Three Part Invention, by Judith Laura

This is an excerpt from Judith Laura's novel, Three Part Invention, which takes place in the US and is told by three generations of mothers and daughters: Alice, a piano teacher, who comes of age during the Depression and gives birth to Beth just before the US enters World War II; Beth, who comes of age during the 1960s and gives birth to Alexis a few years later. This part of their story takes place when Beth is about 15-years-old. For more about the novel, including other excerpts, see


By the end of 8th grade, Beth was in Confirmation class at Rodof Shalom. At the Conservative synagogue, B'nai, boys were Bar Mitzvahed and now some girls were beginning to have something like it called a Bat Mitzvah except that the girls' was on Friday night instead of Saturday morning. But at Rodof Shalom, a Reform Temple, they just had Confirmation, which was for both girls and boys. The place where the Services were held, called the sanctuary, was completely different from either of the other two synagogues Beth had been to. It had stained glass windows, dark red upholstered seats, and an organ. The Ark was white with the Shema written in gold above the doors, which parted to reveal the Torahs when the rabbi pressed a button.

Unlike Agudas Achim, where the Services were in all Hebrew, Rabbi Lev said the Hebrew and then gave the English translation. The men and women sat together and the men didn't even have to wear yarmulkes or tallit. Beth liked the organ. As it played, she'd watch the sun shining through the stained glass windows. Their streaming colors praised God, who didn't know rich kids in the class were more important than Beth.

Sometimes during the Services, God even gave Beth signs. Like when they stood and bowed their heads in reverence in front of the open Ark while singing the Hebrew words. When Beth bowed her head, she could feel His hand lightly resting on top of her head, holding it down. Then, when everyone lifted their heads, continuing to sing, only louder, Beth felt she was not lifting her head of her own accord, but rather it was being lifted up by Him, lifted up towards Him-high, high above the open Ark to the gold letters of the Shema. At the end of the Services, the rabbi raised his arms and Beth glanced quickly at his robe spread like wings, before she bowed her head and closed her eyes. She knew God's strength held the rabbi's arms up as he pronounced the benediction.


They stood white-robed at the back of the Temple, waiting to march in. Arranged by sex and height - short girls first, tall boys last - Beth was just past the middle of the line. She wished she could have been next to Dina, but her friend was shorter and would be walking in ahead of her and sitting at the other end of the row.

The organ started playing and the line began moving. As she walked in she tried not to look at the people because that would make her nervous. Anyway, even though her mother was sitting there somewhere, her father wasn't. He was upstairs in the organ loft.

The week before at dinner the phone had rung. "It's the Cantor," Mommy said, handing the phone to Daddy over the dish of spaghetti and meatballs she made with a can of undiluted Campbell's tomato soup for sauce.

When Daddy got off the phone he said they had heard he played violin so they wondered if he would play at Confirmation. "I don't think I'll do it," he said, rolling the spaghetti around his fork. "I'd like to just be a parent and sit with you, Alice."

"It's up to you," Mommy said.

After supper, Mommy was in the living room giving a lesson and Beth was washing the dishes as Daddy called the Cantor back. When he hung up he said to Beth, "He offered me $50 and said it would be a good way to participate in the Confirmation with you. What do you think?"
"It doesn't matter to me. Do whatever you want." Beth said, rinsing the silverware.

"You wouldn't mind? All the other kids will have both parents right out front."

"Why should I mind?" Beth said, truthfully. It was amazing what parents thought would bother you sometimes. And then other times it was amazing what they thought wouldn't bother you.

"I guess I'll talk about it with your mother later."

Beth had pretty much forgotten all about it until a couple of days later when her mother told her that Daddy had decided to play. Beth simply shrugged and said, "Okay."

Now she marched carefully over the Temple's burgundy carpet and up the stairs to the pulpit. Confirmation was always held on Shavuot, the day of renewal of dedication to the Jewish faith. Each member of the class had a part in the service. When Beth's turn came, she didn't even listen to herself as she read her few lines from the Bible. Then one of the boys read a prayer in Hebrew. Beth had gone to Hebrew classes for a year but she hadn't learned enough to read a passage. She had liked it, but stopped going because she was the only girl in the class.

When the readings ended, Beth waited her turn to go up the three steps to the open Ark for the rabbi's special Confirmation blessing. As you stood before the rabbi you were supposed to wish for something you really wanted and the wish was just between you and God and you weren't supposed to tell anyone, just like you weren't supposed to tell anyone what the rabbi said to you in his blessing.

Beth watched each of her classmates as they stood on the step below the rabbi and he placed his hands on their heads. She wondered what they were wishing for.

The music kept going. Beth could see the rabbi's mouth moving, but couldn't hear what he was saying. After each person in the class got their blessing, they turned around and, as they walked back to their places, Beth could see they were crying - even the boys.

When Beth's turn came she was surprised how nervous she got. She walked up the three white marble steps. She bowed her head and closed her eyes. She felt the rabbi's hands on her head, but he wasn't saying anything yet.

Trembling, Beth wished her wish - to be allowed to stop taking piano lessons. Beth felt the pressure of the rabbi's hands on her head increase as he mumbled something in Hebrew. Then he said: "As you listen now to the beautiful music being played by your father on the day of your Confirmation, may you always hear the music of your Heavenly Father?"

Beth was crying. She couldn't help it, she was crying. She hadn't realized the rabbi knew she was the one whose father was playing the violin. It had just been a job for him to make money until the rabbi said what he said. And that made her father's playing somehow holy. And then she wondered: suppose her mother had been the one playing, how would the rabbi have said the blessing then?

©Judith Laura