(PICTURE: Big Stu and Alyssa. Note: they are sitting on a love seat, not a couch.)
Training for a bar mitzvah is hard work. I remember vividly being twelve years old and listening to a cassette tape made by Cantor Henry Butensky. Cantor Butensky's deep soothing voice was the complete opposite of my mid-puberty crackling baritone (okay, maybe I was an alto). I practiced my torah and haftorah portions every day, slowly gaining more confidence. On top of my unusually long responsibilities -- it was the first service of a new Jewish month which meant extra long verses -- I had an assortment of other prayers to learn. Thank god, I had a partner to share half the Saturday morning service responsiblities with. My partner's name was Russel Wachtler, a friend of some friend's of mine who went to the rival middle school across town. I didn't really know Russ but I was glad that I was going to be sharing the beema with him...
...but then one day about two months before my bar mitzvah, in my lesson with the cantor, I was given some terrible news: Russell Wachtler has "stage fright" and is going to have a smaller private service. I stared at Cantor Butensky blankly, wondering what exactly this meant for me. He quickly told me: "Since Russell won't be doing the service with you, you're going to have to do his parts too."
I can't tell you how angry I was. I wanted to yell at the cantor, "Fuck Russel Wachtler and his stupid stage fright!" but in those days I didn't really curse often and well, I really liked Cantor Butensky. In the end, I did the whole service myself, terrible voice and all. A couple years later Russell (AKA Big Stu) and I became good friends in high school and have remained good friends ever since. In fact, Russell is my East Coast beer pong partner. Yeah, we're that close.
So why am I telling you this story now? Well, Russell Wachtler just got engaged to his longtime girlfriend Alyssa Kessler. So yeah, Alyssa, consider this your warning -- keep the guest list small or else Russell might get "stage fright" two months before the wedding and you'll find yourself saying your vows in a nearly empty chapel in Atlantic City.
Congratulations to both of you. I have no doubt you're going to have a great life together! Please plan the engagement party for when I'm home this summer. Thanks!