The simple translation of the words "bat mitzvah" is "daughter of the commandments" (bar would be son). This rite of passage is the time in a Jewish child's life when they are officially expected to take on responsibilities in the Jewish community (and the world community as well through acts of tikkun olam-repairing the world). For example, fully accepting and acclaiming that God is One (Oneness), remembering the Sabbath, fasting on certain holy days, being part of a minyan (a quorom of at least 10 people) to support mourners during certain prayers that are meant to be said with community (so the mourners are not alone in their time of grieving), feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, caring for the earth/environment, visiting and caring for the sick and elderly, (Rosewillow's commitment to raising funds for the MS Society was part of learning to care for the sick), studying and reading from the Torah (holy text) and so on. Technically speaking there are 613 mitzvot/commandments written in the Torah. (Follow the link to read a list of them if you are interested.) Contemporary Jews observe many of these 3,000 year old laws but not all as some apply to ancient rituals we no longer perform-like animal sacrifices in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem (which no longer exists) and certain laws around agriculture as we are no longer mainly farmers. Some laws have been modified to reflect current culture. For example, depending on which branch of Judaism one follows, intermarriage is allowed. Gordon was not Jewish when we were married 22 years ago, but chose to convert about 6 years ago. This would never have been acceptable for an Orthodox family, and we had to be married by a Reform rabbi because a Conservative rabbi is not allowed to perform a marriage ceremony for interfaith couples (although there are many interfaith families within the Conservative movement...it's complicated). Embracing GLBT individuals and couples as part of the community is another important change in most modern day branches of Judaism as well as an egalitarian approach to rituals in and out of the synagogue.
Rosewillow will lead the hour-long service Friday evening, June 25th and most of the 3 hour service Saturday morning. She will receive and start wearing a tallit (prayer shawl) on her bat mitzvah day and will continue to do so for all morning services there after (as is the custom). The four corners of a tallit are embellished with a ritually knotted fringe, a reminder that God is to be found everywhere, in all “4 corners” of the earth. The moment that a child of 13 is called to the Torah to recite a special blessing for the first time is the apex of the ceremony. Rosie will then go on to chant a portion of the text, being witnessed by the community. Afterwards she will give her explanation of the Torah portion as it relates to her own life experience. This drash, (interpretation) is crucial, because it teaches a child that these are more than ancient words meant for another time, but vital and intertwined with her own life. Rosie will then chant the haftarah, text from one of the books of prophets corresponding to the Torah portion of her special day in Hebrew. (Her portion is the story of Balaak, the magician sent to curse the Israelites by the Moabite king-ultimately he is only able utter a blessing issued by God when he sees the people Israel. Click here for the whole story).
A bat/bar mitzvah ceremony is a sacred time a Jewish child prepares for all their young life. For example our kids have attended supplementary Hebrew school, 2 hours a week from k-2nd grade and then 6 hours a week from 3-7th grade...plus attending and learning to pray and lead services (in Hebrew) at least twice a month since the 3rd grade. In Hebrew school they learned to read Hebrew (although there isn't nearly enough time in those few hours a week to really learn to understand the language)...but they can recite all of the prayers...and they learn about Jewish ethics, history, culture, holidays, rituals and participate in local social action projects. Of course a lot of learning goes on in the home as well. Not every modern day Jewish family takes on all of these commitments but this is how I was raised, so this is how Gordon and I chose to raise our girls. We also keep Kosher (a commitment to conscious-holy eating) and light Shabbat candles every Friday evening to welcome in the Sabbath along with other home based rituals throughout the year. For Rosie’s bat mitzvah celebration we will have a luncheon following the service to which the whole Jewish community (plus out of town friends and family-somewhere around 140 people all told) are invited and traditional dancing to the music of the Raymond Street Klezmer Band (her Dad is the piano player in the band and they are awesome!) Later in the evening our family will gather at our home for a more intimate continuation of the celebration (intimate being 32 relatives and a few close friends!)…dinner, havdallah (lighting a special braided candle and reciting prayers separating Shabbat-holiness from the mundane rest of the week).
I am so grateful that both of my parents and many of our relatives will be in attendance. My grandmother passed away two years before my bat mitzvah and that was very hard for me, as we were close. She lived in our home from the time I was 5 until I was 11 (my grandfather died when my mom was a little girl). I wrote and read a poem in her honor at my bat mitzvah, a way to hold her presence with us that day. We will be lighting candles using her Shabbat candle holders to start the ceremony Friday evening with my mother, sisters, daughters and nieces gathered round to recite the blessing together. My mother tells me they originally belonged to my nana (grandmother) Reggie's mother, Zollie (my mother Sally, was named for her)-she was Rosie's great-great-grandmother! Passing on our ancient traditions is very important to me personally and I am so pleased that there will be three generations physically participating in Rosewillow’s bat mitzvah ceremony and clearly many more spiritually.
I hope this helps to put into perspective what this is all about. There is still some cooking to do for Saturday evening with my Mom (thank goodness we are having the synagogue celebration catered!!!), and many last minute details to attend to. I know I will be much too busy to post in the next week so I want to finish by saying in advance: