They're tall, olive-skinned, extremely handsome, obviously Sephardi; their chocolate brown eyes hide a mischievous glint. They're standing next to each other in their matching suits and ties, proudly displaying their kippahs which have their names embroidered in gold. That's the only way that anyone can tell them apart, because though they are fraternal everyone outside of our family sees them as being identical.
They're shuffling in the lobby, grinning hugely, standing outside of a washing station, looking up at the various assembled relatives who are all coming over to them to shake their hands and congratulate them on their speeches (which, per family tradition, they wrote themselves.) They're surrounded by classmates and about to go into the banquet hall, where they will busy themselves with the food and allow me to catch them and hold them close and tell them how incredible they were today.
It's their Bar Mitzvah.
It's such a strange thought for me, that my little brothers are thirteen. These are the boys. That's their title in our family; they're the youngest and they're twins, so whenever I call for them I cup my hands to my mouth and exasperated shout up the stairs, "Bo-o-o-oys!" At some point I will hear the patter of feet that suggests dashing to the head of the stairs, that is, if anyone can hear me over the Pirates of the Caribbean or Lord of the Rings soundtrack from their supercool CD and alarm clock combination (though recently Star Wars has come to be incorporated as well.) "Yes?" one of them will ask and I will sigh and inform them that they'd better come downstairs right now if they know what's good for them.
The boys are incredible. They're joyous and entertaining and never fail to amuse me. At times they exasperate me and I find them incredibly frustrating, but the majority of the time I'm so proud of them and I think it's an honor to be their older sister. Of course, I don't tell them that too often.
I remember the boys being little and yanking at one another's hair, the one twin reaching over to grab a fistful of the other's hair. They would both yelp but neither would let go and they would continue; their little fists gripping tightly and unwilling to let go. They'd both have tears in their eyes and Dustfinger and I would run to separate them, but as soon as we'd done that, they'd be at it again.
I remember the boys looking at us with these incredibly sweet faces after they'd done something wrong, these really innocent looks that suggested that it was all in our minds; we were imagining that they had committed this crime. I remember them looking out at us from inside the chest of drawers (when they were younger, they destroyed the chest of drawers because they climbed into them, sat in them, had one boy push the other inside and out, used them as ladders, removed the drawers from the bureau and so on and so forth) with these smiles when we would be at our wit's end.
I remember Taran microwaving his teddybear because his teddybear was feeling too cold; I remember being horrified and dashing to the kitchen and saving us all from a lovely fire, though his teddy was slightly scorched. Perhaps the most famous story about them is the one concerning their magical thinking. It was the middle of the winter and Taran and Urchin managed to open their window and throw everything they owned outside onto the snow. This included their comforters, their toys, possibly their sheets, literally everything. They looked at all the objects on the ground with a puzzled frown, deeply disturbed. You see, they expected these objects to act like a ball, which bounces back up from the ground. They assumed they would throw their comforter out the window and then the comforter would bounce back up and come inside, just like the ball. My poor father had to go out and collect everything...
And now I see them and I remember their entire lives and it is strange to recall how they were when they were little and how they are now, officially men, having accepted the yoke of mitzvot and the covenant of God.
Many people confuse Taran and Urchin because they see them as identical. As their sister, it's impossible to confuse the two of them. They are so much themselves; their personalities are so different, that the idea is laughable. Each of them is their own person and I think that it a beautiful and rare thing and so I am proud, pleased and proud and so happy for them.
Taran is the wise child. He has an owlish kind of wisdom, a cleverness that expresses itself through books, words and English (for which I take full credit, incidentally. So when you grow up, dear Taran, you'll please remember it was your sister Chana who helped you grow when it came to that.) He cracks jokes all the time; in my mind he is associated with being The Jokester. He has an offbeat sense of humor, the thoughtful kind; one that is very much based on words and ideas. He's always thinking and often has insights and ideas that astonish me. I don't know how he comes up with them, but they're great. He's a sensitive child who is able to understand others, a good friend (I have seen him interact with his buddies) and an excellent listener. This, his sense of humor, his confidence and his desire to learn and grow have always impressed me. He plays the violin and it is the perfect instrument to describe the kind of soul that he has. He has a very melodic, musical voice and when he leins he sounds like my father. This is not surprising, as Taran has always resembled my father in both looks and personality. When he grows up, Taran wants to be an inventor, a Rabbi and a mechanical engineer.
