Merry Christmas! + Thank you Charles Dickens!

First thing's first. In case you didn't know before, I come from a Jewish family. So, when it comes to Christmas, I normally don't make a very big deal out of this major holiday. But this year, all the days leading up to the 25th of December have been so full of happiness and cheer, as well as some very mercurial weather mood-swings. (One week it's 36 degrees, another week it's in the 80s. What is the deal?!)

Anyway, the month has been great. Channukah...Hanuka...khannnuckah...ooooohh...Candle Day, was fine and dandy. Next came Adam's 13th birthday bash, and, following that, his super-duper Bar-Mitzvah extraordinaire! What a turnout it was, and what a party! Too bad I haven't been a very diligent blogger this month, otherwise there might have been some pretty awesome posts about the things that have happened. As it is, the only thing I can write about right now is today, Christmas Day.

It was a beautiful, sunny, 72 degree Fahrenheit Saturday. I woke up relaxed and in a good mood. The past few Saturdays, my sibs and I have been attending rehearsals for Ms. Judy's latest stage production of "Mamma Mia" (of which Adam plays the part of one of the 3 possible father characters), but since it was Christmas, all the cast members were given the next 2 weeks off. No rehearsals until January 8th! Hurray! It is no surprise then that this has contributed to my generally jolly mood.

Anywaaaaayy, since it was such a good-weather day, my family decided to go to our favorite beach. On the way there, the roads were surprisingly clear (seeing as many people celebrate Christmas at home with their friends and family), so we got there in record time. The beach itself was pretty sparse; not many people choose to celebrate Christmas on the edge of the Atlantic. However many of our good friends were there, so we set up our blanket and umbrellas nearby.

Eventually the topic of conversation turned to the Charles Dickens classic "Christmas Carol" story. It turns out that I actually checked out the book from our library recently for a bit of light reading, and watched a few different movie versions on YouTube to compare how faithful they were to the novel. This year I have gotten mighty familiar with the characters Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Don't ask me why, I just suddenly found myself inexplicably fascinated with "A Christmas Carol".

So I sat up straighter in my chair and joined in the conversation. Somehow, it turned out that some of the people present did not know the actual story of "A Christmas Carol", despite the uncountable screen versions available. Before I knew it, I found myself in the position of storyteller, relating the amazing tale in it's entirety and in great detail at that. It took me about 20 minutes or so, but by the time I ended with the words "God Bless Us Everyone", my friends were cheering and applauding! At that moment I just felt so good and happy inside that I couldn't stop smiling.

The rest of the day was very fine indeed. I literally ran into the ocean and had a good, bracing, cold swim, I got a little skin-color from having a good lie-down in the sun, and I even did a couple drawings today. Here they are right here.
<--- The guy in the picture is pretty much an "everyman", not really a representation of anyone I know. We stayed at the beach until about 5:00ish, and then we had to go. We wished everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and a "see ya next weekend". Then my family decided to go for some pizza on the boardwalk, so we sat down and sprung for a large pie topped with peppers and mushrooms. Tonight, my bro, sis and I have been enjoying various holiday movies on television, including the live-action "Grinch Who Stole Christmas" with Jim Carrey, the "Phineas and Ferb Christmas Special" (love those little guys ^_^), and even "Scrooged", a modern-day retelling of the Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray. That's pretty much it. For me, these little pleasures all add up to making this day the very best Christmas ever. It was merry, it was spent with family and good friends, and it was sunny almost all day! That's my idea of a holiday well-spent.
And now, a word from my good friend, Ebenezer Scrooge.


Happy Bar-Mitzvah Adam!

The day of Adam's Bar-Mitzvah started bright and early. Our clothes were set up the night before, and our parts for the service were rehearsed and well-refined. We knew exactly what we were going to do and when. All was ready, and we were prepared to create some happy memories. Don't you just love that feeling of control? It lasts a short time, but it feels good nonetheless.

Before we went inside the library multi-purpose room to wait for our guests, Aunt Lisa helped us do a photo-shoot in a park a stone's throw away from there. Here's a good shot of all 5 of us that very morning, pre-service (click to see the image full-size).

After about 5-10 minutes of quick picture-taking, using a digital camera and an iPhone, we helped make some last-minute preparations for the Bar-Mitzvah, such as putting an arrow-sign at the door to let people know where the party is, tying balloons up around the room, and finding a good place for our Flip camcorder to stand and record video footage of the entire hour-long service.

As our guests began to arrive, Bettina and I helped our brother greet everyone personally and show them to their seats. That was a really fun part, because since we were the hosts of the party we knew every single person that came in.

