April 30, 2012
Yonah, the son of well-known Bay Area Jewish educator Matt Biers-Ariel, announced that as an atheist he would not have a Bar Mitzvah. His parents accepted his decision but insisted he undergo an alternative rite of passage. In lieu of spending a single Saturday morning chanting twelve lines of Torah, reciting a few prayers, and dancing with his grandmother at a party in his honor, Yonah would attempt to ride a bicycle from San Francisco to Washington DC with his parents and little brother in tow. Armed with a sense of adventure, a petition on global warming, and three bicycles, including a crotchety tandem (The Beast), this ordinary family failed to heed the advice of friends and colleagues by undertaking a seemingly impossible journey across America in the heat and humidity of the summer. The Bar Mitzvah and The Beast is Matt’s humorous and poignant memoir of this adventure that explores energy sustainability, small town America, and family relations under extreme conditions. The heart of the book is Matt’s attempt to inculcate a feeling of Judaism into Yonah while Yonah pushes back. In the end, it is Matt’s belief system that undergoes a major revision.