You’ve heard of Four Weddings and a Funeral, right? Well, during a single week at the end of February, I had two shivahs, a barmitzvah and a bris.
It was already going to be a busy week because my three children were on half-term. Plus I had to interview The Jacksons — no, not the family from EastEnders, the other dysfunctional dynasty, the one including the king of pop, Michael. Only Michael would be otherwise engaged, doing the moonwalk in heaven, leaving me with just Tito, Marlon, Jackie, Jermaine — oh, and Shlomo, the Jacksons’ little-known Jewish half-brother.
The Jacksons are famous for their penchant for cosmetic surgery, but I neglected to ask whether any of them were circumcised. Then again, I had a lot on my mind, what with so many Jewish functions to attend.
First, there were the shivahs for my wife’s poor aunt and uncle, from different sides of her family, who sadly died within days of each other. The shivah for her aunt was in Watford. Her uncle, on the other hand, had lived for the last 30 years in Israel. We didn’t go to the funeral in Tiberias, but considering how often we shlepped to Stanmore, where his relatives were sitting shivah, from our home in Kings Langley, it would have been quicker to fly to the Middle East.
The shivahs made me anxious and reminded me of my own mortality. The barmitzvah also made me anxious, for similar reasons: it made me realise how long it had been since I became a man. (Who am I kidding? Technically, I’m still not).
More urgently, the night before the ceremony, it occurred that I didn’t have a card for the young chap in question and the only newsagent for miles around that sold them was — you guessed it — back in Stanmore. Cue a 60-minute round trip in my brand new Cantor onesie.
The bris made me feel the most anxious, though. Why? Because I’m terminally squeamish, and it brought back the gruesome moment I had my manhood reconfigured by a stranger bearing a knife. When the rabbi moved to make the crucial cut, I flinched, primal memories disturbing my subconscious (either that or someone drugged the hamantaschen).
As far as I know, they don’t have bespoke cards for a bris, in Stanmore, Kings Langley or anywhere else. What would they feature on the front — a grinning mohel holding a baby in one hand and a sharp metal object in the other? Even so, I nearly gave the wrong cards to the wrong people. The barmitzvah boy nearly ended up with one expressing our commiserations while my mother-in-law almost got one congratulating her for coming of age.
All I needed was to have given her one celebrating the excision of her foreskin and I would have got the hat-trick.
It was all quite confusing, I have to be honest. By the end of the week I was starting to mix up my “wish you long lifes” with my “mazeltovs”, and that’s without factoring in all the “bubelahs” and “keyn ain horas” that are a routine part of any self-respecting north London Jew’s vocabulary. I’m pretty sure I bent towards an elderly mourner sitting in a low chair at one of the shivahs and whispered: “Please God by you”.
Still, the kids enjoyed themselves, especially at my wife’s uncle’s shivah. Is that a terrible admission? My children had a great time at a service commemorating a person’s death. Seriously. My 12-year-old said it was the best shivah he’d ever been to.
And no wonder: it culminated, with everyone playing with my father-in-law’s remote-control model helicopter. That could have been the reason. That, and the cakes and sweets. But do you know the best part of all? Everyone left with their penises intact, which, call me old-fashioned, is always a sign of a good night out.