Eventually the room was full of people, and it was time for the service to start. Our friend Kellie led the whole thing, because she was the rabbi. After a bunch of prayer songs and blessings spoken in the Hebrew language, Bettina and I got up to present Adam with his Tallit (a special prayer shawl that one wears when reading from the Torah), just like we've rehearsed these past few weeks.

After that we didn't come up again until just before it was time for our brother to read his portion. Bettina and I had practiced a Bruno Mars number in honor of the occasion, and one of Kellie's sons played guitar as we sang.
The song was "You Can Count On Me", a simple little tune with a deep, meaningful message. Our performance was so good and got such an excellent response, and Adam even teared up after it was over.

Next came the actual reason for the whole Bar-Mitzvah: the reading from the Torah! There was a whole ritual where Benny carried the impressive scroll around the whole room so people could touch it and kiss it while happy-sounding Jewish music played, and then the Torah was removed from it's beautiful felt covering and presented to the congregation.
First, the Bar-Mitzvah boy's family had to go up to make Aliyah (hebrew for "ascent") before him, and first Aunt Lisa, then Bettina, then me, Shira, and Benny read a portion from the Torah. Then Adam read his part. He did great! Better than great. Fantastic. He did the chants right, he read loud and clearly, and he didn't make a single mistake.
He then read his Haf-Torah portion and gave a short speech to our friends and guests about what his two readings meant. After that, the formal service was pretty much over.

Of course next came the party! Oh what a party! There was food galore! We catered the whole affair ourselves; didn't hire anybody to cook or serve for us. We had a whole buffet of pasta salads, bagels and vegetables with spreads and dips, and 3 different cakes: one vanilla, one chocolate, and one carrot. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely. At some point there was a moment where I helped my dad and a few of his man-friends lift Adam up for the traditional Bar-Mitzvah chair-raising, and Adam liked that a lot. Then someone, I forget who, said that they missed a photo-op, could we please lift Adam again? So we did, they took a picture, and Adam got to go up in the air a second time.

Eventually, all good things come to an end. It was time for us to call the party over. We only booked the library's multi-purpose room for 4 hours, including set-up and tear-down time. Before they left, most of our friends and guests actually helped us put away the chairs, clean up the food, and generally make the room a little tidier. By the time we were all through, you could never tell an entire Bar-Mitzvah had just taken place there.

Until next time, that is all I have to say, except for this: Happy Bar-Mitzvah you mensch of a brother you! Mazel Tov Adam!

Happy Birthday Adam!

To celebrate, we had a big traditional "Levy family" birthday-breakfast: watermelon, homemade ice-cream, a box of croissants, and a giant stack of pancakes.

After eating, Adam was presented with 3 very special hand-crafted birthday cards: 1 from me, 1 from Bettina, and 1 from both Shira and Benny, our mom and dad. Personally, I worked really hard on my card; I stayed up until almost 2:00 in the morning putting on the finishing touches. Here are pictures of the different sides of my card for Adam.

Later, after Adam finished reading all his cards, our Aunt Lisa arrived for a visit. This always means a swell time. After catching up with each-other and chatting for awhile, Lisa took Adam, Bettina and me to the theater to see "The Tourist", which was released on the very day we saw it. The movie, as a whole, was pretty awesome. The lead actors (Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie) were great, the locations that were filmed (Paris, France and Venice, Italy) were beautiful, and the story (female secret-agent pretends to be married to a tourist she just met to throw the bad guys off the scent of her criminal husband) was suspenseful and fast-paced.

After the entertaining cinema experience, we met up with Benny and Shira at the Weston Library multi-purpose room, where Adam's Bar-Mitzvah service and party would take place the next day. We all helped prep the room, arranged tables, chairs, and instruments, tested the sound equipment and projector (which we would use for a photo slideshow we created), and transported an abundant amount of party food to the kitchen area for storing.

It was so fun and exciting to be a part of making this long-anticipated event finally happen. The last time I've written anything about my brother's Bar-Mitzvah was October 10th, but since then my family and I have learned and accomplished so much in honor of this special occasion. In a matter of hours we would finally show our invited friends and family what we have been working on all this time. I remember thinking, "I can hardly believe it, tomorrow it'll all happen and then it'll be over".

We came back home after we did all we can do, and said "see ya tomorrow" to Lisa as she went off to her temporary accommodations. Then we all washed up, blow-dried our hair for the next day, relaxed with some televised entertainment, and went to bed at a decent hour.