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The Missing Bar Mitzvah Gift



Illustrated by Y. E. Taub


The revolving doors spun around furi-
ously as twelve-year-old Binyamin
Lamm rushed into the hotel lobby. He
stopped for a moment to unbutton his coat and
straighten his tie. Then he looked around, wondering
where to go next, when he saw his friend Moshe Shane
walking towards the pay phones. Binyamin hurried over
to him.

"Is that you, Binyamin?" asked Moshe, his mouth
dropping open slightly. "Is that really you in those fancy
clothes and those shiny shoes?" He squinted, like some-
one examining a familiar old book in a bright new cover.

"Yes, it's me all right," Binyamin replied with a
cheery smile. "Don't let the suit and tie fool you. Beneath
this dazzling exterior is the same old me." He stared at
Moshe for a moment. "But I had no trouble recognizing
you, even in that snazzy outfit."

"That's no big surprise," said Moshe. "You can recog-
nize anyone in disguise. After all, you're the class

"But I didn't have to waste too much brain power to
identify you. This gave you away immediately!" With
that, Binyamin pointed to a spot on Moshe's suit jacket.
"Only Moshe Shane would get a chopped liver stain on
his jacket so quickly at a party."

"Uh-oh." Moshe took out a handkerchief and began
wiping off the stain. "My Mom's going to kill me for this,
but you know how I love chopped liver. I just couldn't
stop eating. After all, it's the first bar mitzva party in our
class, and I intend to enjoy myself as much as possible. I
was just going to call you and ask why you weren't here."

"I was buying a bar mitzva present for Ephraim.
That's why I'm late."

A large sign in the lobby read:




"Where's the grand ballroom?" asked Binyamin.
"Let's hurry up and go in. I hope Ephraim didn't miss

"Don't worry. He's been too busy to notice. But the
food at the smorgasbord is going fast, so we'd better
hurry. I'll show you where everything is."

The boys rushed through the hotel lobby until they
reached a vast room packed with guests. They made their
way through the crowd, trying to maneuver around peo-
ple holding heaping plates of food. Finally, they found
their classmates. Yossi Segal hurried towards them,
bumping into a man and almost upsetting his drink.

"Oops," Yossi said. "Sorry." The man laughed it off in
good spirits. "You're late, Binyamin," said Yossi. "We
were just about to decide who should eat your portion at
the meal. Come on."

Binyamin surveyed the boys at the smorgasbord
table. "Am I the last one here?"

Yossi nodded. "Everyone who got an invitation is
here already."

"But I don't see Yaakov Mann or Ari Michaels."
"They weren't invited. I guess Ephraim isn't so

friendly with them. Actually, a lot of kids weren't invited.
But I'm sure glad I was."

"So am I!" said Binyamin, going to greet the others.

They included Shayah Schwartz, the class genius;
Shmuel Applebaum, a lanky boy with dark blond hair, a
sharp mind, and a sharp tongue; Chaim Rubin, a short
redhead with a piping voice; Boruch Blum, a whiz at
sports; and Meir Morgenstern. Meir was short, with a
round face, no-nonsense black eyes, and curly black hair.
He was dressed in a purple velvet suit with a huge velvet
bow tie. Such stunning attire was not unusual for him.
Everyone in the class knew that Meir's family was well-

"Come on, Binyamin. Join the party," urged Boruch.
"Yeah," chimed in Chaim. "The food here is a thou-
sand times better than the food in school. Dig in!"

"I'm going to fill myself up with enough food to last
till the next bar mitzva," Moshe announced. "What are
you looking for, Binyamin?"

"Those little frankfurters," Binyamin said. "I heard

that they taste great, but I've never eaten one. I thought
they would have some here."

"They sure do  right over there!" Moshe pointed to a
metal dish set above a low flame. It held a few, remain-
ing, lonely-looking little frankfurters. Binyamin took a
plate and a fork and asked the waiter nearby to serve
him. He was just about to make a beracha and pop a tiny
frank into his mouth, when he heard a sudden trumpet

Binyamin dropped the frank. "What was that?!"

"That was the band," said Chaim. "Gidi Gutterman
and the Tachshitim. Aren't they great?"

