.
Aunt Ellen dropped us off by the front entrance and then disappeared into the mammoth parking lot and out of my life.
I wandered into a huge foyer, with rich, maroon carpeting, matching velvet chairs and an enormous chandelier. The same giggling girls stood around in their party dresses. I stood around in my long gown. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I wondered when I could go back to Manhattan. And I still hadn’t seen Rob.
Finally, I felt a tap on my back. I turned around and there was Steve. I felt relief flood my face and probably genuinely smiled for the first time since I’d gotten off the train.
“Hi Jen! Don’t we look weird?” Steve was in a suit. I guess I wanted him to tell me I looked pretty, not pretty weird, but he was right. The last time we’d seen each other we were in shorts.
“Yeah.” I grinned. I was just so happy to see him.
He shook my hand in greeting. Steve was like that. Pretty formal.
“Look, I’m supposed to take you to meet Rob’s mom, and show you to your seat and stuff. They’ve got things pretty organized.”
“Um, okay.” Nerves covered me again like a shroud.
“You look nice, even if it’s weird.” Steve smiled at me. That made me feel good again, really good. I could meet Rob’s mom now.
Steve waved me in front of him and we made our way through the crowds of people. Again, I noticed that I was one of the few girls, or women for that matter, in a full-length anything. Weird. And I looked weird – not nice – weird. I couldn’t wait to get back on the train. I thought about running from Steve, but realized my mother would ream me if I tried to escape.
Finally we came to two, enormous, padded doors. They were gold metal with the same maroon-colored fabric on them. I remember fingering the velvet, amazed that someone would put that much care into a door.
Steve started to push one open.
I pulled him back. “Are we allowed in there?” I whispered.
“Sure - where do you think the party’s going to be held?” Steve had already jerked the door open and I could see past his shoulder to a cavernous, dark ballroom filled with tables draped with gold tablecloths, gold streamers, party favors, etc. Finger foods burst from long, covered tables along the edges of the room. A huge dance floor took up the center. A large dais towered above the room, with a billboard-sized, blue and white “MAZEL TOV” sign rising above it. A tall, lanky woman was fussing around the dais. She was dressed in black and pink crepe and I’d seen her down at the bima blessing Rob. His mom. In the flesh. And I was going to meet her.
“Hey, Mrs. Schoenfeld!” Steve waved to her enthusiastically. His pace quickened across the room and I seemed to fly in his wake, despite my inclination to hold onto the door frame.
The woman turned, look at me, and frowned. I immediately looked down at my dress, wondered if my carefully-chosen lipstick matched, or made me look like, you know, one of those girls. Then I realized she was only squinting.
And suddenly she smiled, and it was the same smile as Rob’s smile. And that smile was so familiar, even after our months apart, that I couldn’t help but relax.
“Ah, Jennifer, come up here, darling, where I can finally see you!” She gestured at us impatiently and I climbed up the steps of the dais and came as quickly as I could to where she stood under one of the mini-spotlights that had been used to light both the dais and the dance floor. She took my outstretched hand in both of hers. Her fingers were warm but dry. I could tell she was a fine person, just from those hands.
“What a lovely dress! Perfect! And what a looker you are. My Rob has perfect taste, doesn’t he, Steve?” She was beaming, and by extension, so was I. I mean how many tomboys could fail to be charmed by an elegant woman telling them they’d gotten it “right” for a change?
Steve could only nod. What else could he do without being rude? “I’m going back, now,” Steve announced. “Jen, come find me when you’re done.”
Done? What was I going to be done with? I waved at Steve, who was almost out the door, and I turned back to Mrs. Rob. Er, Mrs. Schoenfeld.
“Okay, Bubbela, now Rob sits here. She pointed to the center spot with a long fingernail that was just the right length and painted a pale shade of pink that matched her dress. “And you, you sit there.” I was two seats down from Rob. But, wait, I was on the dias? Why? “Rob needs to sit between his Bubbies. Capiche?” I nodded. So I guessed I’d sit next to a grandma, too. Okay, old ladies were usually less confusing than Valley Stream teens who whispered and pointed at me. “Okay, so go – play with the other girls.” Mrs. Schoenfeld shooed me away and went back to arranging favors, cards, etc. I guess all this was to show me where to sit. Weird.
So, I left her to her fussing, and I ran back across the ballroom and through the big doors. And if anything, the lobby had gotten even more crowded. There were now women and men passing trays of tiny glasses of wine and a table had been carried out with what looked like a six-foot challah with “Mazel Tov” braided into the surface. The rabbi from the synagogue stood by the table, in an aspect of waiting.
Suddenly, the room hushed, and Rob and his dad came down the staircase that rose above the Kiddush table. By some unknown signal, Rob’s mother came racing from the party room, and now she was dragging a smallish girl wearing a dress that sort of matched hers. When they were all arranged near the rabbi, two older women came up to the group. One was tall and lanky, like Rob’s mom, and the other was stoop-shouldered, like Rob and his dad. And while all this familial presence was gathering, Rob saw me. And his face lit up like sunshine. And he waved frantically.
And the whole crowd turned and stared at me. And I wanted to throw up, but I tried my best to smile and wave just as enthusiastically back, because after all, it was his Bar Mitzvah.
And yeah, it was good to see him, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was on foreign soil.
So the family was properly arranged, and the rabbi said Kiddush and we all drank our little glass of wine, and sang, “Simen Tov u Mazel Tov” which I always secretly thought of as “cinnamon cloves and Mazel Tov,” and did the usual clapping thing along with it, and then the doors of the ballroom were flung open and a voice over a PA system called us all over to “eat, drink, dance and celebrate Rob’s special day!”
I started to join the hordes rushing to the ballroom, when I felt another tap on my shoulder. I was sure it was Steve and turned to face Rob.
“Hi!” He stood closer than he ever had before.
“Hi!” I smiled at him and took a step back.
“So you met my mom, huh? You look pretty. She said you did,” Rob was grinning and grinning at me.
I tried to show the same enthusiasm. After all, I was his guest and this was his special day. I was embarrassed, though. “Um, thanks. You look nice, too.”
Rob fingered his tallit. “Yeah, it’s kind of cool wearing this suit and stuff. Man, I’m so glad the reading and speech are over!”
“You read nicely, and I liked what you had to say about the tabernacle as a metaphor for the sheltering of souls. That was pretty cool.” It was easier just talking about stuff, and not about how we looked.
“Yeah, it was hard to write, but I’m glad I did it. Were you Bat Mitzvah?”
I shook my head.
“Too bad. It’s kind of cool.”
“Okay, well, Dad said I couldn’t talk to you too long – I’m supposed to go in and shake everyone’s hand, but just sit down and I’ll see you soon.” Rob took my hand, squeezed it, and walked with purpose to the waiting crowds. After all, now he was a man.
I held the Rob-squeezed hand with my other hand. Rob and I had never really touched before. His hand had been sweaty, but I guess that’s what happens when you have to read the Torah in front of a few hundred people. I wiped my hand on my dress and continued on into the ballroom.
PS - a glossary for the uninitiated:
Mazel Tov - Good Luck (used to mean "Congratulations!")
Bubbela - term of endearment
Bubbies - grandmothers
Kiddush - ceremony blessing bread and wine - the precursor to a meal
Simen Tov u Mazel Tov - a song of congratulations sung at Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, etc.