Urchin is the hard worker. Of all the children in the family, he works the hardest. He is stubborn, determined and strong. He works until he understands the material, no matter how long it takes him, and he doesn't stop asking questions until he truly comprehends. He is not embarrassed to ask, and that is a gift. Just like Taran, he is smart, but his smarts express themselves differently. Whereas Taran explores the world through his intellect, Urchin understands the world through an extremely high sense of intuition. Urchin can tell whether people are good or bad simply by meeting them; he is able to detect things that others cannot. Without even trying, he notices the way that a person acts or the aura that surrounds him and he can read it. He is our fix-it guy; he's incredibly gifted when it comes to working with anything with his hands. He intuitively understands how things should fit together; he can build desks, construct objects, fix the plumbing in the house or otherwise help us out. If anything is broken, it's a safe bet that Urchin can fix it. When he grows up, he wants to be a parrotkeeper and a mechanical engineer.
Urchin's strongest quality is his stubborn and unyielding desire for truth. If you lie to him, he will remember it and he will know not to trust you. He is always honest. His determination is both impressive and maddening. Urchin, unlike Taran and myself, is extremely organized and keeps his room very neat and clean. Once he has mastered a certain piece of material, he will not forget it. Urchin works for his knowledge and retains it. He has a strong personality; he's the one who will always be on the phone making plans with friends while Taran is in his room reading a book. He puts himself forward and he gets what he wants. He is not afraid.
Urchin and Taran have different skills. Things come easily to Taran. Taran can read a book once and understand absolutely everything in it. Urchin may have to read the book two or three times before comprehending everything. However, once mastered is forever retained for Urchin, and it is not necessarily so for Taran. Urchin is at home in this world in a way that Taran, my father and I are not. Taran, my father and I all live in fantasy realms where ideas are all that matter. Urchin, Dustfinger and my mother are the practical people, strong and driven. While Urchin and Taran's skill-sets overlap (they both helped put together the computer desk, for instance), it is obvious that their strengths differ. Even the instruments they play differ. Taran is the violin, the stirring strains that move the soul. Urchin plays drums; he goes in for percussion, for beats, for rhythym. This is symbolic of the way the two of them live their lives.
Urchin is the outgoing extrovert, the one who takes the initiative, who makes plans with friends, who bothers people until they actualize his ideas, making his thoughts a reality. He advances arguments when his ideas are resisted and he is stubborn enough to beat down the opposition. He takes everyone's word very seriously; if something is conditional (you can do this after you do that), he will perform whatever task or chore is at hand and then expect to be allowed to have his reward. He is thick-skinned, able to walk away from arguments if they are beneath him. He protects his brother.
Taran is an introvert, a dreamy-eyed child who lives in a world based on his own thoughts and ideas. While he is happy to participate in the plans his brother makes for him, he is not the one to take the initiative, not the one you will see talking on the phone and planning get-togethers. He's far more likely to be reading in bed, digesting a new piece of information or otherwise amassing knowledge. If he is not doing either of these things, then he is playing violin or acting as a witty sounding board for one of his sisters. His casual remarks are often quite witty and his incisive understanding and instinctive comprehension lead him to ask pointed, detailed questions that force his adversary to think. He laughs frequently and chooses his friends very carefully. If he trusts you, it is because he has determined that you are a person that he can respect.
They are both incredibly smart, aside from which, they both perform beautifully in school. Urchin consistently outdid Taran during Chidon throughout the school year and was named Regional champion. Taran, intriguingly, outperformed Urchin on the actual National test. It's not necessarily a competition, especially as they're not always in the same classes, but there is a sense of good-natured fun in seeing how well they do comparatively. Both of them take great pride in their work.
If you want to see what's truly beautiful about them, you'd have to look at the relationship between them. What underscores the relationship is their complete and total happiness for one another if one has an opportunity the other does not or benefits from something the other does not have. There is no such thing as jealousy or envy. There is only joy that the other brother was able to have this.
