Bat Mitzvah Memories

My Israeli tutor liked listening to the Grateful Dead while we studied on the huge Indian pillows, since it put her in a “mood for prayer, you know?” As she smoked and drank cup after cup of Turkish coffee (no sugar please) I read the Shma and Ashrei over and over, week after week after week.

And then there were more private lessons with Bonnie, the cantor’s wife. I still remember the way she inserted two fingers between her violet-lipsticked lips, one piled on top of the other, to show me just how wide my mouth must be so that my voice would project to the very last row of the shul.

And then there was the meeting with our synagogue’s rabbi. How intimidating- meeting with a real-life rabbi, face to face like that. But in his living room, he seemed just like a regular person. Friendly, jolly even.

And then my mother took me to the fancy store on Falls Rd. with the wreath on the door. So different from Sears, where we went each year at the end of August to buy corduroys and turtlenecks for the new school year. I didn’t really like anything at the store, but my mother and I compromised on a yellow and lavender pastel plaid skirt. The truth was that I did like the feel of the satin lining against my legs, even if it did dig into my waist so it was hard to breathe.

My friend Lisa had told me something so wonderful a few months before. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. At her bat mitzvah that past summer, right when she was standing in front of our synagogue next to the rabbi, she had looked up at the windows by the ceiling, and at that exact moment a ray of sunshine had broken through the clouds and lit up her face.

She knew, she told me with wide eyes, that G-d Himself was shining upon her at that moment because that morning was her bat mitzvah.

After a year of Hebrew lessons and meetings with the caterer and the lady with the plush white carpeting to choose out invitations, my grandmother and cousins and aunts and uncles and a whole motorcade of long-lost relatives descended down the East Coast to our Baltimore synagogue.

I read from the Torah while my mother wept into her handkerchief in the third row. I gave a speech about how my haftorah had taught me that I should be nicer to Republicans. The rabbi liked it so much that he gave me a big bear hug. And then I got to sit on the giant velvet armchair next to the cantor and shul president by the Torah ark. My docksiders were a whole foot off the ground.

Afterwards, my grandmother pulled me close in a tight Chanel-scented hug and left lipstick and a few unwiped tears on my cheek. My parents shook hands with guests and received many shoulder slaps and mazal tovs. Then we drove home where my friends and I played Trivial Pursuit in my room, and my friend Christina gave me the nicest present of all- a twisted beaded necklace and a cable-knit sweater like all the cool girls in our class were wearing. I liked it even better than the Prince album Nina gave me.

When it was all over, and everyone left for home, I felt relieved to have all the lessons and speech writing and mandatory Saturday mornings in shul behind me. But I also felt a bit…what was the word? All of this work and preparation for 20 minutes of Bat Mitzvah? Or maybe seven hours if you included all the festivities? I felt sort of…well, you know, let down?

And then I realized something.

With all of the activity and pressure and eyes upon me, I had totally forgotten to look up at the window by the ceiling to see if a ray of sunshine had broken through the clouds.

For my whole life, I realized, I would never ever know if G-d had blessed me or not.

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This week was an exciting and emotional one for me and my family. My oldest daughter Hadas became a bat mitzvah this past Shabbat and on Monday evening we celebrated this event with our family and friends and community.

Hadas is living a very different life than I did at her age. I attended a Christian prep school; Hadas attends a Jewish day school. I grew up with little Jewish observance; Hadas is growing up as an Orthodox Jew.

This means that while my bat mitzvah felt like the end of the road, Hadas’ bat mitzvah feels like a first step, a joyful reaffirmation of her commitment to the rich religious life she imbibed with her mother’s milk and in the air of her childhood home.

But my bat mitzvah and my daughter’s did also have much in common. The intense preparations, the months of study, the excitement and bellies full of butterflies for mother and daughter alike.

And most importantly, like my own mom at my own bat mitzvah 25 years ago, at Hadas’ bat mitzvah my also eyes ran over with tears on account of gratitude so intense that it just had to get out of me somehow. It was the tears of uncomprehending thankfulness of a person who receives an undeserved gift, a 100 million dollar check left anonymously in her mailbox.

And as I watched my gold-hearted grown-up girl, I finally felt that intense ray of sunshine from above, the warmth of G-d’s undeniable blessing.

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5 comments

  1. Rachel Shifra

    MAZEL TOV! What a wonderful blessing and what a powerful story. Thank you.
    You are double blessed because you feel how blessed you are, being in the moment.
    Mazel tov!

  2. מזל טוב! What a precious gift!

  3. Mazal tov! May you merit to enjoy much nachas from her and all your children, l’chupa ulemasim tovim.

  4. I remember meeting Hadas as a toddler. Where does the time go?? Mazal tov to Hadas, you, and your family.

  5. faith/emuna

    mazal tov! thanks for sharing. may hadas be blessed with her mothers mida of hakarat hatov and curiosity that leads to personal growth.

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