This morning, my family and I sat down for the most superfluous ceremony in a young Jew's life: confirmation. More specifically, my brother's.
I've never been a fan of confirmation, even four years after my own ceremony. The synagogue itself doomed the rite for me. Back in the day, a rather jaded seventh grade Sunday School teacher informed my class the concept of a "confirmation" was nicked from America's Christian community during the fad of Jewish assimilation. Before that, he said, the concept of confirmation wasn't practiced at all in the European Jewish populace. Whether this is true or not, I quickly added this to my arsenal of reasons why confirmation wasn't necessary to become a mature Jew.
Who can blame me? I had been attending Sunday School for eleven years. Every week, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, dragged in for one hour of Hebrew lessons, then subjected to two hours worth of exceptionally dry history. (Granted, many other Jews have to suffer Hebrew School multiple times a week, to which I doff my cap. I don't think I would have survived.) To be told that I need to complete yet another year of instruction in order to take part in a ceremony not vital to Judaism was just too much.
To make matters worse, the confirmation class was taught by the Rabbi later in the evening. Make no mistake, I have a great affection for my Rabbi. His wisdom and welcoming presence has helped me during the most trying periods of my life. Even my brother, the sullen teenager, holds a tremendous respect for the guy. However, no matter how many talents my Rabbi has, none of them include the ability to speak to a group of teenagers. He just doesn't understand that no one in the confirmation class really wants to be there, no matter how engaging the conversation is. The problem is only exacerbated as kids nod off during class, causing the Rabbi's mood to move from "frustration" to "un-holy rage." Fun times.
As most dreaded events do, my confirmation passed uneventfully. Thirteen teenagers slouched on the bima in front of a sanctuary full of parents and relatives who, though unsure of what a confirmation officially entailed, firmly believed that anything that kept sixteen year olds out of trouble all those Sunday evenings couldn't be that bad. All of us, clad in white robes that seemed to be cast-offs from some church's Christmas pageant, leaned against the podium to deliver two speeches, one entitled "Why I Want to Be Jewish," the other on a subject of the Rabbi's choosing. The "Why I Want to Be Jewish" speeches were short and cliched (sixteen year olds, though they are loathe to admit, actually don't know anything and therefore cannot give ground-breaking explanations on why they picked one religion over another). The other speeches, however, were Proustian tomes. By the time the service reached my one-paragraph explanation of G-d and nature (I've always know my audience), the congregation had reached a operation-quality stupor for which anesthesiologists are usually paid the big bucks. Two hours later, the entire assembly collapsed into a chocolate-covered strawberry bacchanalia, relieved that the whole ordeal was over.
You would think that my parents, who had to sit through the whole debacle four years before, would have wisely allowed my brother to skip the whole thing. Consider said lesson unlearned. All year, my brother sat in confirmation class, gamely trying to keep his snores from interrupting the Rabbi's frenzied attempts to spark an intelligent discussion. Then, many months later, there we were, watching as my brother stubbornly refused to smile in the face of a professional photographer's antics while waiting for the service to begin.
As I look back on it, I realize that I did learn quite a bit from my stint in Confirmation Prison. The exact particulars escape me now, but I'm sure that some bit of information managed to wedge itself into my gray matter during that time period. One thing's for certain: if I have my own children, I will immediately enroll them in a confirmation class. Why? Because one thing that I'm not going to let my kids get away with is experiencing less misery than I did.
And that's promise.