I am so excited that you decided to take on the challenge of learning your Parasha and preparing a lesson about Jewish customs and beliefs, on the occasion of your Barmitzvah. Your parents can encourage you to participate in a Jewish ritual which goes back many centuries, but only you can make the choice of committing yourself to the work that is involved.
I have spent many hours contemplating the reason why Judaism has retained the enthusiasm of intelligent and talented boys like yourself. You could be playing soccer, or making music with your drum, or sailing a yacht or playing computer games with your pals. You have decided to dedicate your time to learning about a people who have beliefs, stories and customs which have allowed them to achieve great things. Jews have excelled in the arts, in science and in the humanities, and you have demonstrated the potential to further enhance the contribution of our people.
I was brought up during the time of the Second World War. Every Jewish boy who lives in Amsterdam must know the story of Anne Frank. You have some concepts regarding the horrors of the Holocaust. What a talented, perceptive record has been left by Anne Frank of the undignified challenges faced by European Jews during the time of World War 2. I mention this because the difficulties of being Jewish during the third and fourth decades of the 20th century resulted in my father deciding that it was a disadvantage to be a Jew.
So, when I came to South Africa from England the age of nine years, I was sent to an Anglican School and given the false identity of a Unitarian. My father felt that this approach to forming a religious identity would make my entrance to this school more acceptable than if I had attended as a Jewish girl. I grew up with a very confused idea about who I was. As I had no family in this country I was unable to ask anyone what it meant to be Jewish.
I am going to make a very bold and provocative statement now! Had I continued on the pathway set for me by my father, you would probably not have been born. Your father would have grown up with no idea of his religious background. He would never have met your mother. And, this is the reason that I am particularly happy that you have been brought up as a proud young Jewish man. Your family and your friends all support you in developing your chosen lifestyle. I am so proud and happy to share this occasion with you.
You are able to identify with your own people from an early age. It was only after I married and had children that I learned about my heritage. I was in my 30’s when I first enrolled in a course of Jewish history at the correspondence University of South Africa. I waited until I was in my 40’s until I decided to study Hebrew. The effort I have made in those later years to research the background of my ancestors has enriched my life immeasurably. I am so happy you have had the chance to pursue this knowledge from a younger age.
Your mother was born in Israel. Do you ever wonder how this tiny country which fits into the Kruger National Park of South Africa has managed to develop a thriving economy and contribute rich technological advances to allow people all over the world to live fuller and more comfortable lifestyles? How lucky are we as Jewish people living in the 21st century to enjoy a proud history of achievement. Now, in modern times our brethren are at the forefront of developing technological and medical knowledge in the interests of forging a richer and fuller lifestyle.
You are brought up in an environment which offers you the opportunity to be bilingual. In addition you are studying the language of Hebrew. I personally envy your ability to speak two great European; languages, both Dutch and English, with fluency and flair.
You are indeed fortunate. You have a wonderful Great Aunt Bella who lives in Haifa who you have visited regularly. You have grandparents who live in South Africa with whom you have annual contact. A loving extended family of cousins who live in Cape Town. Your parents who have given you the security of a loving and stable home. We have confidence you will make your mark as a contributor to humanity by living a full life whilst enhancing the lifestyle of those who may not be as fortunate as yourself.
Noam, I am very proud of you, and I have the confidence to predict that you have a great future ahead. You are destined to make a valuable and meaningful contribution to humanity.