Daughter of the Commandments

May 17th, 2009 § 2 comments

When I was about eight or so years old, I told my parents that I wanted to go to Hebrew school and have a bat mitzvah. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, my parents aren’t exactly what you’d call, um, observant. In fact, I think the words we’re looking for are apathetic, atheistic, non-joining Jews (adjectives used only in relation to religion). They talked about it and they sat me down. “Jennifer,” they said, because in those days I was just beginning the transition to Jenny, “if you want to have a bat mitzvah, that’s fine. But if you want to have a bat mitzvah, we have to join a synagogue and we will have to attend services. Now we don’t want to go to services, but if this is that important to you, we will do it. But you will have to follow through. This isn’t like dance or the guitar where you can just do it for a couple of months. You have to go to Hebrew school every week, for the next four [or whatever it was] years. No quitting. No changing your mind. So? Do you want to have a bat mitzvah?” And, of course, as they planned, I was terrified and said no.

Flash forward thirty-two years. I finally had that bat mitzvah.

For the past two years I’ve studied with eleven other grown-ups (and a rabbi), arguing, learning, discussing, discussing, discussing, and yesterday was the culmination: the actual ceremony. I learned three verses of Torah–got the trope down, learned to read it without the vowels–and I wrote our group’s introduction to what our Torah portion was and our d’var Torah (a sermon, if you will, and no, it did not start with “Today I am a woman,” although I really wanted it to). But the ceremony was just a small part, just a recognition of all the studying I’d done these past couple of years. I was surprised at how meaningful it was for me. I went armed with the women of the family: I wore a pin made by Pie, a sweater that had been my paternal grandmother’s, a necklace that belonged to my maternal grandmother, my mother’s ring, and a purse that the Tweedle Twirp had bought for me a few years back. My tallit was purchased by me in Sfat on our recent trip to Israel. My non-synagogue parents came up for it, my in-laws came, Beetle and Tab came, as well as my husband and kids. And it was nice. Very, very nice. That’s the only way I can really put it.

Of course, as well as I read the Torah, I didn’t do as well as Pie. While I absolutely made sure to learn the trope and how to read the Hebrew, I also had a CD my rabbi made for me to hear how it was chanted. I’d listen to it in the car, and it was Pie’s favorite. “Mommy,” she’d say every time we got into the car. Put on Rabbi J.!” It wasn’t until I was practicing–“Im Be-hukkotie telechu. V’et mitzvtie–“–and I stumbled that Pie chimed in, “Mom! ‘Tishmru!” that I realized she’d memorized the whole thing. Maybe we should make sure we have the same Torah portion for her bat mitzvah, since she’s already halfway there.

I’m feeling that post-achievement letdown I often get. I’ll keep studying, because I enjoy it. And it’s something I can cross of my lifelong “to do” list. But there’s now this big “what next” feeling. I have no excuses anymore not to finish this novel of mine.

I will say there is one cool thing about having a bat mitzvah at 40. I got an SLR camera with an extra lens for a present. At 12, probably all I would have gotten is an $18 savings bond. Not too shabby!

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§ 2 Responses to Daughter of the Commandments"

  • Congrats, Jenny! I completely understand about the let down. It happens to me everytime, and no matter how much I prepare for it, it never fails to surprise me. How about doing the Baystate with me as “another project”. I BET you can qualify for Boston – you are SO close. Ana-Maria

  • yr mthur says:

    It disturbs me that your memory is that good—the guilt trip was your father’s idea!

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