I breathe in the sea air and watch the surf crash onto the sand before me. I am amazingly calm, and have no doubt that I will go through with this ritual. The best part: it will be of my own free will.
When I was eight days old, I was ushered into the faith of my parents. There was no need to promise to adhere to the traditions of my ancestors. A snip and the blessing of a mohel* and I was officially Jewish: a son of Abraham.
I also got a name that day: Cameron Nathaniel Levine. I later discovered its meaning, and wondered if my folks had been drinking something stronger than a glass of Manischewitz when they picked it. Who, in their right mind, would name their child "bent-nosed gift of God?"*
Once I entered third grade, I started attending Hebrew School twice week. Again, no one asked if I wanted to learn to read some language with strange characters or hear stories about people dead six thousand years. Even if they had, my opinion wouldn't have mattered a bit. That's what Jewish boys do - even ones who didn't believe in God.
At age 13, I performed all the rituals required to become a Jewish adult. After reading from the Torah, giving a speech, and singing a bit, I became a Bar Mitzvah: a son of the Commandments. Again, I did this out of obligation and duty to my parents. Had I been asked, I would have declined - as long as my parents still threw me the huge Bar Mitzvah party, of course.
During my teen years, I went to synagogue, under duress, on occasion, but it was nothing to me: a place to sit with my parents and be bored to tears, a place to laugh at the naiveté of those who actually believed in God.
When I went away to college, I left my synagogue attendance at home with my dump trucks and Hardy Boys books. If someone asked, I was Jewish, but my religion had no impact on my life.
My sophomore roommate would change that. I remember on the first day, he arrived before I did, but put his things in the back of the dorm room, near the center.
"Hi. I'm Matt. Which side of the room do you want?" he asked as I strolled in with my first load of stuff.
This impressed me. He gave me the choice. I took the left side and thanked him for asking. I soon learned this was Matt's general attitude. There was definitely something different about him.
I remember one Sunday a couple weeks after class started. I had been partying the night before, but when I woke at noon, Matt was in the room changing out of slacks and a dress shirt. I remember thinking that this guy must actually like going to services if he got up early on a Sunday to do it.
He noticed me stirring and smiled. "My church is having a special sophomore service tonight. Wanna go?"
"I'm Jewish, actually," I commented. "Don't think they'd let me in."
Matt laughed. "I know they would...if you're interested, anyway. Oh - and that's cool about being Jewish. I'd love to talk to you about that."
"Nothing to tell. I had a bris* and a Bar Mitzvah, so I'm Jewish. Mom and dad are, so I am."
I will never forget the look in Matt's eyes after I said those words. It seemed a combination of shock, hope, and disbelief. I felt he might scream, but he didn't. He just repeated his earlier invitation. I figured it wouldn't hurt, so I chose to go with him.
That was seven months ago. Since then, I have learned that all the ritual in the world won't make me a son of Abraham. I've learned that God loves me, despite the fact that I'm a pretty bad guy. It is only through my messiah's forgiveness that anyone becomes good - gets their nose bent back into shape - and that I have to choose to accept it. That is God's gift.
So, I stand here at the beach, waiting for my turn to perform this outer act symbolizing the inner change I have made, with God's help. I am once again performing a ritual to join the family of God; but this time, it is my choice, and it means something.
Maybe my folks didn't pick such a lousy name after all.
A mohel is a Jewish ritual circumciser
Cameron means "bent nose" in Gaelic, and Nathaniel is the Hebrew word for "gift of God."
A bris is the Hebrew name for the circumcision ceremony
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