Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah

As a rabbi, I officiate at many Bar and Bat Mitzvah services, where a 13 year old boy or girl becomes a Jewish adult. It is a powerful and beautiful ceremony. For the party after the service, many people choose a theme, usually a sport or hobby that the child enjoys. I have seen parties that focus on soccer, tennis, baseball, horse-back riding, golf, video games, and any other activity that you can imagine. However, one idea that I have yet to personally witness at a Bar Mitzvah is fly fishing. What would happen at a Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah?

First, it’s time for a little Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah party planning. When you enter the party room, you would see pictures of the boy or girl on beautiful mountain streams with nice size trout adorning the walls. Fishing songs might find their way into DJ’s music mix. There would be a song for every musical taste: From Louis Armstrong’s “Gone’ Fishin’” and “Crawfish” by Elvis to “Catfish John” by The Grateful Dead and “Catfish Blues” by Jimi Hendrix. (Crawfish and catfish are not kosher, but there is nothing wrong with singing about them!) Or the playlist might also include “Wading in the Velvet Sea” by Phish, the perfectly named band to hear at a Fly Fishing Bar Mizvah!

When the music died down, all of the guests would head to their tables for dinner. There they would find fly fishing table decorations, like those that were made by one of my readers: “I'm making a faux fishing rod out of 1/4" PVC pipe, spray-painted black, the reel will be made out of used wire spools, spray-painted silver, a fishing net made out of flexible foam pipe-cover and netting, and in the middle will be a wicker basket in the shape of a boat, inside which will contain cans of tuna fish, sardines, salmon. I'm making the centerpieces myself to keep the cost down, so that I can fill those baskets with lots of fish and then donate those to our local food shelter.”

At a Bar Mitzvah or wedding, some people replace an expensive party centerpiece with something more simple. A note is attached saying that the money saved on the centerpieces will be donated to charity or that the centerpiece itself will be given to those in need. Amidst the celebration, music and food (smoked salmon or trout on the menu?), a Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah would have a higher purpose as well, helping others.

Picture: Baskets made by my 7th graders at North Shore Synagogue to be given away to others.

The ceremony of a Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah would be unique. During a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the young adult reads from the Torah, the Bible, in Hebrew. A Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah would read from the book of Jonah, the prophet who was swallowed by a whale. A careful reading of the Hebrew shows that Jonah was actually swallowed by fish. Perhaps its every fly fishers’ worst nightmare, instead of catching the trout, it catches us!

In the book, Jonah wanted to flee from the task that God gave him, and he was eventually thrown into the sea. God sent a fish to swallow him and save his life, and Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of that fish. In that dark smelly place, Jonah leaned lessons about running away from his problems and seeking God’s help in dark times. Then Jonah prayed and the fish spit him out on dry land.

Picture: Whale-watching near Boston. Maybe this was Jonah's fish?

A Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah would also give a speech, teaching a lesson for today’s world that is derived from the Bible. He or she might tell this tale: “The Jewish Salmon that spawned and left Egypt,” inspired by one of my readers.

The Jewish salmon began life in a river, her homeland. But soon she gets bored and leaves home, as all children do. The salmon heads out to sea, but finds it lonely and sad there. She is in Egypt, living in exile. After many years in the ocean, she wants to return home and spawn. There is an Exodus, Moses splits the sea, and the salmon swims back to towards the river where she was born. The trip back home to the stream is long and arduous. Like the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years, the salmon continues to swim with little food and dwindling strength. She finally makes it home, to the River of the Promised Land. She lays her eggs, and the next salmon is born, who will also live the same cycle of exile, exodus and return.

