I studied rustic weddings for a year and realized that all the rustic wedding stuff feels like a parody on a working farm. So we had a very simple bar mitzvah lunch: harvest tables and flowers from the garden. I made all the food myself, from our farm and the farms of our Amish neighbors.

I told everyone to wear the nicest clothes they could imagine wearing with boots made for walking through pig pens. This is what it looked like when people were arriving.

I loved watching people traipse through the farm.

And watching my son in action was just breathtaking. I felt, for a moment, that I have the life I’ve always wanted.

To be clear, my son did not want a bar mitzvah. He chanted Torah beautifully and then in his speech he explained how he was only doing it for me.

He also said, in his speech, that he doesn’t believe in God.

Earlier, when he told me he might say that, he had a sort of twinkle in his eye. “Is that okay?” he asked.

I tried to be casual, like he wasn’t bothering me at all: “Sure. Lots of bar mitzvah kids say that in their speech. You don’t need to believe in God to be Jewish. Fifty percent of practicing Jews don’t believe in God.”

I didn’t check that number. But the general sentiment seems right.

He said, “What do you need to do to be Jewish?”

“Nothing. You just are. You decide what you want to do. But while you’re in my house you get a bar mitzvah.”

“And don’t eat pork.”


“And say prayers. And keep track of meat and milk dishes. And do all the holidays.”

“Right. Yeah. All of that. You can make your own rules when you move out.”

The theory here is that belief follows action. It’s a big tenet of Judaism, but increasingly new research is providing us with scientific evidence of the power of action to change our beliefs.

For example, if you walk with a more upright gait you feel happier. And if you put a pen between your teeth it forces you to smile and then you actually become happier.

The Harvard Business Review reports that our body posture can dramatically influence our ability to succeed in life. American social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains in her exceptional TED talk on body language that when we assume a “power posture” for just two minutes—like hands high in a V position and our chin slightly up—we increase our testosterone (the dominance hormone) and reduce our cortisol (the stress hormone). And, we are more likely to take a risk, succeed in a job interview, or get a promotion.

To me that’s a fake-it-til-you-make-it moment.

Our ability to learn through doing is remarkable. It’s why play is so important in school, and it’s why MIT has an action learning program. First we change our actions, then we change our beliefs.

At the beginning of my career, I assumed I’d be a writer. Before I got any sort of grown up job, I had stories published in literary journals. I thought of work as something I did just to support myself. I was increasingly embarrassed about my promotions as I marched up the corporate ladder. No one could believe I was corporate.

And I assured them I wasn’t. Until I was. I became a person who loves the game of business. I would have never believed I would become this person, but after going through the motions of going to work and being part of the business world for a few years, there was nothing left of my resistance to the business world. I was part of it.

I imagine that will happen with my son and Judaism. I don’t actually care if he believes in God. I just want him to come home to my house on Passover and Rosh Hashannah. I’m pretty certain, though, that if you grow up going through the motions of Judaism, it starts rubbing off on you.

Actions speak louder than words.

At work it means you can fake it with actions until you feel confident with your words. At a bar mitzvah it means that no matter what you speech might say, your mom is just happy you made one.