Mark knew he was really in trouble this time, more trouble, far more trouble, than he ever wanted. He had been getting into bigger and bigger trouble all year long without even really thinking about it. He just did things that got him into trouble, things he didn’t even particularly want to do.
It all began about halfway through the last school year. He started his bar mitzvah training at Hebrew school. It seemed that the idea of his bar mitzvah suddenly took over his parents’ entire lives. His parents were planning this humungous bash. It was going to be fancy beyond belief. They rented the fanciest place in town. They hired a big band that he and his friends didn’t even like. It was embarrassing. His parents thought he should be thrilled. “Why aren’t you excited?” his mom would ask each time she announced the latest twist. His dad was even planning to invite his customers from his business. Mark felt like throwing up.
And it was not like he asked for any of this. He would have been happy with a simple bar mitzvah. As far as he and his friends went, a pizza party with a DJ from the popular radio station would have been fine. But his parents wouldn’t hear anything of it. “This is an important event in your life, a once-in-a-lifetime event. Make the most of it,” his dad kept reminding him.
Anyway, Mark tried to simply tune it all out. Tune out everything. His schoolwork slipped. He start skipping school with some kids he hardly knew and didn’t even really like. He joined them on what they called adventures. This usually involved breaking windows or spraying paint on cars or buildings. Once they even went into a store and stole things. Mark knew it was wrong, and he felt bad. He didn’t want to do any of it, but he didn’t want to be called chicken either.
Teachers tried to talk to him. They kept asking if anything was wrong. What could he tell them, that he hated his parents’ plans for his bar mitzvah? He guessed he was supposed to be grateful, but he wasn’t. The more he thought about it, the more he hated it. The teachers sent him home with notes to his parents, but he just tore them up and threw them away.
Once a teacher even called his home and talked to his parents. Mark heard his mom tell the teacher that maybe his bar mitzvah studies were taking him away from his work, but he’d make it up. “Not a chance,” Mark thought. At that time, his bar mitzvah was still months away, after summer and the High Holidays in the fall. That was another thing: he had to study for his bar mitzvah over the summer.
But all that was nothing compared to the trouble he was in now. This was the worst trouble he could imagine, and he didn’t know how to get out of it. It happened when he arrived at the synagogue for his bar mitzvah lesson. The cantor had to cancel at the last minute. Mark was left standing around, and nobody was there. The place was deserted. Then he saw the silver ornaments for on the Torahs. The ornaments were spread out on a table. He remembered his mom saying that the silver was polished before the High Holidays. He didn’t want the stuff, but he grabbed a couple of the fanciest Torah breast plates, slipped them into his backpack, jumped on his bike, and left.
Mark didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do next. He was afraid to go back and return them because someone would likely be around by now. His new friends had told him about some guys who hung around by the industrial park at night and bought all kinds of stolen stuff. Mark decided he would stash the Torah ornaments someplace until he could take them down there. He’d give the money to the synagogue.
The next evening Mark saw his opportunity. His parents were going out and leaving Mark home alone, now that he was almost thirteen. Here was his chance to get rid of the Torah ornaments. As soon as his parents left, he hopped on his bike and headed for the industrial park.
The industrial park was deserted. It was getting dark, and really spooky by the time Mark arrived. He hid behind a trash dumpster near the place the kids had talked about. In a little while he saw headlights and a car pulled up. A couple of men got out. They were just hanging around.
Mark was about to come out of his hiding place when suddenly a man appeared from behind a building. “Police!,” he shouted. “Freeze and put your hands up.”
The two men pulled out guns and started shooting at the policeman. Mark, peering around the dumpster, saw the flashes of the guns and heard loud noises. The policeman crouched behind some barrels and fired back. The two men ran to their car, jumped in, and raced off. The car tires screeched, leaving smoke and an awful smell of burnt rubber. On the ground, even from where he was hiding, Mark could see black tire tracks burned onto the concrete.
The policeman pulled out a walkie talkie. “This is unit 7. They got away. They’re heading north,” Mark heard him say. Then the policeman started looking around and began walking carefully toward where Mark was hiding. Mark pulled back.