Many Bar or Bat Mitzvah speeches include a line saying that he or she will donate a portion of their gifts to tzedakah, charity, to help others. At a Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah, the new Jewish adult might give some of his monetary gifts to Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, American Rivers, American Forests or the Federation of Fly Fishers. All of these organizations seek to preserve nature and trout streams. They need our support to keep the rivers clean and full of fish for generations to come. Casting for Recovery is a terrific organization as well, that sponsors fly fishing retreats for women recovering from breast cancer. To learn more about these charities, look in the box on the right side of my website entitled “Fly Fishing Charities,” and click on the links.

The Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah would be a day of joyous celebration, good food and great music. But it would be more than a party. A Fly Fishing Bar Mitzvah would celebrate a milestone in the life of a family, that their son or daughter is moving towards adulthood. The young man or woman would read from the Torah and affirm their place in the chain of the Jewish people, extending from Moses until today. And this day would also remind the Bar or Bat Mitzvah of what we hope they become, not just an adult, but also a good person, a mensch, one who seeks to help others and to repair our world.


Chas said...

Wow, great read and thanks for including American Rivers as one of the worthy organizations to support. I couldn't agree more:)

Great Article in TU too and congrats winning the contest.

Keep up the good work and would you possibly be interested in organizing a river cleanup in 2008 on your favorite fishing river? Hope so! www.nationalrivercleanup.org for 2007 info, 2008 will be up shortly.

American Rivers

Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer said...

Thanks Chas! I think that American Rivers is a great organization and I am proud to be a member and to support them.

Rabbi E

Anonymous said...


My son became a Bar Mitzvah last spring and the theme of his party was fly fishing!

Here's a part of the speech that I gave in his honor at the celebration:

"With most Bar Mitzvah’s there comes a party and each party has a theme. Sam’s party tonight has a Fly fishing theme as Sam has a passion for Fly Fishing. Go Figure!

Sam and I fish together. We often spend weekends at our cabin which resides on a trout stream. We drive up together, shop for food, cook dinner, sit by the camp fire, and we fish together. When he was learning I didn’t fish at all. I stood at his side and helped him, but now he is a pro.

In all the years and all the ultimate fishing destinations that I have been to I can say I enjoy most, the moments that Sam and I have spent together in the solitude of the stream. I think it is the questions he always asks and really the chance he has given me to becoming his true first mentor. These are the moments in life, away from the home, away from the computer, video games and away from the day to day distractions of life that are precious. It is the side-by-side time alone in the quiet stream where Sam and I really have developed a true bond between father and son.

You might say “I’ve heard it all now” and you’ll never believe it, but there is a Fly Fishing Rabbi. Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer is the Associate Rabbi at the North Shore synagogue in Syosset, New York.

I thought I would share with you some things he has written as found on his website:
As a fourth generation American Jew who grew up in St. Louis, I feel comfortable being both Jewish and American. And I have no problem going to services at Temple on Friday night and spending a Sunday morning fishing on the river. Just as it is possible to be Jewish and American, I believe one can be a Fly Fishing Jew.

And so what is a Fly Fishing Rabbi? This is a person who fishes to find peace and sanctuary along with rainbow and brown trout. One who feels awe and humility in the beauty of nature at every bend in the river. A Fly Fishing Rabbi is one who fishes not only to catch fish, but also to find those precious parts of himself and the world in which we live. One need not be a rabbi or priest or minister to unlock the spiritual possibilities of casting a dry fly. We must only open our eyes to the beauty, awe and peace that can be found on every cold water stream.

Sam, we love you very much and want you to remain standing strong in the middle of the stream of life and continue casting your fly at your dreams.

Steve Levine said...

Several years ago I was in Pray, Montana which is in the Paradise Valley, and the Yellowstone river runs through it from the park to Livingston.I went into the fly shop and was greeted by the shop owner,somehow in conversation it came up that they were Jewish and that they and 12 other families in the Bozeman area had started a congregation in Bozeman,and I was invited toher sons Bar Mitzvah 2 weeks later. Being a Jew in Montana was clearly like wandering in the desert and to find kindred spirits was a nice day. Fishing was great that day also had a Grand Slam on the Yellowstone