My Speech For Adam's Bar Mitzvah

Adam, we have spent many hours trying to come up with a speech that links the whole of Jewish tradition and penguins. We thought about comparing the etymologies of the word "penguin" and the word "Jew," since the origins of both words have been lost in antiquity. Then we thought about talking about the long, difficult march of the Emperor penguins to their breeding grounds to nurture their young, and comparing that to the long, difficult history of the Jewish people to raise their children with the beliefs and values we are here to celebrate today. Then we thought, "Penguins! In the old country, who knew from penguins? We eat fish...they eat fish..."

Just as we did with your brother, we feel funny giving the "Parents Know Best" speech at your Bar Mitzvah, because your own knowledge of Hebrew and your formal Jewish education has been more in depth than mine and certainly than your dad's. We know that you have worked very hard for this day, the same way you worked very hard in school, to get straight As in your honors classes and to learn to play the violin. We don't need to tell you that you are a gifted writer, an excellent math student, and a very good Chinese speaker -- your teachers have already made that clear. But most days, when we are distracted, reminding you to stop watching YouTube videos about flying penguins and go clean your room, or asking you to finish your homework before you play with your Superpoke Pet, we forget to tell you how proud we are of you.

We are very happy with your work as a student, not only because you get outstanding grades, but because you show interest in so many subjects. You have always researched and studied things you enjoy, even when it's not for school. Many of our family vacations have been shaped by your interests, so we have been not only to zoos and aquariums all over the United States and England, but also to art museums and farms and historic buildings. Since you were a very small boy, you have always been an enthusiastic and easygoing traveler, whom it is a pleasure to take places. Your curiosity about the natural world, and your memory for historical details, make it so much fun to see new things with you.

We are also very proud that you have always been true to yourself, even when your interests and values were not the most popular with your peers. For a long time, you had the longest hair of any boy at Cabin John Middle School, and you wore tie-dyes and people called you a hippie. You always seemed to take this as the positive thing I think it is, for you are comfortable doing what you want to do and what you think is right, instead of going with the crowd.

We know that at your age, it is sometimes hard to see the point of studying religion when you think a lot of it is incorrect, divisive, or irrelevant to your life, so we want to point out some of the Jewish values you embody. You have always been respectful to your parents even when you thought we were being stupid. You have a very close relationship with all four of your grandparents. Even though you and your brother sometimes steal each other's KOs in Super Smash Bros Brawl, and attack each other's Piplups -- and we have absolutely no idea what any of that means -- you are also respectful of one another's interests, and you have always been willing to share your games and your toys, not only Daniel, but with your friends.

Everyone who knows you at all knows that you love animals. You have always taken very good care of your pets, and you also care about the squirrels, chipmunks, and birds with whom we share our neighborhood, as well as the many endangered animals we have visited and sponsored through wildlife organizations, some of which we found out about through you. You have written to public officials to ask for better protection for endangered species and given your birthday money to "adopt" animals you will never meet in person so that they will have better lives.

You also have many interests that we enjoy getting to share, like playing the violin with your school's excellent orchestra, something that you decided you wanted to do, not because we pressured you to take music lessons, but because you saw it done in a movie and thought you would like to learn. We have watched you teach yourself many crafts and skills -- origami, paper airplanes, computer graphics, knitting, even writing your own web page -- and it never ceases to amaze us that you have so many interests and can learn new things so quickly. It is a real pleasure to have a child who is not only bright and reasonably well-behaved, but so much fun to be with.

All the friends and family who are here today to celebrate with you are impressed with your accomplishments and join us in saying Mazel Tov. We admire all the hard work you have done in Hebrew school and your skills as you read from the Torah today, but your Bar Mitzvah is only the first of many days you will celebrate as a Jewish adult. We are very happy that you are following in this tradition and hope that you will continue to explore your Jewish heritage -- not only the religious background, but the history and social values. Perhaps one day someone will be up here doing his Bar Mitzvah speech about Adam Anderson, the famous Jewish penguinologist.