"And loud too. Hey, I know them. I once heard them
on the radio. It must have cost a lot of money to hire them.
In fact, this whole affair must have cost a fortune. Boy, I
wish my parents were richer so we could afford a fancy
bar mitzva like this. Well, I guess I might as well take
advantage of it."

He speared another frankfurter with his fork, and
once again was about to make the beracha when he was
surprised by a sharp slap on the back. This time he
dropped his whole plate!

"Hey, what's the big idea?"

Binyamin turned around and saw a beaming boy
wearing a black suit, a satin bow tie, and a carnation in
his lapel. Binyamin broke into an embarrassed grin.
"Oh, it's you, Ephraim. Mazel tov!"

"Thanks, Binyamin, and thank you for coming. Sorry
about the plate. Take some more. Enjoy yourself."

"I sure will, especially when I get another chance at
those little frankfurters. Oh, I almost forgot." He held out
his present for Ephraim. "I hope you like it. If you have
one already, let me know. I can have it exchanged."

"Why don't we find out right now?" Ephraim sug-
gested as he gratefully accepted the present. "I have my
gifts in a side room. Let's go back there and look. And
why don't the rest of you guys come along too?"

"But...the franks..." Binyamin protested.

"Oh, don't worry. They'll still be here when we get
back. Let's go!" It was Ephraim's special day, so Binya-
min heeded his request and the other boys cheerfully
joined them.

Ephraim brought them into a small room next to the
ballroom office. There, perched on top of tables and
chairs, were gifts galore. Some of the packages had
already been opened; others were still in their elegant

"Aren't you afraid that some of this stuff might be
stolen here?" asked Yossi.

"No," said Ephraim. "Someone in the office next door
is supposed to be keeping an eye on everything. Binya-
min, take a look and see if there's a duplicate of your gift

Binyamin scanned the room. "No, I don't see one. But
this looks interesting. What is it?" He pointed to a f ancily
wrapped item. Ephraim removed the packaging to reveal
a beautiful silver menora. "That's gorgeous. Who gave
you that?" Binyamin asked.

"Meir," Ephraim said, going over to pat Meir on the
shoulder. "Who else?"

Meir shrugged with a knowing smile. "Why not? After
all, if someone's a good friend, why not get him the very

"I hope I'm one of your good friends," Boruch called
out to him.

"Could be," Meir answered. "If you remember to treat
me right."

"Then why don't you give Boruch one of your swim-
ming pools for his bar mitzva," Shmuel Applebaum com-
mented with a grimace.

Boruch turned to him. "That wasn't nice, Shmuel."

"Ah, don't mind him," Meir said. "He's just showing
his jealousy again. Aren't you, Applebaum?" It was no
secret to the others that Shmuel and Meir didn't get along
too well.

Ephraim wasn't about to let their quarrel spoil his
party, and he quickly changed the subject. "Hey, guys,
there's something else here I wanted to show you, some-
thing special." He began looking around the room.

"What's the matter?" Moshe asked. "Something

"See, I told you somebody would steal your gifts,"
Yossi said.

"Don't worry," Binyamin assured him. "If I could
find the classpushka, I can find this, too. Now, first of all,
let's get to the basics, like, what exactly are we looking


Ephraim pushed aside some boxes and held up a
large, thick sefer. The other boys quickly gathered

around to examine it. It was a gemara, a beautifully
bound and expertly printed volume, and the boys were
highly impressed.

"It's gorgeous!" Shayah said. "I've never seen such a
beautiful gemara. This has every single peirush I've ever
seen in a gemara, and some others, too."

"Actually, it's just the first volume of an entire Shas,"
Ephraim informed them. "My grandparents gave it to
me. They'll bring the other volumes over to my house
later, but they wanted me to see what it looks like."

"It looks great," said Binyamin. "I wish I could get a
set like that for my bar mitzva. If I had this, I would
really want to learn, even if I didn't have to."

"What's this about Binyamin wanting to learn?"

Hearing the familiar voice, the boys turned around
and saw the smiling, bearded man who had entered the
room. "Rabbi Lewin!" they exclaimed, greeting their

"They told me I could find all of you in here, looking
unbelievably handsome," Rabbi Lewin told them, "and
they were right."

