This year BabyGirl becomes a Bat Mitzvah. In fact, according to the Jewish calendar she has already become a Bat Mitzvah. At the age of 12, a Jewish girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah, literally “daughter of mitzvah”. It means that she is viewed as an adult with regard to mitzvah observance. This is the more technical side of this ritual coming-of-age event, while most people are more familiar with the public celebration and commemoration.
When I was 12, it took many conversations with my grandparents to finally get approval for me to have a public Bat Mitzvah ceremony. My mom worked at a reform temple but we were what I’ve come to call “conservadox”. My grandparents were orthodox for much of their life, but by time I lived with them they were much more conservative-leaning. Still, they had not fully embraced the idea of my having a Bat Mitzvah. It was when we moved to California and I went to Hebrew School at the temple where my mom worked that I wanted to be part of what all my friends were doing.
At the end of the conversation I was able to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony; but it had to be Havdalah, the Saturday evening service that marks the end of Shabbat. I would still be able to learn to read Torah and prepare the Haftorah but there would be limitations. Something was better than nothing. That’s how I looked at it. At least I would be up on the bimah leading the service and my friends and family would be there to celebrate with me. Family. An extended family that came together for this very important day in my life.
Now, I have a daughter who has become a Bat Mitzvah and it’s her turn to stand up and take her rightful place among the many strong, generous, kind, brilliant, and giving Jewish women who have come before her. Only now there is no family to come to town and fete her milestone. And there isn’t a class of peers who are part of “the circuit” that is the bar and bat mitzvah season when you’re 12. Instead, we are an unaffiliated Jewish family. I say unaffiliated but that’s not really true. No, we don’t belong to a synagogue per-se. But we are part of our local Chabad.
That came to be because of my grandmother, of blessed memory. She was involved in their Smile on Seniors program and during her final weeks I had the good fortune to see why she chose Chabad after she moved here. But now she is gone. A year ago. Yet I still need to give my daughter her special day even though our family is now just the three of us. While there is very extended family, the reality is that other than her dad and me there would be no other family. Which is why we’re going to Israel.
In her final days, my Grandma’s had me assure her that we’d make a Bat Mitzvah celebration for BabyGirl. We talked about going to Israel and as she shared stories of her and my grandpa’s several visits a smile came to her face and her eyes began to tear. She knew she wouldn’t be there, yet she knew that going to Israel was the right place for Baby Girl’s Bat Mitzvah.
So Israel it is! When I tell people we’re going to Israel I get that look of “are you crazy” coupled with “that’s so amazing”. And to tell you the truth it’s a bit of both. Yes, it’s a crazy idea to plan a bat mitzvah in Israel when you know no one there and are not doing one of those package deals. But at the same time it is so amazing to be able to do this for my daughter, for my family. It will be a bit bittersweet, although I’m sure I’ll look out among the people of Israel and know that we’re exactly where we should be for this special event.
If you’ve been to Israel and have suggestions, let me know. Planning a trip like this does, as they say, take a village.
Image Credit: imnewtryme (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) graphic added