For example, Taran and Urchin both had the opportunity to go to St Louis and see a baseball game. This was a very exciting trip and Taran couldn't stop talking about it. Urchin would not be able to go because he had drum practice with his classmates in preparation for their final performance as an orchestra. Urchin was completely happy for his brother to go on this trip; he harbored no feelings of jealousy or envy.
Here is what actually happened: Urchin got sick and had to stay home.
I went downstairs to the basement and this is what I saw:
Urchin was curled up on the couch, his comforter spread over him, a box of tissues beside him, blowing his nose every so often and he was watching the baseball game on TV. I asked him whether he'd caught a glimpse of his brother yet, but he hadn't. He watched the entire game and then went to sleep.
When Taran came home the next day, excitedly talking about the entire experience, the fact that a ball had come really close to them and they maybe could have caught it, describing all the wonderful things that he'd gotten to see, I mentioned that Urchin had watched the baseball game on TV.
Taran said something about how he had had a lot of fun and continued talking about the wonders of actually having been at the game in person.
Urchin smiled, truly happy for his brother and said, "Yeah. But I had the better view."
This is something that comes so naturally to the boys and is so difficult for me; their total and complete love for one another to the point where there is absolutely no jealousy, no envy, no desire that the other one shouldn't have had something if he couldn't have it. Urchin didn't feel left out, wasn't upset that Taran had gotten to go to the game when he wasn't able to go. Indeed, he felt that he had had just as good a time of it! "Yeah. But I had the better view."
I don't know if you can appreciate how powerful those words are for me, but the lesson they exemplify is what truly moves me.
Another point: one of the benefits to Urchin's having stayed home sick was that he read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows while there. Taran returned home and explained that he had also finished the book; he had read it on the bus ride home. I know, because I am a little twisted this way, that had it been me, I would have been upset. I'd have felt "Not only does he get to go on this trip, but the one thing that remained to me, the fact that I got to read the book- well, he also went and did that, too?"
But Urchin's not like that, because my little brother Urchin is a much better person than I am. His face lit up with joy, absolute, pure and total joy. He was so excited his brother had finished the book, so anxious to compare notes and talk about their different views. He was smiling and laughing and ran upstairs to go get the book and compare notes. I felt humbled by that, because I have so much to learn from him- from both of them- and the way they interact with one another.
I'll tell you one more story so you can see how amazing they are.
We were talking about birthday presents and I wanted to get them something. So I asked what they wanted. So at first they told me they wanted Light Saber Replicas (the fancy kind that costs about $130 or so). I was willing to buy those, but upon further research learned they can't be used for heavy dueling, so went with the HASBRO kind instead. But I wanted to get them a real gift and asked them what they wanted.
Urchin informed me that they wanted an air-hockey table. I said I'd be happy to buy it for them, provided that they could convince my parents that there's a place to put it. At this point, my little brother Urchin very seriously explained that it would cost too much money and that he doesn't want me to spend this much money on them, maybe I could get them something that costed a little less. He was doing this very seriously and he meant it very sincerely; he was truly concerned that I shouldn't spend too much money on them.
When this conversation took place, Taran was in the shower. He got out of the shower (Urchin had gone downstairs to his room) and I told him Urchin had informed me that they wanted an air hockey table and that I was willing to buy it for them. Taran, who remember had not heard a word of the former conversation, because he was in the shower, now did a repeat of Urchin. He informed me that this would "cost too much money" and he didn't think I should be buying them the air hockey table. Again, this was said in all sincerity and with absolutely no manipulation, guile or lying as part of it.
So the two of them, without speaking to one another, without having heard what the other one said, simply in response to having heard that I was willing to spend the five hundred plus dollars on their air hockey table (the fancy kind with electronic scoring and the like), took it upon themselves to very seriously inform me not to spend so much of my money on them. This despite the fact that I was (still am) willing to buy them the very thing they wanted.
I don't know how many people are privileged to be the older sister to kids like these, kids who are as sincere, honest, considerate and truthful as these. I only know that I am very lucky to have them in my life. I admire them and learn from them and there's never a dull moment around them.
I love you very much, boys.
Mazal Tov on your Bar Mitzvah.