"You're not here to test us or anything like that, are
you, Rebbe?" Moshe asked uneasily.

"No, chas v'shalom. I just came to wish Ephraim a
hearty mazel tov. But if you'd like a little bechina in class
tomorrow, Moshe, I think I could arrange it."

"That's OK, Rebbe. We were both just joking...!

Rabbi Lewin laughed, and so did Moshe, a bit ner-
vously. Ephraim thanked his rebbe for coming, and then

Boruch showed Rabbi Lewin Ephraim's new Shas.

"Very impressive," Rabbi Lewin said, examining it.
"But I hope all of these sefarim aren't only for show. I
hope you really use them. Otherwise, what's the use of
having them?"

Ephraim was busy assuring Rabbi Lewin that he'd
use the books regularly when his younger brother rushed

"Hurry up," he shouted. "They want everyone inside
so they can start the meal." The boys quickly filed out,
except for Binyamin, who stayed behind. Moshe noticed
his friend's absence and came looking for him.

"Aren't you coming?" he asked.

"Yes," said Binyamin. "I was just looking at all these
gifts. I've never seen so many in my life. I mean, I've had
birthday parties, but they weren't anything like this. No
wonder bar mitzvas are so special. I can't wait till it's my

"But you'll have to. You still have half a year to go.
Meanwhile, we're missing the meal!"

"And my little franks! I hope there are still some left!"

They raced into the main ballroom and Binyamin's
face immediately fell. The waiters had cleared away the
smorgasbord! Binyamin searched high and low, but not
a single small frankfurter remained.

"Cheer up," Moshe said. "Maybe they'll give some out
for dessert. Quick, let's get seats on the dais with the rest
of the kids, so we won't miss any of the courses."

The dais was fit for a king. Huge bouquets of flowers
covered the silken tablecloth and colorful clusters of bal-

loons floated from the ceiling. Carved cantaloupe filled
with fruit and surrounded by beautiful dishes, glasses,
and silverware marked each setting. Since Binyamin
and Moshe came late, most of the seats had already been
taken, but the two boys found places separately at oppo-
site ends of the table. They went to wash their hands,
said Hamotzi, the blessing for bread, and sat down to eat.

Binyamin found himself seated next to Meir Mor-
genstern, which did not exactly thrill him. He had
nothing specific against Meir, as Shmuel and maybe
some of the other boys did. It was just that he didn't know
him that well. They had different friends and usually
participated in different activities during recess or after
school. Binyamin wasn't sure they'd have much to say to
each other during the meal, but he decided he'd make the
best of it.

"Are you enjoying the bar mitzva, Meir?" he asked

Meir was busy chewing on a bit of watermelon. "It's
OK, as bar mitzvas go," he answered without much

That didn't seem too encouraging, but Binyamin
wasn't about to give up quite yet. "I hope my bar mitzva
is as nice as this, but I still have to wait seven months.
When's yours?"

"In another few weeks."

"That's nice. Will yours be here too?"

"Nope," said Meir. "In the Marble Manor."

"The Marble Manor?" Binyamin's eyes opened wide.
"You mean where all the famous people have their meet-

ings and parties? Wow! Your father must sure be loaded
to afford that."

Meir looked at Binyamin with somewhat more inter-
est than he had shown before. "You could say that. He's
the head of one of the biggest real estate offices around
here, so he gets to meet plenty of important people, like
the owner of the Marble Manor. And I get to meet them

"Really? Boy, are you lucky. No wonder you were able
to buy Ephraim such a beautiful menora."

"The menora? Oh, that's nothing," Meir said. "You
saw that Shas he got from his grandparents? Well, we've
got two sets like that at home, and plenty of other sefarim
too. And tons of games."

"It sounds like you have everything you want,"
Binyamin said. "I wish I could say the same."

"You do?" Meir smiled. "Well, let me tell you about
some of the things I got last Chanuka."

