A month into seventh grade, I got a letter in the mail that changed my life. Until that point, the only letters I had ever received were from my grandparents or my Ethiopian pen pal from sixth grade (who also happened to be my best friend at the time). My parents were quite excited by the presence of this envelope and even appeared to be proud of me for receiving it.

My father sat down beside me and handed me the envelope. “Here’s to the first of many,” he pronounced.

“Our little Andrew is growing up so fast,” my mom sung cheerfully from the other room. With great intrigue, I removed the contents of the already-opened envelope and saw what turned out to be the most glorious sentence that I’d ever read: “Dear Mr. Andrew Schwartz, you are cordially invited to attend the Bat Mitzvah of Rachel Stein?” As I continued to read the invitation, I felt euphoria setting in and, in a fit of passion, I victoriously thrust my hand upwards – right into my mom’s daisies hanging from the ceiling. The porcelain vase exploded and the daisies fell helplessly to the ground. But neither the vase (a family heirloom), my mom’s favorite daisies nor the blood gushing from my hand mattered to anyone, because something of much greater significance had just happened.

In a public school, a bar/bat mitzvah is nothing more than a party accompanying a young Jew’s ascent to adulthood, featuring food, a DJ and, in some cases, a band playing the most popular Yiddish songs of the late 19th century. In a Jewish private school, however, every student will have a bar/bat mitzvah and, consequently, the event takes upon a unique social significance. The amount of bar and bat mitzvah invitations that a student cumulatively receives and the popularity of the people sending the invitations are both indicative of the popularity of the student. Ultimately, the invitations that a student receives will allow him to gauge which rung of the social ladder he or she belongs to. Thus, the invitation I held in my left hand was physical evidence that I wasn’t a loser and, after my first month of seventh grade, I had been all but convinced otherwise.

Seventh grade was my first year in a Jewish private school, and I was having a difficult time fitting in. Maybe I brought this initial hardship onto myself when I showed up for the first day of school wearing one of my dad’s rainbow-colored polo shirts that dated back to the Carter Administration and a pair of orange Guess pants that my mom made me wear because, in her words, “if the Backstreet Boys are wearing them, they must be popular.” It probably didn’t help that I was fat and had a haircut somewhere in between John Lennon’s and Billy Idol’s. I didn’t have any true male friends – just a couple of guys who would sit with me during lunch because I paid for their food.

To the girls, I didn’t exist, except as a resource for classroom accessories such as paper, pens and answers to last night’s homework. One of the girls who relied on me for the latter of these “accessories” was none other than Rachel Stein, the antithesis of myself. Rachel was the most attractive and popular girl in my grade. Like me, she didn’t interact that much with the opposite sex in her grade, but for a vastly different reason – she was only interested in older guys. Perhaps Rachel’s popularity stemmed from her early sexual maturation; she had a C cup long before I popped my first pimple.

The day after I received the invitation, Rachel came to my locker before Algebra to copy my answers to the homework. I nodded toward her coolly and said, “Whut up.”

“Hey,” she responded with disinterest. “Can I see your homework?”

“Absolutely,” I answered, handing it to her. “And by the way, thanks for inviting me.”

“To what,” she said, annoyed.

“To your bat mitzvah!” I exclaimed joyfully. She suddenly looked up at me with a worried expression. She then looked back down at the homework and finished copying the answers without saying another word to me.

Later that day, my dad was listening to messages on his answering machine when I wandered into the room. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz,” I heard as I sat on my parents’ bed and reached for the TV remote control. “This is Elizabeth Stein, Rachel Stein’s mother…” Suddenly my ear perked up and I began listening intently to the message. “Rachel informed me that your son received an invitation to my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.”

There was a momentary pause and then the message continued; “I don’t know how to tell you this, but Andrew is not actually invited to Rachel’s Bat Mitzvah. It’s my fault really the invitation was meant for Jason Schwartz, but I must have mixed the two of them up when I sent out the invitations…” The message continued, but I couldn’t allow myself to hear anymore. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and now, all I wanted to do was crumple to the floor and roll into a ball. But as bad as things seemed, I never stopped believing that the bar/bat mitzvah invitations of my classmates would eventually find their way to my doorstep. A week later, I received the first of many invitations that I would regularly receive for the remainder of the school year. And after my dad called the Bar Mitzvah boy’s parents and confirmed that this invitation was not a mistake, I knew that the wheels of change had been set in motion. But with change came unforseen consequences, and that’s a story that will have to continue next week.

Schwartz is a Take Five student.

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