Life & Culture

Finally Jasper gets his barmitzvah party - at fifteen

Karen Skinazi sent out ‘save the dates’ for her son's big day three years running


November, 2019: It’s not going to be like the first barmitzvah, I tell myself, where I was so crazed trying to get everything ready at the — well, I wouldn’t say last minute, but let’s just say my generally laid-back attitude was doing me no favours for my eldest, Lucas’s, barmitzvah. This time I am actually going to go out and buy a new dress for myself! A hat! Shoes! I am the mother of the barmitzvah boy, after all.

So, I do just that: I go shopping with my friend/rebbetzin of my shul, pick out a fab Michael Kors dress, and pat myself on the back that I know what I’ll be wearing at my middle son’s barmitzvah more than six months ahead of time. The shul is booked, and so is the party venue: a fantastic lounge in hip Digbeth, with ping pong tables, shuffleboards, pool tables, and a big bar. We find a kosher food truck that’s willing to come down to Birmingham from Manchester and make wood-fire baked pizzas in front of the venue. We hire a magician to walk around and do tricks on the guests. I send out save-the-dates to all our family and friends in Canada, the US, Israel, and beyond: Jasper's barmitzvah events will be held June 25-28, 2020. Book your flights in advance.

You can guess where this is going…

June, 2020: the height of lockdown. Rabbi Yossi Jacobs and my immediate family arrive at our shul in Birmingham for Singers Hill synagogue’s first ever — in its 163-year-history -- Zoomitzvah. We are three months into the pandemic and already talking about being oysegezoomt, so we keep it short. Jasper dons his tefillin for the first time, chants one section of his parasha, and we thank everyone for tuning in. “This is just a taster,” I say in conclusion, “Come back for the main course — in person — the weekend of June 12-13, 2021. Save the date!”

2020-2021: Covid continues. Jasper turns 13 and then 14. We still can’t hold an in-person affair. In the meantime, my youngest son, Momo, is approaching barmitzvah age.

January, 2022: We’re all properly vaccinated, and shuls are open. Bernard, our barmitzvah teacher, returns to our house — now to teach Momo. But what about Jasper? On one of his visits, Bernard suggests a re-do. As it happens, Jasper needs to learn a skill for his Duke of Edinburgh award. Why not Jewish cantorial singing? We consult the calendar. We begin planning. “Save the date,” we email our friends and family…

June, 2022: T-minus-two-and-a-half weeks. All is a go! The grandparents are set to arrive soon, the kippot have been delivered, the catering’s been arranged, and the balloons have been ordered. What could go wrong now? Surely, nothing? The UK government has all but declared Covid over. I’m breezy and carefree(ish) when suddenly I don’t feel great. “I’ve been talking so much and so loud, it’s crazy, my throat is so sore today,” I report to my husband. “And the heat! It’s like I have a fever. And I’m so tired…”

My husband looks me in the eye. “You have Covid,” he declares. “Impossible!” I respond.

“It’s just…”

It’s Covid.

I send him to the guest room and hide in our bedroom. What timing! Our parents — all in their 70s — are arriving soon. If I give it to anyone else in my family, I could endanger our parents and the whole barmitzvah. Every day I test. Positive. Positive. Positive. Positive.

June, 2022: T-minus-10-days. Mom has safely arrived in the UK. My line is so faint I just know it’s about to disappear. And amazingly, I haven’t infected anyone else. Still, I’m staying in quarantine.

Mom calls me from her hotel. It’s very late. Why is she calling so late? “Karen, I have a fever,” she says. “I’m really not feeling well. But it must be a stomach bug. Because surely it can’t be…”

It’s Covid.

T-minus-three-days: My house is Covid-free. Mom is not quite, but she’s feeling good. My in-laws arrive in the UK. We go for dinner (without my mom — just in case. Protect the grandparents!). All is fine! All is good! The barmitzvah is going to happen — with our family, with our friends, finally. At long last.

T-minus-two days: The cancellations start pouring in. One friend’s whole family is suffering from a gastro. Another friend’s flight was cancelled. But most apologies are accompanied by pictures of Covid tests. Positive. Positive. Positive. Soon people are cancelling not because they have Covid, but because they’re scared of getting it. “Everyone has it,” someone explains, “we can’t take the chance…” I think of the vast quantity of food that’s been made, the scores of kippot that have been ordered, and above all, the preparation Jasper’s done — years and years —for this long-delayed event.

“At least the family will be there,” I think. Regardless of her test, my mom will be good to go according to all the medical authorities. And my in-laws haven’t been infected. Right? The phone rings. My mother-in-law sounds weak. “It must be food poisoning,” she says. “That can’t last long,” I respond. “Maximum a day…” A few hours pass. The phone rings. Now my father-in-law is ill.

No, no, it’s not fair. This can’t be….

July 2, 2022: Jasper’s barmitzvah. The balloon arch is up. The tables are set. The barmitzvah boy sings his parasha. His big brother has an aliyah, and his little brother sings Anim Zemirot. My mom is there, and so are my in-laws (feeling fine and testing negative).

I’m wearing my nearly-three-years-old dress for the first time and smiling at my husband across the mechitzah. The pews are emptier than they should be, but the most important people are there. My heart could not be fuller.

It’s been a long stretch of “mother plans, and God laughs,” but we made it. Mazeltov, Jasper.

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