The conversation was so interesting that the two boys
didn't even notice Ephraim's father rise from his seat
and move to the nearby microphone. It was only when he
began to thank everyone for coming that they stopped
talking. Mr. Weiss gave a short speech and then intro-
duced Rabbi Brodsky, the principal of the boys' school,
Ahavas Torah Yeshiva. Rabbi Brodsky spoke in his
usual lively way, tying in concepts from the weekly par-
to the lessons Ephraim could learn from his bar
mitzva celebration. Then it was Ephraim's turn to speak.
He delivered a learned drasha on the significance of the
tefillin he had recently started wearing. Ephraim ended

his speech by saying that he was now fully prepared to
accept the responsibilities of Jewish adulthood. The
audience  especially his classmates  applauded

The band began to play again and Rabbi Brodsky and
Rabbi Lewin led the boys in a spirited dance. They placed
Ephraim in a chair and almost lifted him up to the
chandelier at the center of the ballroom. All of this action
kept the photographers very busy.

"That was great!" Binyamin said as he returned to his
seat for the main course. "I'm a pretty good athlete, but
I'm out of shape for all that dancing. That's what I call

Meir shrugged. "That's nothing compared to what
I'm going to have at my bar mitzva. We've already hired
Amit Ben Haim and his band to play, and I'm making
sure we have the best dancers from all over."

"Amit Ben Haim? You mean the one who puts out all
those records? In person? I don't believe it."

Before Meir could respond, there was an explosion of
giggles from the other end of the dais. Mendel Katz, a
class troublemaker, was preparing a liquid concoction of
everything on the table: all the different kinds of sodas,
some punch, some water, and even a few pieces of canta-
loupe thrown in for good measure. Meanwhile, his class-
mates gathered around to laugh. Suddenly, all was quiet.
Mendel turned around to see why. Watching him was
none other than Rabbi Brodsky.

"Well, Mendel," he said, "go ahead."

"What?" asked Mendel in embarrassment.

"Go ahead and drink it. After all, that's what you were
planning to do, weren't you?"

"I was?"

"Of course. I mean, you weren't planning to put all
that food and drink to waste, were you? That would be a
classic example of bal tashchis  destroying. It's strictly
forbidden, you know. So go ahead and taste it, and let us
know if we should make some too."

Mendel gulped. He didn't have much of a choice,
so...he drank it, and..."Argghhh!"

He gagged. Desperately, he looked for something to
help drown out the sickeningly sweet taste. Shayah
handed him some water, which Mendel gulped down.
Rabbi Brodsky then tapped him on the head and said,
"There, you see what happens when you waste food and
water? There might not be any left when you really need
it  like when you're choking from a terrible drink."

The rest of the class started laughing again, but
Binyamin noticed that Meir wasn't one of them. "Hon-
estly, some kids are so immature. There's no way I'm
going to invite someone like that to my bar mitzva," Meir

"Well, they'll really regret it," Binyamin said,
"because it sounds like it's going to be one super party."

"Maybe you'll be there, Binyamin."

"What?" Binyamin wasn't sure he'd heard right. "Do
you really mean that?"

"Sure," Meir answered. "I'm making up my invitation
list now, and some of the kids don't have a chance of
being invited. But Til invite those who deserve it, and

that might include you, if I consider you one of my
friends. I treat my friends royally."

"I'll say!"

The rest of the meal proceeded on schedule. After the
main course, there was one final speech and some more
lively dancing. Finally, to the boys' delight, the meal
ended with ices and cake, followed by birkas hamazon.

"Well, it was nice talking to you," Binyamin told Meir
as they rose to leave.

"Same here," said Meir. "You're an interesting guy
and a good listener. I'm sorry I never really got to know
you till now."

"Better late than never. See you tomorrow in school."

"When it comes to that, better never than late," Meir
smiled. He waved goodbye and was off. Almost imme-
diately, Binyamin noticed Moshe Shane at his side. "My
father's supposed to pick us up around the corner," he
said. "You ready to go?"

"You bet."

As they moved towards the exit, Moshe said, "You
sure seemed to be doing a lot of talking to Meir. What
could you have to say to him?"

"Oh, don't put him down. He's a nice guy, really, when
you get to know him. He even invited me to visit his house
one day and see all his things. I hope he means it."

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