I don’t remember the exact day I became a man, but I’ll never forget the day my son, Taylor, did.
It was last Saturday at Temple Beth Elohim in Brewster, N.Y.
After months of planning — and years of preparation — the boy who once made a “Dinosaurs vs. Humans” diorama on our kitchen floor stood before the congregation and read the Torah with poise, clarity and conviction.
This life-changing transformation — for all of us — took place before 80 friends and family as Taylor became a bar mitzvah, “one who is responsible for the Commandments.”
The adolescent giggles were gone now, replaced by a maturity that belied his nearly 13 years. And I couldn’t have been prouder. Maybe even too proud.
Case in point: I didn’t make it very far into my speech before emotion stole my composure in not-so-flattering fashion — a crumpled nose, crimson eyes, a cracking voice.
Fortunately, in a clutch example of my own manhood, I held up one finger to buy myself a moment.
About seven different times.
As someone who was raised outside the tenets of Judaism — like so many in this sanctuary, including most of Taylor’s friends — I could still appreciate the message behind his spiritual rite of passage.
This moment was more about religious freedom and less about religious gridlock. It was about cherishing the future as much as honoring the past.
The 1940 U.S. Census lists Jeremiah Walsh, Taylor’s great-grandfather, as a 29-year-old father of four. Under the “occupation” column on the census sheet, it reads, “chauffeur.”
Taxi cab, trolley car, city bus — you name it. If it could be steered, Jerry Walsh drove it better than anyone in Albany, N.Y.
Legend has it he once picked up gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond as a fare. The family story goes that “Legs” was a big tipper, even during the Great Depression.
I imagine Jeremiah Walsh and his wife, Marion, would be proud of Taylor Jeremiah Koonz and the name he shares with his great-grandfather. I know I am.
As my family prepared for the bar mitzvah last week — Taylor practiced Hebrew with our rabbi, Solomon Acrish, a remarkable man and a blessing to our family; his brother, Michael, came home from college to help him practice — Taylor’s mom and I tied up some loose ends with the caterer and we cleaned the house.
At one point, as I sat in a chair painting the dining room — company was coming, after all — I recalled a story about my late father in-law, Martin Buskin, the former education editor at Newsday.
I’ve heard the story a million times, and it never gets old.
One day in the 1970s, Marty sat in a folding chair in his backyard while he painted a picket fence like a true wordsmith — with a book in one hand and a paint brush in the other.
My kind of guy, right there.
Like everyone else last weekend, I wish Marty could have been at temple to share Taylor’s big day. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure he was there — glowing pipe and all.
And I made it a point to tell Taylor.
I also told him, as you celebrate this joyous occasion in your life, don’t forget the 3 G’s:
1.) God: Keep God in your life, not just today, but for always. Adonai, the Hebrew name for God, is the source of peace as well as strength.
2.) Greatness: Strive for greatness in everything that you do, whether it’s doing your homework, working on your left-handed dribble in the driveway, or even driving a trolley car or painting a fence.
3.) G’milut Chasidim (acts of loving kindness): You learned about g’milut chasidim in third-grade Judaic studies class. You were a charter member of my first third-grade class at temple, where we talked about helping others not for recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.
But wait, there’s actually one more G: Grandma.
Always remember to call grandma whenever you can and to greet her with a kiss whenever you see her. This is non-negotiable.
Also, don’t ever take grandma — or anyone else you love — for granted. Life is too precious, too short and too uncertain.
So congratulations on becoming a man, Taylor Jeremiah. You made us smile, cry and laugh on a sweet June afternoon.
It’s a day I’ll never forget.