Sunday, December 13, 2009

What makes a 5-year-old laugh—then and now?

Last night, at our Chanukah celebration, I watched one of my 5-year-old grandsons giggle softly as his father chanted the Hebrew blessing after lighting the candles for day two of the holiday. Although he’s heard these words many times before, this time it made him snicker. I didn’t get a chance to ask him if it was the words or something else that seemed funny, but it reminded me of an occasion long ago.

I was also 5 years old, and I was attending my older cousin’s Bar Mitzvah party. He began reading his Torah portion aloud, in a sing-song voice, and it must have been my first taste of Hebrew because I thought it was the funniest string of “gibberish” I had ever heard. I began to giggle. The odd, alien syllables—some with a “ch” sound (not unlike throat-clearing)—were hilarious. My laughter must have been infectious because I heard my slightly older cousin next to me start to laugh too.

I have no recollection of my parents or other relatives shushing us, but someone probably did, with some serious scolding. After all, why would I remember this incident and not the dinner, dancing, gift-giving, and hugging of that night? But the important thing is that I did remember it. I also teased my cousin, now in his mid-70s, about it recently. I’m sure he was amused to find out that all I can recall about the momentous occasion of his “becoming a man” was that he spoke in (foreign) tongues.

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