“Come out whoever you are and put your hands up,” the policeman ordered, still holding his pistol in his hand. Mark was frightened nearly to death, but he stepped out with his hands up, like he’d seen on TV. “You’re just a kid. What are you doing here?” the policeman asked.
“I was riding my bike and got lost. I just want to go home,” Mark stammered.
“What’s your name and where do you live?” the policeman asked. Mark told him. The policeman put his gun back in its holster and snapped a strap over it. In doing so, Mark saw a bullet fall out of the policeman’s holster. The policeman didn’t notice.
“Were those real bad guys?” asked Mark, timidly.
“They are called fences, people who buy stolen stuff. Someone broke into a synagogue the other day and stole some valuable items. We expected the thief to meet up with these two. We’ll get those guys yet, and the thief too, you can bet on it,” the policeman said. Mark thought the policeman could see right inside him and expected to be arrested on the spot. “Now get home fast,” the policeman ordered and told him how to get there.
Mark pedaled his bike furiously, but he had one stop to make. He rode by the synagogue. There were no cars in the parking lot. He rode up fast and dropped the Torah breastplates
that he had stolen at the front door. Then he raced home. Mark arrived before his parents returned and went straight to his room.
The next day Mark pored over the newspaper for the story about the theft of the Torah breastplates or the trouble at the industrial park, but there wasn’t a word of either story. “Did you hear any news about a theft at the synagogue or some trouble at the industrial park?” he asked his parents at dinner. They hadn’t heard anything either. Maybe it hadn’t really happened.
After supper he told his parents he was going for a bike ride and headed back to the industrial park. Where he thought he had seen the two guys and the policeman, there were no signs of anything. The tire tracks that had been so clear yesterday were gone. No marks at all, nothing. Then he saw a glint on the ground. He went over, spotted a shiny object, and picked it up. It was a bullet, a silver bullet. This must be the bullet the policeman dropped, Mark thought. In his room at home, Mark hid the bullet in the back of one of his drawers where he put his special things.
When school started, Mark, still shaken by his experience at the industrial park, decided he would never make trouble again. He stopped seeing the kids who led him into trouble. Instead, he threw himself into his schoolwork and bar mitzvah study. Sometimes he wondered if maybe he dreamed the whole thing with the policeman at the industrial park, but then Mark would pull out the silver bullet and he knew it really had happened.
The High Holidays arrived, and Mark sat with his parents in the grownups’ service, since he was just about to become a bar mitzvah. The rabbi gave a sermon, yakking on and on about spiritual life and material goods, whatever that meant. His parents seemed to take notice, but Mark wasn’t the least bit interested until the rabbi started telling a story about a guy who did bad things and was visited by the prophet Elijah, who appeared in many different disguises. Elijah visited people when they least expected it and taught them about doing good things and repentance and forgiveness. During the rest of the service, Mark thought about the guy in the story and felt really sorry for the bad things he himself had done. He asked God for forgiveness and vowed to God to never do those things again. He also thought about Elijah and his disguises.
“Did you hear what the rabbi said about material goods?” his dad asked at dinner that night. “I guess we went a little overboard making your bar mitzvah so fancy,” his dad continued. “That’s what the rabbi meant when he talked about spiritual values and material goods. I’m embarrassed.”
His mom took his hand. “Maybe that’s why you’ve been so unhappy lately. It’s a little late, but let’s see how we can make your bar mitzvah more spiritual,” she said.
“Fine with me. I’d like that,” Mark agreed. “You know I love you both,” he added. He had already forgiven his parents. Heck, anybody could make mistakes. Mark knew that he himself had a lot to be forgiven for. Suddenly, a funny thought occurred to him: he was acting like the guy in the Elijah story the rabbi had told. Then another thought crossed his mind: who really was that policeman he met at the industrial park?
Mark excused himself and rushed to his room. He went to the place where he kept his special things and reached for the silver bullet. But it wasn’t there. Instead, in its place was a beautiful silver mezuzah.
Mark’s parents readily accepted the story that the mezuzah was another of his many bar mitzvah gifts that were already pouring in. His dad put it up on the door to Mark’s room. Touching it every day, Mark thinks about repentance and forgiveness, about Torah and the meaning of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and about the policeman.