Actress, author, and activist Annabelle Gur­witch is the author of two booksYou Say Toma­to, I Say Shut Up and Fired!—and the e‑book sin­gle Autumn Leaves (avail­able from Zola Books), a chap­ter from her comedic mem­oir for Blue Rid­er imprint at Pen­guin, to be pub­lished in Spring 2014. She has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Read Part One of When 50 Hap­pens to Good Peo­ple” here

Ok, so I hadn’t done time in prison, I’d just spent one day there. 

I’d just cov­ered what was believed to be the first Bat Mitz­vah in an Amer­i­can women’s prison for The Jew­ish Jour­nal of Greater Los Ange­les. It was the only time I’d been in a tem­ple where the per­son sit­ting next to me was tat­tooed with the words Sui­ci­dal Freak.” There’s a say­ing, there are no athe­ists in fox­holes,” but it should amend­ed to, and in pen­i­ten­tiaries.” If I am ever incar­cer­at­ed you can bet I’ll be sign­ing up for every form of reli­gious edu­ca­tion avail­able as they serve snacks and the non-denom­i­na­tion­al chapel at Chi­no is air-con­di­tioned. (In fact, there is a rel­a­tive­ly new orga­ni­za­tion, Athe­ists in Fox­holes, that does great work in the field, not sure about the qual­i­ty of their snacks, though.) I fig­ured if that rab­bi could han­dle pris­on­ers, he could do just fine with my son whose teenage years were start­ing to feel like a hostage situation. 

Our son, Ezra, took to call­ing the rab­bi a nick­name, Rab­bi Nudgey. He had so lit­tle expe­ri­ence with Judaism that he didn’t know that many rab­bis hov­er in the vicin­i­ty of nudgey — that’s their job, to nudge you away from deli­cious shell­fish and towards God. It would be like I’d start­ed call­ing my proc­tol­o­gist Dr. Thor­ough. Ok, I lied, I don’t have a proc­tol­o­gist, but I’m old enough that I should have one. That’s just anoth­er thing on my To-Do-Now-That‑I’m‑Aging List that I keep mis­plac­ing and re-write every week all over again. Real­ly, my son should have called him, Rab­bi to be Expected. 

Here’s one thing I hadn’t expect­ed to have to think through — where we would hold our event. Our home, with its tem­pera­men­tal sev­en­ty-year-old plumb­ing, is not ide­al, and the rabbi’s con­gre­ga­tion meets in a dou­blewide trail­er on the grounds of the Chi­no Women’s Cor­rec­tion­al Facil­i­ty, so that wouldn’t seem to be the best choice. Ulti­mate­ly, we snapped up a gen­er­ous and unex­pect­ed offer of the large, airy meet­ing room at the Epis­co­pal ele­men­tary school our son had attend­ed. It was their first and I believe to this day only Bar Mitzvah. 

Being an athe­ist had nev­er stopped me from enjoy­ing the rit­u­al, com­mu­ni­ty singing, gay friend­ly, and gen­er­al do unto oth­ers as you would have them do unto you” sen­ti­ment of the school’s Epis­co­pal chapel ser­vices, plus, the school had amaz­ing camp­ing trips. A camp­ing trip that includes mar­gar­i­tas? Real­ly, what’s not to like? My son and I had also spent many hours vol­un­teer­ing in the soup kitchen feed­ing the local home­less pop­u­la­tion there, so to have the cer­e­mo­ny in the same space seemed ideal.

The admin­is­tra­tion appar­ent­ly didn’t hold it against us that Ezra held the dis­tinc­tion of being the only kid to ever refuse par­tic­i­pa­tion in the annu­al kinder­garten Christ­mas pageant. It wasn’t because he object­ed to the mes­sage. My son didn’t want to wear his cos­tume. He was assigned to be an angel and he want­ed to be a shep­herd. If you saw my round-faced, gold­en-locked cheru­bim at that age, you would have cast him as an angel. Peo­ple used to stop us on the street and say, Your kid would have got­ten a lot of work in Michelangelo’s time.” He looked like he’d float­ed down from the roof of the Sis­tine chapel. Nor­mal­ly, I wouldn’t have indulged this kind of behav­ior, but before I had a chance to inter­vene, his teacher had nego­ti­at­ed a deal with him. As long as he agreed not to recruit oth­er stu­dents to boy­cott along with him and faith­ful­ly (as it were) attend rehearsals, he could recuse him­self from the per­for­mance. That he kept his end of the bar­gain exhib­it­ed a cer­tain matu­ri­ty that I had to admire. Even dur­ing the play, when I leaned over and whis­pered, Don’t you miss singing with your friends?” he remained firm and stat­ed, I’m singing along in my head.” I had to give it to him.

The Bar Mitz­vah went off with just a few minor glitch­es. The only accom­mo­da­tion the rab­bi had request­ed was that any cru­ci­fix­es be removed or cov­ered dur­ing the cer­e­mo­ny, some­thing the church offi­cials were kind enough to agree to. It wasn’t until the ser­vice was under­way that my hus­band and I noticed our goof. We’d inad­ver­tent­ly placed him and our son in front of glass win­dows per­fect­ly fram­ing them between the two life size stat­ues of Jesus in the court­yard gar­den. Thank­ful­ly, no one point­ed it out to him and I thought it made a gor­geous ecu­meni­cal triptych. 

After the cer­e­mo­ny, as I pre­pared to say a few words, my son leaned over to me and issued a stern warn­ing, One wrong word and you could ruin my life for­ev­er.” I’ve been around long enough to know how to share the spot­light, so I said very lit­tle, instead giv­ing the stage to my much-fun­nier-than-me hus­band. Plus, we had a sur­prise up our sleeves. Jeff’s dad was too ill to trav­el, so we’d arranged for Jeff’s post-col­lege room­mate, the bril­liant actor Har­ry Lennix, star of the upcom­ing NBC series The Black­list, to stand in and deliv­er Bob’s pre­pared remarks. The Inter­net has been filled with sto­ries spec­u­lat­ing that Har­ry might be the next James Bond, and I hope it hap­pens; I can’t think of a bet­ter can­di­date than Har­ry. He’s tall, hand­some, charis­mat­ic and, self­ish­ly, I could always hold it over my kid’s head that we got James Bond to speak at his Bar Mitzvah. 

I jumped up and down with hap­pi­ness that day — so much so that I broke the heel of my Dolce and Gab­bana shoe — but it was worth it, because I know that if my kid waits until he’s the age that I was to get mar­ried (36), I’ll be 71. I’ve got make the most of every cel­e­bra­to­ry event while I’m still ambu­la­to­ry. In fact, many peo­ple have deemed my gen­er­a­tion as heli­copter par­ents; it’s often said that we’ve fetishized rais­ing kids, but maybe we’re just try­ing to make the most of every moment because we sus­pect we might not be around to see our grand­chil­dren. Our chil­dren are our grand­chil­dren as well. I am hop­ing that the vit­a­min D sup­ple­ments I’m main­lin­ing are doing some­thing pos­i­tive for my long-term health, and, in the mean­time, I’m going for the joy. 

Read more about Annabelle Gur­witch here.

Annabelle Gur­witch is a New York Times best­selling author, Thurber Prize final­ist, and come­di­an. Her books include You’re Leav­ing When?I See You Made an Effort; and You Say Toma­to, I Say Shut Up! The long­time host of Din­ner & a Movie on TBS, a reg­u­lar NPR con­trib­u­tor, she’s writ­ten for The New York­er, The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour­nal, and Had­dasah. She co-hosts the Tiny Vic­to­ries pod­cast which Vul­ture calls a bright spot of light and laughter.”