Wednesday, October 14, 2009

But, but... BAT (Mitzvah)

(This was prompted by a discussion online of what's necessary in terms of ceremony to mark the occasion of Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  The original poster was looking for tips for her shul (Reform) to include in its official guidelines, but thinking about this got me started thinking about the extreme contrast between what we did for our two kids who have passed that milestone so far.)
 
YM, for a number of reasons, basically had not one but TWO ceremonies (bo bayom on Thanksgiving monday and a Shabbos bar mitzvah a few weeks later) and said a dvar Torah from the bimah.  He also met with us and the rabbi for The Talk about entering Jewish adulthood.  Elisheva got The Talk, too, but when the rabbi asked her if she'd like to speak from the bimah, she said no way.  And she didn't want a kiddush, either.  What she wanted was a party... like her friends got.
 
Which led me to post my slightly controversial opinion that you don't REALLY need a ceremony at all - necessarily.
Some further thoughts which I didn't include there:
 
I was actually dismayed that she didn't want to speak from the bimah because I grew up in the "Free to be..." generation, all gung-ho about women's rights, and I didn't want her to miss out on something that was rightfully HERS.  I had a more "traditional" Bat Mitzvah myself, in that I was called to the Torah, did maftir/haftarah, and so on.  But over the years, I have drifted into a shul where that doesn't happen... and I did worry that she might feel shortchanged, or less acknowledged than her brother had been.

And then, there's her personality.  She's not a speaking-from-the-bimah kind of kid, or even a standing-on-the-bimah kind of kid.  And her schools, as well, have also gently, but positively, through role models both biblical and modern (including some of the teachers) reinforced the idea of a more private role for women.

So we made a party.  Ugh.  I don't even like to say it like that, because it really was basically just a birthday party, like you might make for an 8-year-old or a 15-year-old.  Nothing special to mark her passage to Jewish womanhood, though I did insist on her saying a dvar Torah  (I would probably do that for any gathering she was hosting, at any occasion).  We invited all the girls in her class (that was the rule in her school, which I think is a very good one), and did a craft and served some delicious pasta and salad my mother made and brought.  VERY low-budget.  I rented the hall where I used to work... conveniently enough, they never sent us a bill.  :-)

Yet I'm content with leaving it at "just" that, just a party.  She came away feeling honoured, after several years of no birthday parties.

And now - almost two years later...?
I'm confident that she knows she's a Jewish woman because she had to fast two days later (her birthday is the 8th of Tevet), and every fast day (major or minor) since then.  She knows she's a Jewish woman because she is able to learn Torah, Navi, etc., at a level that she wasn't in the lower grades. She sees the way her teachers take the kids' views more seriously in the higher grades, and how important it is to daven properly and know what she's saying.  She sees how dh and I trust her to watch the younger kids (and occasionally pay her), and let her have more freedom than she used to to do her own thing.

Most importantly, to address my fear, I'm confident that she hasn't missed out on anything that is her birthright as a Jewish woman:  she realizes the Torah belongs to her as much as it does to her brother, to me, to my husband.  When she made it to the final shofar blast of Yom Kippur two weeks ago, she knew it was calling to her as much as to anyone else in the shul - ladies' side or men's.

A little verbose of a response.  Because I don't want anyone to think we JUST made a party.  We are raising her with a love of Torah and a sense of belonging to the the Jewish people; and like I said in the group, if the child has a strong enough sense of himself or herself, I don't necessarily believe you need a ceremony (whether you view it as a finish line, a starting gate, or just a signpost along the way) to make it official.
 
Ha ha ha... laughing to myself (not LOL!) with the random thought that:  MAYBE I'll embarrass her by throwing a huge party and calling her to the bimah to mark her first period.  Now *there's* a transition most girls her age definitely want to keep to themselves... and a transition I doubt the rabbi or shul would be comfortable acknowledging.
Ugh, such an evil sense of humour.  I shouldn't be entrusted with kids.

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