Ear­li­er this week, Christo­pher Nox­on shared his jour­ney from doing Jew” to being Jew­ish. He is blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Grow­ing up, what­ev­er spir­i­tu­al yearn­ings I had were sat­is­fied by Star Wars. My best friend Jim­my was an altar boy who prayed to a spooky guy on the cross; I was good with Obi-Wan.

The first Jew­ish rit­u­al I ever expe­ri­enced was my friend Michael Landsberg’s bar mitz­vah. The ser­vice was long and bor­ing, but after­ward there was a choco­late foun­tain and a live dis­co band.

At the time I my par­ents were divorced and I lived with my mom and her girl­friend Pam. Besides being com­mit­ted fem­i­nists, they were spir­i­tu­al seek­ers who did con­scious­ness-rais­ing retreats in the Sequoias. There was talk in our house of the cos­mic muffin.”

So I com­plained: How come Michael got a bar mitz­vah and all I got was a green t‑shirt with the text of the Equal Rights Amend­ment?” I think Robert Bly and Iron John had been in the Utne Read­er that month, because mom got to work cre­at­ing a YOUTH­HOOD RITE OF PAS­SAGE RITUAL.

A few weeks lat­er, mom and Pam took me out to a friend’s beach house in Zuma and we did this whole thing –I have dim mem­o­ries wear­ing some kind of robe while can­dles were lit, bon­gos were beat­en, and long silences were observed. Mom made up a scroll with cal­lig­ra­phy on parchment. 

And then we went skin­ny dip­ping. Me, my mom and Pam, jump­ing in the black-bot­tom pool. Because that’s what you did in 1981 with your two moms.

In the end, my rite of pas­sage hadn’t been all that dif­fer­ent from Michael’s. We both had our scrolls. And like Michael, we got pic­tures — he got a por­trait of him­self wear­ing a wide-col­lared tan suit and star­ing out the win­dow of Wilshire Blvd Tem­ple… and I got a pho­to of myself, crouch­ing next to a stone bun­ny rab­bit, wet and butt naked.

Which only rein­forces for me that even in its most humil­i­at­ing, fuzzy-head­ed, woo-woo form, the rite-of-pas­sage rit­u­al is a good thing. It’s affirm­ing. It’s impor­tant. I’m glad my moms did it for me.

When my two old­est kids reached ado­les­cence, I was hap­py to sup­port their bnei mitz­vah. But while I was hap­py to send them to Hebrew school orga­nize the par­ty and oth­er­wise buy into the bar mitz­vah indus­tri­al com­plex, I was deeply dis­sat­is­fied with the tra­di­tion­al route.

Friends with teenage kids agreed: the usu­al rou­tine had become rote, stale and super­fi­cial. And so, on a big group camp­ing trip a few years ago, we invent­ed a sup­ple­men­tary rit­u­al. All it took was a bunch of guys, some shared wis­dom, and a goril­la suit.

On our first day at the camp, I charged out of my cab­in in full goril­la get­up. I grabbed hold of a 13-year-old kid who had just been bar mitz­vah-ed and escort­ed him up a near­by bluff, where all the men sat cross-legged in a cir­cle. We pro­ceed­ed to go around and share secrets of manhood.”

The secrets ranged from the prac­ti­cal to the pro­found. One guy talked how hard­ship cre­ates char­ac­ter. An elec­tri­cian advised Isaac to always buy real estate.” Some­one said that, when you’re out on a date, always let a woman through the door first. You look gen­tle­man­ly and you can check out her tuchus.”

But the thing I remem­ber most was a friend who whis­pered, Every­one wants to be invit­ed.

The kid liked it and the men did too and we’ve done it three times since, most recent­ly with a mix of boys and girls and a giant chick­en costume.

Who knows? Maybe Good Life Goril­la or the Wis­dom Chick­en will catch on and thou­sands of teens will one day know the ter­ror of being kid­napped by their elders in ani­mal cos­tumes. None of the secrets” we’ve shared have been rev­e­la­to­ry, but there’s some­thing pro­found about even the promise of learn­ing a for­bid­den thing. It’s all about what that guy whis­pered at the first cir­cle: Every­one wants to be invit­ed.” Being pulled aside by the adults, sin­gled out and invit­ed into a new world, told you belong in an actu­al com­mu­ni­ty — that’s a huge part of what com­ing of age is real­ly about.

Christo­pher Nox­on is the author of the nov­el Plus One, a roman­tic com­e­dy about care­tak­ing men and bread­win­ning women in con­tem­po­rary Hol­ly­wood. His writ­ing has appeared in the New York­er, Details and Salon. He feels weird writ­ing about him­self in the third per­son but is hap­py to speak to JCCs and loves work­ing with the JBC.

Relat­ed Content:

Christo­pher Nox­on is a jour­nal­ist and illus­tra­tor who has writ­ten for the New York­er, the Atlantic. Salon and the New York Times Mag­a­zine. He is the author of the nov­el Plus One about an inter­faith fam­i­ly in Hol­ly­wood, and the non­fic­tion Reju­ve­nile: Kick­ball Car­toons Cup­cakes and the Rein­ven­tion of the Amer­i­can Grown Up.