Jacob Kupchik travelled to Angama Mara with his family to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah. The staff had their own celebration planned with special experiences teaching him about the coming of age in the Maasai tradition and so it became a “Maasai Mitzvah”.
My name is Jacob, and I live with my family in Long Island, New York. This summer, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah, the ceremony of coming of age in the Jewish tradition. To become a Bar Mitzvah, one must read a portion of the Torah and begin the journey of becoming a responsible member of the Jewish people and humankind. In August my family travelled to Angama Mara where the staff had a special experience waiting for me in honour of my coming of age.
My experience is truly one to be remembered filled with nature, learning, and adventure. The staff surprised me with special experiences teaching me about the coming of age in the Maasai tradition (the Maasai are an East African tribe). There were unplanned “tests” that I had to overcome in order to have my “Maasai Mitzvah.”
We arrived on a Friday and soon after lunch set off on a nature walk with Fred, a Maasai warrior. On foot we saw zebras, baboons, wildebeests and a whole lot of animal droppings. Sadly, it was cut short by the first unplanned challenge: it started raining (really raining!) while we were out in the wilderness and we got soaked through including my only pair of sneakers which was to prove very inconvenient. Because my shoes were still wet I had to wear my flip-flops to our Sabbath dinner in the bush where we lit the Shabbat candles with the staff, did the prayer over the wine and ate challah, sharing our traditions with the staff. After dinner we walked back to the lodge. It didn’t actually go according to plan, however, because I accidentally stepped on safari ants wearing only flip-flops! Safari ants are stealthy, meaning they could be all over your body before you notice them and once you start walking they start biting. It hurts a lot. Luckily they aren’t poisonous and I only had four on me, so I was pretty fortunate. These ants aren’t easily squashed, so you have to remove each one of them off your body, which meant I had to take off my pants. At least I had overcome the second unplanned test—ants in my pants!
On my special day I went adventuring with Fred who taught me so many things: we looked at termite mounds, the holes anteaters made, the markings certain animals left on trees, and many other cool things that I didn’t know. We also learned about different types of plants, one of which the Maasai people use to make all natural toothbrushes with toothpaste included. Fred helped us make some for ourselves by cutting the smaller branches off a certain type of tree, which contains a toothpaste-like liquid that is spicy and cleans teeth. We also learned how to use a bow and arrow, something all young Maasai master. While I wasn’t necessarily the best archer around (and that’s an overstatement), I still had an awesome time with the bow and arrow.
Back at the lodge, Ben Kipeno, a Maasai elder, was waiting to teach me about the customs, traditions, and history of the Maasai. He told me stories how the Maasai came to Kenya, the Maasai way of life, and how a youngster comes of age in his culture. Since this was all arranged because of my Bar Mitzvah, I feel like this was most likely the most important part of what he said. A Maasai comes of age at fourteen and it is around this time that he or she begins to look for a husband or wife – it is not uncommon to have many wives. This is obviously very different from the Jewish coming of age, but it was fascinating to learn about.
The final event planned in my honour was my “Maasai Mitzvah.” At the lodge’s Maasai boma overlooking the Rift Valley, we roasted marshmallows, watched the sun set and saw elephants going up the mountain in the distance. Finally, the time came for the ceremony and a group of Maasai warriors came out, chanting and dancing. They then called me up for a jumping competition, which in the Maasai tradition is meant to attract a wife – whoever jumps the highest gets the prettiest girl. We all stood in line and took turns jumping, and then we started walking around in circles as the Maasai continued chanting. I was then blessed and presented with a special handmade kippah, or cap, beaded by the Maasai mamas. This kippah is the first of its kind. The final honour was being given a Maasai name, Lemayian, which means blessed one.
My Maasai “coming of age” ceremony arranged in honour of my Bar Mitzvah was very special, and I will hold these memories dear for the rest of my life.